Every country has its own date in the calendar to mark Teacher’s Day. India chose Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday. Radhakrishnan was a rare breed—a profound, if not critical, scholar and professor of Hindu philosophy. But he’s not an archetype for teachers in India, simply because, being such a cracking good example, he won’t provide us with what we also need to keep in mind: the guru’s fallibilities. Because the guru plays such a crucial role, it warrants us to remain alert to his old follies too.
Our archetypal guru, the real contrary blend of supreme talent and glaring flaws, is Dronacharya. It was Drona’s partisanship—his blind fixation with making Arjuna the greatest archer—that fostered jealousy (in son Ashwatthama and the Kauravas) and produced victimhood (Ekalavya). His paternal love then made him fight on the other side, even though he was with the Pandavas on principle. By the end of the war, Drona cut a sorry figure, accused of unsavoury behaviour by all sides. Even Krishna reproached him for exemplifying all the wrongs as a guru. Today, the Drona syndrome is all-present: in the systemic partiality towards a class of students, who claim to monopolise talent; in the privileging of filial ties that smoothen the road to higher education; in the lip-service to justice and equity, while it is everyday withheld or violated; and yes, in subtle or open discrimination along caste lines.
We all have our own memories of such stories—from school and college, institutes of performing arts, commerce or science and technology. The moral authority accorded to the teacher enables this revered figure to get away with a lot of dubious action. It is necessary then to see that this authority, as a source of the teacher’s social/moral capital, does not disturb the sense of equality that should exist between teacher and student in a democracy. As the perfect archetype of the ills of a guru, the Drona figure is precisely what a teacher or guru cannot be in today’s time. Drona believed in a world of violently fixed hierarchies, between student and teacher, upper caste and untouchables, men and women. A teacher exhibiting signs of the Drona syndrome, someone who follows strictly hierarchical values, practising exclusivism on caste lines and favouritism on the lines of kinship and family, would be a retrogressive and dangerous figure, detrimental to the values of democracy and social equality. Even Ustad Zakir Hussain, himself the beneficiary of a filial line, once aired his disgust with gurus of Indian classical music who unequally divide the fruits of their craft, promoting their sons and daughters to the detriment of other students. But an almost religiously driven ‘bad faith’ drives students and parents alike to accept these exploitative ways.
Today’s gurus don’t merely operate around Drona’s feudal/casteist sense of honour. They are also quintessentially driven by the instrumentalist logic of money. Ego, family, clan, nationalist rhetoric—it’s all tied up with profit. It’s to this project that the false myth and shallow lies of gurus who besmirch the universal name of their hallowed profession are today attached.
The author’s Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems was published by The London Magazine; E-mail your columnist: manasharya [AT] gmail [DOT] com