A classroom outside a classroom

Strangely enough, one of the most fulfilling experiences of my professional life has only a tangential relationship to my work.

While I am a journalist, I found the two semesters I taught final-year Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) students as — if not more — satisfying than anything I’ve done in a newsroom.

The students were eager and happy to have somebody who didn’t talk down to them. They were also well-informed, with intelligent opinions and a genuine interest in the media.

I guess my not being a teacher by profession helped because I didn’t know how to conduct a ‘lecture’, opting instead for interactive sessions. The students — not to mention I — felt more comfortable this way. It was almost as if they were conducting the lecture and I was merely filling in the blanks.

Also, the kids were really sharp and it kept me on my toes.

But that was a classroom and we worked within the framework of the topics assigned. So, I was apprehensive when I was asked to talk to a few students and their parents about media as a career on April 12. I said yes because the students being bussed in were mostly from Urdu schools and from less privileged backgrounds.

I was curious about how it would turn out, whether they had any inclination at all towards journalism. I was intrigued also by another aspect — the students knew very little English, while I am hopeless in Hindi and don’t know Urdu at all.

How would we communicate? Would they look upon me as just another slick-sounding character who didn’t really care?

So, my heart was in my mouth as I looked at the audience that Sunday. The ‘few’ students and parents turned out to be an audience of over 450. “That’s it,” I thought, “I’m sunk.”

It struck me then that what worked in my BMM class would work here. I refused to get on the dais, choosing a cordless mike instead and walked into the audience as I spoke. Five minutes later, I threw the floor open for questions. And there was a flood of them.

I was happily surprised at the eagerness those teenagers exhibited. I was even more surprised at how interested the parents were.

Like in my college classes, it was the girls who were the most vocal. You just had to look into their eyes to understand their desire to break out of the shackles of conservatism and to make something of their lives.

They asked me all sorts of questions — from how bad the work hours are and what they could expect to get paid to how biased the media were in their political reportage.

And it didn’t matter that I was struggling with the Hindi and lapsing into English every few seconds. We understood each other perfectly.

When I started, I thought I would run out of things to say in a few minutes. In the end, the organisers had to stop the talk because we had run out of time and another speaker was waiting. Several students followed me out and I continued answering questions in the courtyard.

This is not a vanity blog. It’s not about how something turned out well for me. It’s about how the students of today — cutting across social layers — always make me feel great about the future. I’m not among those who have nothing but criticism for the youth. I don’t think they take their futures for granted, I don’t think they are unwilling to work hard and I don’t think they are casual in their choices or commitments.

My students and those at the talk are evidence of this.

I miss the feel of a classroom, and I miss being around those razor-sharp minds. Maybe some day somebody will ask me to teach again.