In school, I used to hate studies because of the regimented time-table. In college, I tasted a bit of freedom but by then I had picked up the nuance of wrongly correlating learning with good results. In workplace, I was in a hurry to grasp quick and fast whatever my job demanded me to grapple with because for me that was the mantra of survival in the corporate jungle. Now, nearing the fag end of my non-illustrious career, I realize that I have learnt nothing. If only I could go back in time, erase the slate clean and start afresh. But given the present system of education of our country, which is nothing less than a grinding mill and a mass manufacturing factory, is there any chance that I will get initiated in the process of “rejuvenation” for one more time? The answer, of course, is a simple no. One can never truly learn anything if one does not ‘live’ the learning, enjoy the journey and derive pure bliss or ‘ananda’ from the source and the reservoir of knowledge, thus gained.
“Excellence begins where expertise ends,” says Debashis Chatterjee, in his unputdownable treatise on teaching and learning, titled “Can You Teach Zebra Some Algebra.” The tagline reads “The Alchemy Of Learning”. But it is much more than that – a must read for all teachers, students and parents alike. I borrowed the book from my elder sister, (before buying a copy for my personal collection), who is a teacher by profession. The book, in her school, is one of the recommended readings for her and all her colleagues.
The author says that you have learnt nothing if you are not able to tutor your mind which is as restless as a piquant monkey, if you are not aware of your own awareness and if you have not discovered the core of your being wherein resides absolute peace. It is this self-discovery, he says, that is all about getting educated. This is what our ancient seers and sages have harped on. Unfortunately, however, this is what our present systems have taken us away from.
In today’s fracas of jarring noises, solutions to unforeseeable immediacies and unthought-of calamities can only be sought and found in unheard silences which is nestling within us. We just have to see beyond the visible realities and pick up the sound of silences around. Otherwise how shall we manage the mammoth and the most unmanageable corporate entity of all times – “Life Corporation”?
It is this integral and integrated “enlightenment” that Debashis emphasizes upon which is not based on fragmented learning. He further urges all ‘learners’ to read beyond the printed pages of recommended readings and syllabi, travel beyond the stark walls of the classrooms and break down the compartments between Science, Arts and Literature. He maintains that we humans are a part of the wondrous whole called the Universe and in order to comprehend “The Incomprehensible” we have to come out of our self-created closet of career-oriented grooming.
In the chapter “A Learned Teacher Can Put A Whole Nation To Sleep”, Debashis writes “There is a difference between a learned man and a man of learning. A learned man is tied to the knowledge of the past. A man of learning is curious about the present. A learned man is bent over the dead wood of knowledge, like an ageing tree. A man of learning is vibrant and inquisitive, like a green twig breaking out of the soils after the rains. How often are teachers in the learning mode?”
He cites an example of one of his teachers who after each class would tear off his class-notes and throw them away to the bin so as not to give in to the bad habit of referring to the previous day’s notes thereby committing the mistake of repeating himself in the next day’s class.
“A learned man can put not just a whole class but a whole generation to sleep.”
On Innovation, Debashis says, “Innovation is creativity + action + interaction.” He shows how a group of learners can be energized by free-flowing exchange of knowledge: “As a teacher, you can divide the class of thirty students into six groups. Each group represents a class of experts – scientists, artists, politicians, farmers, industrialists and the last group represents meditating monks. Through their interaction, you are more likely than not to get a whole new perspective on energy.”
On commodification of knowledge, Debashis writes, “Many organizations in the world describe their wealth in the form of knowledge capital. It makes one feel that knowledge is some kind of real estate that needs to be fenced in by organizational boundaries.
Hoarding knowledge as though it is property kills the spirit of learning. Learning is not about accumulation but about accommodation of knowledge.”
The goal of education is awareness. Education should not qualify a student to be competitive but it should strengthen him to be more decisive. Debashis opines, “Awareness that is not fragmented by choices transports us from a monkey to a meditative mind. In the state of choice-less awareness the learner can discover the freedom wherein she can act decisively without the distortion caused by competing choices.”
However, the best that comes from Debashis is his openness to learn from students whom he unabashedly confesses he could not teach. One such student of his was Manjunath whom he describes as “He was like the bird of the wilderness that sang, not to win a musical competition, but because he had discovered a freedom song inside his own heart.” An alumni of IIM, Lucknow, on a dark November night in 2005, Manjunath laid down his life to the consorted mayhem of the Oil Mafia in a hardship location in Lakhimpur-Kheri. His only crime was that he had sealed three Petrol Pumps that were selling adulterated fuel. “Yet,” Debashis writes, “…why does his voice still ring in my ears, ‘Sir, what is this life if we have nothing to die for?’……I was not his teacher anymore. Honestly, he became my teacher.”
And serving an organization, wherein such indomitable spirits have benchmarked exemplary performance by their diehard diligence towards uncompromising honesty and dauntless march of trailblazing leadership, the process of learning for the rest of the corporate survivors stretches up to the horizon where achieving is just not doing a job well but to put on stake every living moment for what one sincerely believes in …something that one will not be hesitant to die for.
A little about the author: Debashis Chatterjee has served as Professor IIM, Lucknow and Kozhikode. He is the founding Fellow of the Centre for Leadership and Human Values at IIM, Kolkata. His teaching career spans over twenty years and six continents. Recipient of many a prestigious awards, he has trained more than 11,000 school principals and 15,000 managers globally in Fortune 100 Corporations and served as the Leadership Coach to CEOs, Chairmen of Banks and three Heads of State. For the last five years, he has been serving as the Director, IIM, Kozhikode.