( I acknowledge Refractor’s indictment of Dronacharya that rejuvinated the cynic in me about the subject that was frozen for more than a decade, at a time when I am more articulate and when I am not afraid of the mark sheet anymore. )
A matriculate, i.e a high school graduate, someone who successfully passed out of class 10th was sort of an enlightened person those days in kalahandi, and not just among dalits. He commanded an enviable respect,as the graduates were the estranged sons of the village and masters, ph.ds were never heard of. Final exam days were a state of emergency. It used to be a board exam and the exam centres were usually far from home. So it used to be a joint war-exercise for the students-who would perform, the parents-who would arrange the stay and a teacher per school who was committed by the school to oversee the students. Two months before the board exam, there would be a test that was a qualifier for the board exam. Soon, there would be no classes and the market would buzz with several test-papers. Test papers were sort of student guides, from different publishers- Malhotra Book Depot(MBD), Orissa Secondary School Teachers’ Association (OSSTA) and so on. They invariably consisted previous 10-12 years’ board papers, lots of questions and answers-for each type of question and several practice papers each called “institutions” for some weird reason.
Of my primary concern here is OSSTA test paper(student guide) with reference to “Jara Upakhyana”. Jara Upakhyana is the story of Ekalavya, son of a tribal chieftain whose towering potential for being an warrior made the disciples of Dronacharya including Arjuna- the greatest archer to be, look like dwarfs. Upon learning that the skill Jara(Ekalavya) honed was by observing his teachings, Dronacharya deceptively asked for a convocational offering-the Guru daskhina, a payment of gratitude to the teachers that was practice that time. And with that he not only took back what he passed on to Jara rather passively and inadvertently, the skill of warfare, but also his innate talent, his inherent ability to shoot an arrow. Dronacharya bagged Jara’s right-thumb.
A standard and oft-repeated, and hence very important question from this chapter was “Jara ra charitra chitrana kara”. Literally meaning describe the character/personality of Jara. Funnily though, chitrana in oriya means both description and drawing differing only contextually. So some brilliant guy could actually draw a picture of a tender aged tribal prince in his language paper, evoking awe and a zero from the examiner.
The question, of course, had the standard answer, which was told multiple times when the chapter was taught and when the accompanying exercise was done. That it was virtuous of a kid, although tribal and hence sudra-supposedly the virtue less, to observe the sacred tradition of Guru-daskina. That it was obvious he was tremendously talented. That, however talented one must be, he had to respect the traditions, follow the elders. That such sacrifices were nature of great men and great societies. Etc…All these were repeated in the test papers including that of OSSTA, edifying the way the story is to be understood, interpreted and taught. There was no scope for discussion.
Thats how I remember the funny story about drawing “Jara’s picture”. I see it not as an aberration, but an alternate thinking in the land of brazen tailgating. Questions were never framed asking, to describe the character of Dronacharya, or was the act of Ekalavya a sacrifice or forced-foolish-faith or did he ever go on to become great or his greatness ends there in the great-indian epic Mahabharata or how much of Jara’s knowledge/skill could be attributed to Dronacharya or is Guru-daskina an un-negotiable wish of the teacher religiously fulfilled by the disciples or are teaching and learning complementary something like lock and key or there could be learning without teaching and teachers……………..
The pity is that secondary school teachers never thought beyond the periphery of religious interpretation of “Jara Upakhyana”. Not only the teacher of my school didnt discuss other lessons that could be learned from there, the Board also never encouraged by framing questions other than “Jara ra charitra chitrana kar”. And the OSSTA, which confined its intellectual responsibility to help the students pass by publishing the “test-papers”, transformed itself to a library of Dronacharya’s clones. Being teachers themselves, they probably resented any thought that could indict Dronacharya, that would corrode the sanctimonious image of a teacher. They helped some students to pass the exam with their teachings, with their notes, with their test papers, and failed a huge numbers anyway, fulfilling the prophecy of “Jara Upakhyana”. And they bundled out student, both matriculates and under-matriculates amputated of their independent thinking capacity, as chorus singers.
It is easy to construe the whole affair as a conspiracy, but representation of the story as such has won normative legitimacy in the society casts doubts over its functioning and future. As if the whole society is limping shadowed in a conspiracy that the functionaries are unaware they are part of it. And none of us is willing to widen the window of our observation.