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Looking for 'real' Guru more meaningful than mainstream celebration of Guru Purnima

LIT Nagpur
By Santosh Gedam*
Mainstream society presents its notion of Guru Purnima. This notion becomes visible across several media platforms, private or public alike. A typical celebration of Guru Purnima is demonstrated by mythical ideas surrounded by an abstract message which makes no sense apart from representing certain ideologies and way of thinking and living. 
I find this imposed notion of Guru Purnima unwanted in a society whose pluralism allows the unique experience to each one of us may be distinct from each other. In India, it is not difficult to make sense of the invisible ideas which segment our communities right up to the family level. It is in this belief of representation of dominant but a minuscule population as a representation of the majority, we ought to think inwards.
I could not agree more with the need to have a Guru in one’s life without which life will be directness and not much could be achieved in a meaningful way. When I look back in my trajectory of higher education in Laxminarayan Institute of Technology (LIT) in Nagpur, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai, and recent IIM Ahmedabad, a few examples illuminate brightly, which have influenced my choices in life.
But before that, let me deconstruct the notion of parents being our fundamental Gurus. Though this notion is quite divine to be even touched, undoubtedly, some examples present the relationship of parents with children in the unsavory light-a deviation from typical portrayal.
I could claim that for people like me, a parent was not more than a food supplier. The supply of every small thing in life apart from basic food was a luxury. He was no guide and took no interest in what I am today. Again he is not at fault for he has his share of struggle in his childhood.
Fortunate are those whose parents are Gurus of their children in the most genuine spirit by being a guiding light in the children’s lives. I may claim that on this front, I was unfortunate. Looking back, I cannot see anyone as my Guru apart from my mother till the year of my 11th Standard.
The first instance of a teacher actively sharing favors to a student, I experienced when I was in the 11th Standard. Without resources to join any private classes for science subjects, I was clueless about how I could study them. It was a shared understanding and norm that a science student has to join some private class to get good marks in 12th.
College teachers outsource their responsibilities with the hope that everyone has joined private coaching outside. I was with added disadvantage on this front due to a lack of guidance from my illiterate parents. A BSc. student from our acquittance was working for one teacher who was private coaching in Nagpur.
Somehow, I could share my plight to him. Being poor himself, he was empathetic towards my misery. He agreed to take me to his employer so that I can share my case with him. I went to that teacher and said that I want to join his private classes. To which he said yes, you could join. But then I expressed my inability to pay tuition fees. He said I should give more than 90% result in Physics, and, on this condition alone, I can join his class for free. I agreed readily.
This offer is a life-changing experience for me. With his support coming from nowhere, I joined his evening classes and ensured to sit close at hand, where he would stand to deliver lectures. I was one of his favorites and often spelled out concepts that he was about to spell, which would result in getting warm pats on my back. His demeanors taught me humility.
He was the first Guru to whom I must be immensely grateful -- his vision let me dream. I passed 12th and kept my promise of getting more than 90% marks. I joined engineering in one of the prestigious colleges. On this Guru Purnima, I remember this physics teacher who influenced my life.
The second Guru who influenced my life was in my engineering college. Those were days without mobiles. One fine day my classmate and I went to the college and entered the class, but we found the class was empty. We realized there must be a common bunk, so we immediately decided to leave the class for fear of getting caught and spoiling the bunk.
But our fear came true. As we were making attempts to leave, our teacher entered the class and asked us to sit inside the class. He seemed in no mood to teach regular heat transfer problems. We were surprised by his inquiries. He asked us our complete names, which we readily shared. Then he shared one of the valuable messages I received yet. 
I reject mainstream portrayal of idea of Guru since it is not only senseless but also a tool for establishing some form of supremacy
He told us that these mass bunks are not for us. He advised us not to lose academic learning because of mass bunk as we cannot afford to do that. He said many students who are well off and have their family members and acquaintances were located. He shared that these students can afford to bunk classes because it will hardly matter to their progress, but for us pursuing academic sessions is the only route.
Though these thoughts appear quite common, for me, it was unique. We come from that space where these talks and advice are uncommon. I held his teaching close to my heart since then thanked him for sharing a valuable lesson with us.
He is my second Guru, who has influenced my academic engagement since then. The incident also lit hope that genuine and well-intentioned suggestions can come from unexpected sources. I graduated in chemical engineering and joined a large oil and gad company.
My third lesson is a reminder of the grave discrimination that is widespread across our society, including higher education institutions. The incident is from my viva for one of the subjects of second-year engineering. I expected that the teacher would ask the subject related questions during the viva, but to my surprise, he asked me my personal details and maths score during the 12th.
He believed that the score in Math and other science subject is a reasonable indicator for predicting some of the social signs of a candidate. I did not know how he interpreted and used this information to assess my subject knowledge and give marks. But, the incident more than anything made me feel uncomfortable because of the possible thought of a discriminatory mindset.
This Guru, I will have to keep separate from the other two Gurus who actively supported me during my critical time. When I look back today, I remind of my 12th physics and heat transfer subjects teachers who unknowingly played a crucial role. Without their help and suggestions, I would not be what I am today.
On this Guru Purnima, it makes more sense for me to think and thank them rather than a mythical image of Gurus from the old era. I reject the mainstream portrayal of the idea and image of Guru since it is not only imaginary and senseless to me but also a tool for establishing some form of supremacy.
The ideas of my first two teachers have cautioned me, and now I know what to reject summarily. Respect and thanks to those teachers!
---
Ex-Prime Minister's Rural Development (PMRD) fellow and research student at IIM Ahmedabad

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