Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Because I want to Learn..."

The sun seemed very ill-tempered as I peeked into the classroom. The Physics professor was still explaining his complex differentials to a bunch of bored students. That meant that I was quite early for biology classes. That also meant that I had to spend the next ill-fated twenty minutes boiling under the hot sun without a sense of purpose about me. I grudgingly settled down on one of those little concrete benches outside of class, and tried to count the minutes.

I saw her then, her head bent over our biology textbook. Her hair was in a hurriedly tied up bun with a pencil sticking out of it. It was one of those things which I found curious about her. A most unassuming woman, she seemed to be. Uncomfortable in the sweltering heat, I tried to play a mind game. I turned observant, silently eyeing that hard-working soul who was bending over her textbook. Tall. Intelligent. More than forty. Old--But still my classmate. How should I address her if she decides to look up? Drop a careless “Hey there, how’s it going?” or would a polite smile suffice? I didn’t know. She was one of those people who had appeared amicable from the start, but I hadn’t really gotten around to striking an intelligent conversation with her. It goes without saying that I’m very bad when it comes to starting conversations….I hoped she wouldn’t notice me fidgeting there, next to her.

“Oh hey there! Sorry didn’t see you before. How are you?”
I jolted. She was smiling back at me light-heartedly.
“I’m fine. I just arrived.” I tried to sound cheerful amidst the heat which was now pressing down on me.
“Hmm….so there’s a class going on in there, huh? Mathematics….”
“I thought it was a Physics class…”
“Oh is it? Hmm…Physics! Gosh!”
“Yeah, I know. It must be so hard! I always found it insane and difficult in high school.” I responded.
She smiled. That smile was mysterious…there was something that smile implied, which was beyond me. I simply waited.
“I once majored in Physics from a University in England, you know.” She declared.
The fluid conversation effortlessly hid the fact that I was embarrassed. The woman was at ease, talking about why Physics had appeared so interesting to her. She didn’t boast, but I knew that there was some zest in her, a degree of intelligence which gave her the appearance of a smart intellectual. I saw the vitality in her eyes, speaking to me with so much cheer. Wow, she was a very different kind of a fifty year old.

Slowly, a slight suspicion started weaving a web in my brain…if she had a good job now, knew her Physics right, why is she returning to learn Introductory Biology? I wanted to ask her the question without appearing like an interrogator. But I wasne’t given a chance to ask. Because she answered it before I could even mouth it.

“One day, I went to my doctor. He spoke about my health. He spoke medicine….and I told him, I’m very sorry sir, but I don’t speak doctor! Then I thought….why can’t I? You know, I always knew my Physics right, but Biology? It was so unknown to me! So I thought…why not learn? Why not update my knowledge? So I decided to take this course…”

“Why are you taking this class?” she asked me.
“Because I’m a biochemistry major” I said involuntarily, “You?”
Because I want to learn…”

Her words immediately reflected the lack of depth in my answer. They also made me think hard. The woman was taking these classes not because it would benefit her professionally or earn her more bucks. She was returning to learn undergraduate level biology simply because she wanted to know….she still wished to be the student....

The physics class dispersed. I picked up my bag which was now slipping off my shoulder. I was still thinking…would this be something I would ever do, given a chance? Would I ever come back to learn Art Appreciation or Psychology when I was fifty years old just because I didn’t understand these subjects? Would I still remain curious about my surroundings, and retain the zest to learn, understand and interpret the world through various means at the age when all one wants to do is take one long vacation? Maybe not, I thought…maybe not. But as I observed her cheerfully shoot some creative doubts to the teacher that day, I changed my mind. I promised myself that when I was old and weak-kneed, if a doctor ever spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand, I would go right back and take human anatomy classes without hesitation. This woman taught me something. I made a mental note to remember that that I’m always a student and it’s never too late to learn....


Happy Kitten said...

Nice read Lakshmi.. how well you have put down ur thoughts..

you are a long way from that dreaded 50 :), but if there were such possibilities to be a student again, some of us who are nearing that age would willingly pick it up....

Ashwin said...

Beautiful post. I sometimes wonder, how only some people have such experiences. How many of us get to meet people like the kind you met. I wonder whether it is luck. But no, it is the open eyed nature in some who grab such experiences.

kallu said...

Good point,Lakshmi and nicely put as usual.

Disha said...

A very nice post as usual! Indeed it is never late to learn more. It has a good moral.How beautifully you've described the indecent! Marvelous Lakshmi!!!

praneshachar said...

I fully agree and firmly believe learning never ends. If someone claims he/she is fully aware or no need to enhance their K then they are not the right people. Only thing is in US and other western countries there is no bar you can join any course basics to doctorals at any time of your life. Somehow in our country if you go to a college at 40 + you are considered as a teacher more than a student.
Yes certainly there is lot to learn and lakshmi you are no doubt a keen observer but u are also a vidid writer to pen down what u thought in a way u want and able to convey a lot to reader is something really unique in your post. a Punch is there in this post of yours. kudos to you for sharing such a wonderful story/a real life one here for our introspection

Mohammed Musthafa said...

hmm...very few ppl do wht the lady did....most jus want to escape education...

nice thought...and i liked the title!

Chaitu said...

Beautiful post! Wanted to read it long time ago, but then was held up on other things.

That;s one of the things I realised after coming here. People here take up something because they want to learn, not because they want to succeed. The end result is that, success is a natural consequence of your passion!!!!

I still have to learn to learn :-)
I am glad you have realised it early!

Praveen G K said...

Hey Lakshmi,

THe previous comment was from me. Posted it from my friend's Id by mistake!!!

Nimmy said...

Very thought-provoking! Loved reading this post! :-)

Anu said...

loved reading this post..... i too am a physics postgrad, who has left academics a long way behind once i became a mom, and have been planning to take something new up.... began blogging and found satisfaction,,,, now am thinking about going back to college,,, maybe in a couple of years... gave me a wonderful feeling to read about the woman who is much older than me, yet wants to learn.. thanks for giving me the encouragement i desparately needed.

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Happy Kitten: a long way from the dreaded 50! :) helps to prepare fr that day though! sure you people would love to pick up studies again! :)

Ashwin:It was my sheer good luck, I would say! Such people r not uncommon, but actually getting to talk to them, for such a long time is a rare privelage! im happy that i had that privelage!

Kallu: thanks for the comment! :-)

Disha: thanks so much, hun!! I'm happy that you found a moral hidden in all those jumbled words!

Mr. Pranesh: I firmly vouch for that thought too! learning is a never-ending process. It's people like that woman who sometimes act as eye-openers, making us realise just how much we have to learn...

Mohammad: Hey! :) Glad u liked the title! keep hopping in!And do keep up your excellent blog!

GK: Bet you would have seen them at graduate school! :-) I have a chem teacher who went back to univ. to do 3 BS's! I still have to learn to learn too, Mr. Praveen! Life would get boring if I stop learning--learning from teachers, my surroundings, and learning to write from people like you!!! thanks for the comment! :D

Nimmy: Thank you! Im glad my post made others think about what is means to learn rather than boring them with my long-wound recollection of an ordinary incident! :)

Anu: Thanks, firstly for taking the time to read my post. And thanks for being a Physics grad (gosh, im so jealous of you ppl's wonderful brains n analytical abilities! i really think phy majors are amazingly smart!:)...It's great that you're considering going back to college...long live that spirit! I think you should...I think it will be a whole new experience to savour and enjoy! Wishing you the best of luck! :-)

Omkar said...

Whoa, it was really an inspiring post I must say. On this occasion I would love to share this story of greatest sport personality of modern India. Yes, I am talking about the little maestro himself, SACHIN TENDULKAR.
If somebody could say that he is still hungry to learn more about cricket, it has to be him. If somebody could say that he is still humble as he was at his beginning of his career, it has to be him. If somebody could say that he still has lots of cricket in him, it has to be the one and only Sachin Tendulkar himself.
The other day I saw a photograph in a daily newspaper in which sachin was being taught batting by Danni Morrison. Now don’t ask me, who’s Danni Morrison. He was the head of the Newzealand’s batting tail. What possibly could a person with almost all the records in cricket have learnt from Danni. But you could see Sachin patiently observing this person like a keen school kid. But such is the zest of the student inside him. Always willing to learn ,may it be cricket or life. For me he is the best student ever I have seen. I hope that he will stay fit few more years, displaying his cool cremator attitude with the bat.
God, I am a proud Indian. Thanks mainly to this man. Sachin might retire from cricket in the years to comeby, but he can never retire from the billions of hearts that he has entertained for all these years. LAGE RAHO SACHIN PAJI…………………………….