Parents crossed another annual milestone as kids started school earlier this week. Just getting ready for the big day can be quite a stressful time for some folks. Slick marketing campaigns beleaguer students and their parents until they acquire the “back to school” essentials and feel reassured that their wards are all set to commence the journey to acquire knowledge. Long road trips are meticulously planned weeks in advance for taking the nest-leavers to their campus residences. The settling-in rituals are prolonged, ending with hugs that give away the suppressed sobs and the tears held back. The trip back home is perhaps even more gut-wrenching.
It was not so long ago that our own “babies” (grandkids, who are now over eight, five and three years old) started school. The kids, their mums and grandmother had all shed copious tears when it was time to leave the little angels at the school doors in the care of complete strangers. Fast forward to this year when five-year old J came home, excited after her first day at the “big” school after transitioning from Montessori and proudly announced that she now had a “BFF!” I was curious about the acronym, so her older sister and J breathlessly informed me that “everyone knows it is Best Friends Forever, Nana! You are just being silly”. It seems my own schooling days are not yet over.
Our grand nephew also started at his first-ever school in Canada, having arrived from India just over a month ago. An outgoing thirteen years old lad, he has started to make friends in a completely new environment. However, these are still early days and he occasionally misses his friends from “back home” especially after school, when they would have been outdoors playing soccer or other sports. But, he has family here to help him get over this trying phase in a foreign land.
Educational institutions around Canada have also been busy over the past several weeks, welcoming and settling thousands of domestic and international students from around the world, starting the Fall Session. A lot of these kids, some of them in their mid-to-late teens have left home for the first time. Those who have arrived from overseas find themselves in a new country and face a bewildering, overwhelming environment as they grapple with an alien climate, people, environment, culture, food, language etc. Accustomed to having their parents make all the decisions on their behalf, they now must figure out all on their own – where to live, manage their meagre finances, become familiar with public transportation, learn to contend with frigid temperatures after having lived in tropical countries, procure appropriate clothing and organize their daily meals etc. In short, these international students must deal with all the pressures faced by local students and then some, absent reassuring family support.
I admire and respect the students and their teachers, who help prepare them for their life journey.
In India, we have always followed the “Guru – Shishya parampara” (Master – Pupil tradition/custom) and still do so, especially in the imparting of fine arts, music and dance forms. It is a way of life where the student submits completely to the Master and serves her/him without reservation. Sufi thought also places emphasis on the Master – Student relationship, where the “Talib” or “Murid” (Seeker/searcher/Student) surrenders his very being (“Fanaa” or negation of the ego) and submits to the will of the “Murshid” (Teacher). Most people may not be aware that the expression “Taliban” means Students and did not carry the connotation ascribed these days by populist media.
Our learning does not end at school, college or university. We are all students for life. But, if we are not mindful and allow this accumulation of knowledge to only further fuel our ego, then Sufi saint Bulle Shah reminds us in this immortal kafi, that:
|Padh Padh Ilm Hazaar Kitaaban||(You) have read a thousand books to gain knowledge|
|Kadi apne aap nu Padhya Nahin||But have never looked into your own self (discovered who you truly are)|
|Jaa jaa Wardey Mandar Maseeti||You repeatedly run to temples and mosques|
|Kadi Mann Apne wich Wareya Nahin||(But) have never gone (looked) into your own heart|
|Ainvein ladhda hai Shaitaan de Naal Bandeya||O’ human, what is the point of your futile war against the Satan|
|Kadi Nafs Apne Naal Larya Nahin||(When) you have never fought your Self (ego, whims or desires)|
|Aakhe Pir Bulleh Shah Aasmani Pharna Hain||Says (the Master) Bulle Shah, you look for God in the skies|
|Jehraa Man wich wasdaa Unnhoo Phadyaa Nahin||(But) remain oblivious to the One (making you who you are) that resides within|
|Assan Ishq Namaaz Jaddon Neeti Ae||(In) offering the prayer of Divine Love|
|Taddon Bhul Gaye Mandar Maseeti Ae||(I) forget (have no need for) temples or mosques|