You know how there are days when you wake up and feel “yeah! this is it i am going to change the world” and then there are days when you wake up plain meh!
So past few days I have been questioning my whole “I am going to fix everything, even stuff that ain’t broken” bit. This was triggered by a conversation with a child that left me more than speechless.
To establish a bit of context, I have been talking to the kids incessantly about how one should not eat gutkha, chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes. We saw pictures of people who are suffering from oral cancer and we even discussed the cost of palliative care for cancer patients and if inflicting such a disease upon oneself was worth it. Since we have been doing this for a while now, the kids have started going back home, telling their parents to stop chewing tobacco or eating supari. One smart ass kid took the oral cancer pictures from me to show his father and needless to say got smacked for not “studying” in school and “seeing gande pictures”. Overall, my students have been showing a fair amount of indignation over the consumption of tobacco issue and are basically balking at how they never knew oral cancer could happen and could kill. This to be very honest calmed me because a) they shared my feelings now b) I figured they would think for a while before doing something so “bad”.
Hence, when I saw Vivek chewing zarda in my class yesterday something in me snapped. I grabbed him by his hand, marched him to the dustbin, made him spit out what he was chewing, made him empty his pockets into the dustbin and then rinse his mouth with water. I was furious and I took him outside class and this was the conversation that followed:
Me: How dare you eat zarda? Don’t you understand a word of what I speak? Am I speaking in Chinese everyday? Tell me, WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO DO THIS?
Me: You listen to me mister, you are going to answer me right now and do not think I am letting you off the hook that easy.
Me: Vivek, I am giving you exactly 30 seconds to tell me what you were thinking or else you are in B I G trouble
Me: What do you want? Do you want to die? Is that what you want? Have I not told you where this leads. Have we not discussed what eating zarda can do?
Vivek: Yes (whispering)
Me: Yes to what?!
Vivek: I choose to eat zarda. If I die 10 years later, it is ok. I will eat. (smiling)
Me: What do you think of yourself? If you are so fond of dying, come with me. Let us go stand in front of a bus. Its simpler. Why wait for 10 years.
Vivek: I choose to die after 10 years not now. I will decide. Why do you even care? (now simply smirking)
I retreated. I simply ended the conversation by telling Vivek, he can make the choices he wants but he simply cannot eat zarda or any other tobacco/supari thing in my class.
When I look back at this conversation, I cannot believe that I had retraced my steps on how every person is free to do what he or she wants. I was one of those people who did not preach or send people on guilt trips. When I interact with friends, colleagues or family I have always maintained that people are free to choose their actions and map the course of their life the way they choose to.
Yet, I had become the self-appointed messiah for these kids. I never for once thought “what if they did not really want me to change everything”, “what if some people do not want me to fix their lives because nothing is broken the way they see it?”.
What if this whole ‘I am going to bridge the gap in these two years’ is something I am doing only to give myself an air of importance in my very own head.
Like some one said “we are only important in the decisions we make”. I guess somewhere during doing this Fellowship, I lost the sense of fairness and I became the very people I detest – People who think they are superior and hence can make choices for others and judge the mere mortals for not taking a path that is seemingly obvious.
Change the world to what? To something that I devised in my own little brain to be “better”?
But, I still cannot believe I allowed myself to be lured into the notion that I am going to “help” these people. The more I teach, the less I understand myself. It is like an ink drop in a bowl of milk – doubt swirling and diffusing. I do not see black or white, I simply see a fast growing grey.