"Partha, are you online?" Baba finally seems to have started the class. I can hear him talking to his students. His first online class a week ago was a disaster. He needed help with setting up the software and his notes and everything. And I did help him, but even then, the class itself was crazier than our times. Even we took our teachers for granted, but we never outright disrespected them.
Very much like the first day, now I hear pornographic sounds in the background. I know it's his class, but I do feel like I should go and give those kids a good thrashing. But that will only prove Baba incompetent. Wait, did he do it? The sound just ceased. He did it. He muted them all. I'm so proud of you, Baba.
That day, he just looked flabbergasted. I watched him as he was festering through the class. He didn't know what to do. At one point he shouted in rage and the students, I could feel, only found amusement.... but only once. Unlike a physical classroom, here, he couldn't point out a single culprit, he couldn't punish some sense into them, he couldn't walk out and expect they would feel apologetic.
He was trying to teach something, but they only continued screwing with him. A moan here, a slang there... they wouldn't stop. And Baba didn't know how to make them. I remember, he looked at me at some point. I didn't know if he was asking for help, or simply checking whether his son thought lowly of him after the massacre of his esteem. He wasn't the crying type, most Indian men aren't, but I saw his eyes and I couldn't help but notice his pain bubbling deep inside.
I walked up to him, grabbed his mouse, and muted everyone. I made sure I wouldn't appear on camera. I felt like I saved the day. But, no... He didn't say a word to me, then. He didn't say a word to me, later on, either. Now, he looks at me and smiles, a radiance almost conveying that he might be old wine, but he can adapt to the new bottle.
It's been three days. His first ever online class was three days ago, and today is the second. It's been three days that Baba has spoken to me only as much as has been absolutely necessary. I believe he felt hurt that day that his son had to step in to correct a scenario that he has been correcting for around thirty years now. Or maybe he just felt to broken to have been called names by his students in from of me. He finally smiled at me today having proven to himself that he still has it in him to evolve with the generations.
And to be honest, he has evolved. Teaching, for him, has always been physically engrossing interaction. But in these pressing times, he had to figure out the art of teaching online. Earlier, he barely knew how to google, but then, he learnt the details of using a web-meeting platform. He had to mentally accept that he would have to talk looking at the lens and not at human eyes. At his age, I know how stressful it can be for him. After all, he is the one whom I couldn't, till date, explain how to take a screenshot. And yet, in the span of three days he learnt how to be the boss in the online class that he is hosting. I even noticed, at one point, that he kicked out a student who was participating under an inappropriate name.
As much as I would love to slap those teens, I am proud of the strength my Baba portrays. He is and has been a teacher to many grateful and ungrateful students in his lifetime. And he is still teaching me, a newbie in the profession myself, how to keep calm and adapt with the times in order to control the classroom whilst refraining from being unprofessional.
And honestly, somewhere deep inside, I realize that I could have treated my teachers better, in my time as a student. I could have shown the respect they deserved every day for their hard work, instead of bunching them all up in a metaphorical bouquet on Teachers' Day once a year.
Penned by Aninda K. Nanda
Illustration: Souradwip Bachhar