Each Guru Purnima, I am filled with a sense of deep gratitude and introspection. This festival has always been special to me because it celebrates gurus or spiritual teachers. Those who share their knowledge and learning and ask nothing in return but for an open mind and heart.
Teachers come to us in so many shapes and forms, and often leave us their lessons far beyond the classroom. I have a teacher, a friend who inspires me every day to be the best that I can be, to fall in love with life in all its myriad colors. I have so many memories of times he has both astounded and grounded me, letting me know that he will always be there.
A Friend And A Teacher
My strongest memory is from either 2009 or 2010. (I am not going to do a Google search, because sometimes not remembering has its own charm!) Mamata Banerjee, the then Railways Minister, had just introduced the Duronto Express, the colorful, long-distance, non-stop train.
My friend and I are fans of the Indian Railways and we were very excited about the non-stop Duronto Express between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. In our excitement, we imagined reaching each other’s homes in just three-four hours. After all, I can’t do without his friendship.
I remember calling him to share my excitement. He pointed out, “Non-stop means saving a maximum of 20-25 minutes… it’s not what you are imagining.” I logged on to the Indian Railways website to check the arrival and departure time of the Duronto Express. He was right. I gasped in disbelief and thought, “Why didn’t I think like this?”
I remember saying to myself, ‘You know, teachers have that X factor. They look beyond the obvious. That’s why they shape lives.’
Beyond The Classroom
I met my friend and teacher years ago at university where he was my senior. So, he is not my teacher in the strictest sense of the term. But then, what’s in a dictionary definition? There are types of love, and all kinds of teaching. As I said, lessons and teaching can come from anywhere.
And to me, he is a beautiful, tender, elegant teacher who neither checked my examination papers nor gave me grades, but infused me with love and learning every day. We have the utmost love, affection and respect for each other. We learn a lot from each other in our daily lives, even though we live in different cities now.
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He recommends things I should read and ponder. I have derived my understanding of India, Gandhian philosophy, issues of identity, love, relationships and religion from my innumerable conversations with him. He’s the quintessential analytical thinker and teacher. I am the quintessential storyteller. I write letters to him. He prefers to speak over the phone or in person.
We are different in so many ways, yet we connect on the deepest possible level, both intellectually and emotionally.
Learning Through Differences
I write in my notebook,
Give me your phone
Take my pen
Write to me
I need words.
I complain about him not writing, I threaten to delete all the emails I’ve written over the years. He listens patiently and tells me as any ‘cool’ teacher in the world would say, “Let us celebrate our individual ways. I can talk to you from dusk to dawn. About anything. And, you can write to me about anything.” I agree. Life’s a collage. Our lives are the pieces coming together to create beauty.
And he’s right. Individual freedom in a relationship means so much.
He has the mind of a social scientist. I have the heart of an artist. I am a wanderer in spirit, even when I am not travelling. I look for homes in odd places outside my door. He carries home within him. He’s rooted like a banyan tree. I am restless but I feel strangely calm when we are talking, the same way I used to feel when talking to my father, who was a teacher much loved by his students. In my friend, I see traces of my parents’ love, care and protection.
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‘Conservative-Liberal’, I call him. I try to be a rebel like a teenager. He brings me to reason. I come up with excuses. But after a while, I see clarity in his voice of reason, the same way my parents made me see reason when I was young.
Day after day, for the last 20 odd years, he has kept me addicted to social sciences and politics. Through our constant interactions, he has helped me to develop a perspective – whether on chai, music, cricket or electoral politics. I am so very lucky to have a mentor like him in my life.
When I feel sad or upset, I tell him, “I need to see a therapist.”
He says, “You don’t need one…You have me.”
There are relationships that defy labels. There is love that cannot be defined. But I do believe the best kind of love is that which sparks both imagination and knowledge. As a storyteller by passion, I celebrate both memory and imagination. He’s the friend, philosopher, the teacher of my life. He teaches me and inspires me to fall in love with life. Every single day. What a lesson to learn!