“Therefore Justice Sivasamy Iyer became such a great judge of his times by studying under the street light” – thus concluded the English Teacher at school.
This has not been the first time that I had been sermonized thus. The same teacher had taught about Einstein, Edison, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln and the hordes of other leaders that occupied my limited repository of world leaders who had been magnificent in their times. And there was this common thread in their tales – they all had attained greatness by studying under the street lights in their respective places.
Having been educated on the virtues of studying under the street light, it dawned upon me that the street light is an easy way to stardom in ones’ own field of choice. Then the obvious questions cropped up thus :
Why doesn’t every body start studying under the street light if that was a surefire way to superlative significance ?
Why don’t the schools of the world just push their imbecile idiots that masquerade as students under the street lights after having known that all great stalwarts were created under such lights during the different periods in history ? A back of the envelope calculation of 20 streets multiplies by 10 street lights multiplied by 2 students per streetlight led me to this astounding figure of 400 super intellectuals that could solve all the world’s problems in a jiffy – I prided myself on my discovery of a sure fire solution to world’s problems. This thought I kept contemplating on for a very long time that many a time I was about to shout this ‘Eureka’-ish discovery in front of the whole class. But somehow I though the better of it and kept the great idea to myself.
On an occasion I even wrote this piece of native intelligence on a piece of paper and was about to mail it to the Prime Minister but had to beat a hasty retreat when the post man said I would would have to affix an One Rupee Stamp on the envelope as the letter had to travel all the way to Delhi from Neyveli. One Rupee was a luxury that could fetch me two number of hard bound 220 page maths class work note book ( un-ruled ). For a long time I thought about the economics of mathematics and kept quiet.
But there were occasions when I let the cycle bell of the postman disturb my solitude on quiet saturday afternoons when the he brought me the invitation from the Prime Minister to attend the Republic Day Parade at New Delhi in appreciation of my rather brilliant discovery of a solution to this great intellectual deficit in the country. But my bliss would only be disheveled by the postman carrying the annual report of some defunct company that was already in the red for the last many years. Oh, my. What a wastage of national resources – a 200 page report on why the company didn’t do well. If only they stopped writing such annual reports and printing and despatching them through post they could save the company many thousands of rupees. Again a brilliant thought and some day I had to write this to the company. But there was this economic burden of affixing a stamp of 15 paise on the envelope. Where do i go for that princely sum ?
While solving the intellectual deficit of the country was of primary importance to me, there was another aspect that troubled me very much – that of becoming a stalwart myself. And the quick and easy way was to get myself educated under the street light. Sounded like a brilliant idea as I thought it would be good to test the hypotheses on myself while I strove hard to earn my One Rupee for purchasing the stamp.
The thought that I was going to become a student of great erudition and intellect, overnight, without much efforts, just by being under the street light sifting away the pages of the book seemed to evoke a sense of great satisfaction in me. I was going to compensate all my lost marks in the different tests in just one go. That very thought brought me great peace and a sense of having arrived.
So, I embarked on this journey towards the culvert on the opposite side of the road in front of our house upon which shone the street light. The night was dark and the street light was bright and the setting was perfect. And I surreptitiously sat on the culvert and opened the Biology book whereupon came over Babu looking suspiciously at me.
He was probably surprised at my nocturnal activity that was actually his domain. But being my friend he accepted my presence his his area of influence. Just to make sure and ascertain his approval, I just called him by his name – Babu. He came rushing at me and started licking my toe while wagging vigorously his curved tail. He used to do that whenever he was happy.
Thus started this nocturnal education. Things seemed to go on well for about a week or so when the whole effort was called into question by R-mami, the wife of V-mama, who stayed in the house adjoining the culvert.
“Why do you want to spend your time in the nights sitting on the culvert?”, asked R-mami. She was obviously perturbed by the fact that there was some human presence on the culvert when it was time for the world to sleep.
“No mami, I am studying”, I tried my best to answer.
Not convinced she probed further,” But why on the culvert ?”
“No mami,I am studying under the light”, I try to manage.
“But why here? Does your house not have lights ?”, she asks, her inquisitiveness knew no bounds.
“Yes mami, there is light but there is no street inside the house”, I said wondering why doesn’t mami understand the reason for the street light study.
She didn’t seem to understand, I thought. So I explained further by talking about Justice Sivasami Iyer, Washington etc.
“I appreciate your sentiments. But why in the middle of the night ?”, she asked again.
“Because street lights don’t glow during the day”, I tried to justify.
“But what about the snakes that usually crawl underneath at this time of the hour? It is already 10:00 PM”, she retorted.
A piece of quick thinking and I regained my composure and said , ” Mami, I am reading biology and hence a snake would be useful”, I replied triumphantly.
“So if you read about Paris, would you go to France?”, asked Mami.
Not a bad idea, I thought. But then felt a shiver down my spine as I suddenly remembered the geography class on the same day where we studied about the Amazon forests.
“But mami, I am just trying out a new idea in education , a rather old idea but has been forgotten now”, I tried to reason.
R-mami has never been one to give up. “If you keep pestering, i will have to inform your Appa”, she said.
Well that was s real problem. I was not sure how Appa would take to myself taking to the street to get enlightened. Not that he would be averse to my being enlightened but to the place and time that I had chosen for that purpose.
Not wishing to continue the dialog with R-mami that was clearly going against me, I was contemplating an honorable exit when a savior arrived in the form of Deng, my bro. Not that he was particularly interested in this nocturnal enlightenment of the academic kind but he was more outside of our house than the inside, having been a person whose friends circle was open to many species of the four legged kind as well encompassing the canine and bovine assortments.
His arrival helped divert attention from me and R-mami began her inquisition of Deng. Never one to disappoint, Deng continued his retorts with catchy phrases and well thought-out one liners that helped keep R-mami at bay.
R-mami ended this bilateral negotiation with a deadline “I should not see you on the culvert tomorrow”.
I began to worry about my ambition of becoming a Washington or Lincoln being discarded to the dustbins of history and the conspiracy that was being hatched by R-Mami. Deng whispered thr V-mama, her husband, had the habit of smoking on the culvert in the dead of night and that was the reason for her belligerence. Those were the days when elders felt embarrassed to smoke in the public.
Again Deng came to my rescue and said that we could call our friends Kuppu, Satish and Jeyakumar to join us in our nightly education. “Having company would ward off venomous reptiles”, he said in general. R-mami was visibly upset and rushed in uttering something that sounded like “Appa”.
After a week of cajoling, Kuppu and Satish agreed to come over while Jeyakumar didn’t need any. The idea of beccming ‘enlightened’ seemed to have fascinated them and they arrived with hordes of books. A table and four chairs were arranged to be placed under the light and we began our ‘study’.
Time seemed to pass but enlightenment didn’t seem to dawn for when I started with Biology, Kuppu began to read out aloud his Englsh lessons and Satish History resulting in a situation that seemed to resemble the parliament where everybody spoke at the same time.
We came to an agreement that we would need to refrain from reading aloud and thus help the cause. This seemed to work a little but resulted in Kuppu and myself dozing off in the middle.
And there was trouble from an un-expected quarter as well. During his nightly rounds on patrol, the local policeman Ramu was attracted by this grouping and came to visit us. Having learned about our enlightened vision on getting erudite, he began to relate a story of his brother who had similar ambitions and spent time under the street light and lost his speech in the process. The rumour was that a female ghost ( mohini as she was known ) had enamoured him and that resulted in his having lost his speech. That rendered us speechless.
Babu seemed to have understood this and began to bark at nothing in particular and the nocturnal cabinet was dissolved with no notice.
And now you know why I am not a genius, don’t you ?