Updated: Nov 1
Written by Sharon Swathi Gaddala
From God's own country, a scholarly and proficient young man, barely in 20`s, has a mind to flush an age-old practice in the education system. A system, more comfortable, collaborative, and beneficial for both lecturer-student, a win-win outcome. If you are not well travelled in south India, I will help you, land where Malayalam is the native language, a state on the Malabar coast of India, Kerala. By the way, did you know Kerela means *The Land of Coconuts*?
South of India, one of the many temple towns of Tamil Nadu is Chidambaram, very famous for Nataraja Temple, the interrelation between this temple town and the God's own country, a part time lecturer, pursuing his Ph.D. is Abhijit Sir, from Kerala, studying at Chidambaram.
As he entered the classroom for one of the Psychology lectures, my immediate thoughts were, what a young and energetic man. He introduced himself to the class. I was in awe as he seemed a breath of fresh air, full of excitement and aura in the otherwise dull and boring town. I think, this place I perceived as dull is not because of anything particular but living in cities the noise, hustle and bustle is inevitable, it’s just that. After many years, I was experiencing this type of quite, serene and lush green surroundings and so loved it.
Home or away from home, Tea is a must. From cultural capital of Tamil Nadu, Madurai, I had a World record holder in longest Karaoke Music and Dance Marathon, 2022 to share it with, Rajashree, a.k.a Raji, a Youtuber just like me. We were destined to meet, instantly mix in, like milk in tea. I loved chatting with her, share sandwiches, laugh hard and even harder.
Abhijit sir gave his introduction and that very moment I could sense he was different, he lives with a sense of honesty and enlightenment, very open about truth and reality of life, one of those people who believe in normalising what they believed in, than merely accepting how things ought to be a.k.a the ODD ONE OUT. Making a difference to himself, to the society, the community and beyond. His ideas, thoughts, and the momentum he exudes will sum up his opulent personality.
The focal point of what triggered me to write this blog about him was when we all had umpteen questions and started hollering Sir, Sir, Sir, he waved his hands to all students and said you can call me Abhi and not Sir. Voot voot, he is the first one. This to me was not normal, Abhijit sir a lecturer for Abnormal Psychology. I was dumbstruck and still processing, a whirlwind of thoughts clouded and fogged the traffic in my brain.
I am used to calling people by their names at my corporate job, this culture is accepted in corporate offices. No one addresses, a senior in designation and age as Sir or Madam (I will not deny there are some exceptions). People can address others by their name, no one can compel you to call them Sir/Madam.
For me, calling my lecturer by his name was not NORMAL. Do you agree? I looked at Raji and asked, is it normal for you? Something was unsettling and the marinated curious maniac in me, I said Abhijit Sir, but why would you want to your students to call you by your name and not as Sir, isn’t this a threat to an age-old practice of the teacher-student relationship? Will this not blur or erase the boundary of the sacred bond and hierarchy? From kindergarten to school and colleges, we are accustomed to calling our teachers and lecturers as Sir or Madam, it is a matter of prestige and sign of honour out of the enormous respect we have for them. Isn’t it?
But here with Abhijit Sir all the prestige, honour was from the connection he has with his students than being called Sir, Holy Moly! I was literality interrogating him out of my intriguing curiosity, Why Sir? I still can’t come to terms with calling you by your name sitting at a student bench. I am still processing your approval to call you Abhi and not Sir, I will take some time.
Sir`s response was, what was important for him as a teacher, lecturer was that he wants a collaboration, two-way learning and discussing than just one way cascade from lecturer to students. I like it that way, I am like that. I want my students to be inclusive in my classes and ask me questions, I will answer to the best of my knowledge. Also, one of the points he mentioned was that the students, these days, mostly are older than him, especially regular mode is not the only mode of education now (how can we not thank Covid), students in their 40`s, 50`s and majority of them, almost, older than him, much older.
Sir continued, that he feels comfortable that way, he feels connected with students and it is easy to communicate making it a two-way learning process, than the superior feeling with boundaries, he want students to feel at ease. I was passively settling, somewhat convinced because I am alike him, I believe and encourage people around me to do what they are comfortable with, what brings them happiness and satisfaction, than merely following the old traditional practices (respect for them though).
One person may or may not change the entire community but can be that catalyst we need, a thought to convince, a thought to make you feel you are one like them. It is okay if these thoughts are about challenging beliefs and age old practices, may be this will seem normal someday. May be not and that’s fine, we can and should give our best shot, whenever there is a possibility.
I was gigantically inspired by him. I also told him with an uncertain voice that Sir I would write a blog about you if I had your consent. His big, bright smile with ogled eyes thru spectacles was a non-verbal approval followed by a verbal one. He flinched, when he said, really you will write about me? Go ahead. I am not sure, if he was sure, that I was serious about writing this blog.
I am cognizant, eventually someday, we will be around lecturers who will be comfortable in being addressed by their names, if they wish to, normalizing it. Until then, our drill of Sir/Madam will continue. There is no harm or threat to the system of lecturer-student relationship. We will always hold them with ample esteem and admiration. That sanctity will be status quo Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
With Sir endorsing this and his skin in the game, I corroborate, we should whenever we feel, be poised to bid farewell to the age-old practices which don`t seem much relevant for current times. If learning is the sequel of such collaborations and lectures, isn't that a culmination?
Thank you, Abhijit Sir, no Abhijit, still processing, will get used to it. But a colossal, THANK YOU for being that CATALYST in normalising what was not normal from centuries.
Written by consent from parties involved.
Signing Off - Sharon Gaddala
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