Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts of an Indian school teacher

Thoughts of a school teacher
I am schizophrenic. There ! I have said it and now I can relax and get on with our little chat !
You know I am sick and tired of talking to people, pretending to be normal but wondering all the time, whether I sound normal. I know I am pretty normal…when I am taking my meds; Not to boast, but I am probably more normal than you. But it bothers me…talking to you, knowing that you don’t know that I am schizophrenic. My mom is always telling me not to go around telling people I am schizophrenic, but I simply cant pretend that I am a normal person talking to another normal person…knowing that I am not.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was about 18 and in school. I believed that people were out to harm me, I became suspicious  and went through a phase of intense superstition. I laugh now when I recall what I did back then, when no one knew yet that  I was off my head. I had tied chillies and lemons above my study table to ward off evil spirits. I had stopped attending classes and wandered round the streets of my city. I once attacked my sister in a sudden rage and now I can barely remember why I was so mad with her.
To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed and medicated; I got better but gained weight with the medicines and looked like a roly poly barrel. My dad used his contacts  and got me a  job; I was paid so little, it was exploitation. They knew I was 'mental', knew I would not get another job and they made full use of this unfortunate fact. My dad's sole aim at that point in time was  to get me out of bed , out of the house and in some job and this was the only job he could get for me; This exploitation of the 'mental'  by the 'normal' is another 'fact-of-life', 'mentals' have to put up with I guess.
 After a few months I stopped taking my meds and got into fights with my fellow-workers and lost this job. I was back at home, sleeping the entire day. My dad tried to wake me but the meds kept me drugged.  All I wanted to do  was lie in bed . The only times I woke were when my dad was relentless. My mother tried to deal with me during his brief trips to the village, but I easily ignored her calling and continued to lie in bed. Gradually, my dad stopped going to his village and I became his full time 'city job'.
I got a job again. This time it was through my uncle’s contacts. I was forced out of bed every morning by my father. I had breakfast and left to work. I slogged. It was another back-breaking, ill-paid job. I neither liked it nor hated it. I had to do it as my dad made me do it. I don’t remember thinking about this job. My mind was a blank, always craving for sleep. I worked, I ate, I sleapt. I had no interest in books or television or people or sports or anything. All I wanted to do when I was not working was sleep.

My sister  married and my mother started fretting about me; she  asked my neighbour who was a therapist if it was okay for me to get married. The therapist told her not to get me married. She gave my mother the pros & cons of  me being single and me being married; She asked my mother, "Will you get your daughter married to a fellow knowing he is mentally ill, knowing he is not earning well, knowing that he sleeps all the time, and knowing he does not have a degree?" My mother cried and returned home.
She  determined to get me married, so that ‘I will have someone to look after me, when she is dead’. Neither she nor my dad asked me if I wanted to get married. I heard and watched their daily fights and discussions. I said and did nothing.
I was taken by my parents to ‘see a girl’ from a good family, same caste as ours of course. She has done B.A they said. Will you marry her they asked. I was furious. I was silent. I did not want to marry. I wanted to marry. I just want to be left alone. I was curious about married life. I did not know what I wanted. But I for sure wanted to sleep for hours and hours. I wanted to lie in bed doing nothing for ever. But I sometimes also had day dreams. I fantasized about being normal. I fantasized having a job and a beautiful wife. I fantasized about cricket and photography. I fantasized about being in the administrative services like my dad. But I could never stay out of bed, long enough to work on any of these fantasies.
I neither said yes or no when my mother badgered me about marriage and she finally took my silence as a yes. I am now married with a 9 year old son.
Before  marriage, my wife was told that I was having ‘an illness’ for which I had to take medicine. Neither she nor her parents expressed curiosity or concern about it. I found it pretty strange that this did not bother them but I also knew that many villagers do not freak out when they hear such news. Is it their ignorence? Is it their faith in God? Or is it their acceptance ? I do not know.
 Her father  told mine that no one is born perfect and that he is okay with a son-in-law who needs to take medicine. I wonder if he told his daughter anything about me taking meds at all. Her parents and brother and probably she too thought I was a ‘good match’ as I was from a ‘good family’, from the ‘city’..My wife and her family are from a village, ergo, more na├»ve than street-smart; more trusting than cautious.
She must have found out in a short while that I am not like other husbands. I slept the entire day. I did not work. And I hit her when I stopped taking my meds. She put up with it. She cried. She was angry with my parents. But she was stuck with me. No one in her village or her family had ever divorced. And what could she do if she divorced me? Go back and live in her parents house in the village to be taunted by her sister-in-law? I was sorry for her. Angry with my mother. Hated God. Hated myself. Hated her too and blamed her for marrying me. I felt like a person who is angry but sleepy with drugs at the same time.  I felt guilty. But  guilt was something I knew but did not feel. I barely felt anything. I could think in a slow and sluggish way but I could not feel. I knew I should feel guilty and ashamed for not being a good husband. I knew I should work and earn. I knew I should do this and that. But all I felt was a heavy unbeatable apathy. All I wanted to do was sleep. Was it the meds that made me so lazy? Was it the illness? I don’t know. I felt nothing. I wanted to do nothing.I was intensly angry yet apathetic. I spent a few years in this state of zero-energy but intense anger.
  
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Life now: I am teaching in a school since the last 3 years. This is the first job I have held on to for this long.  I teach maths and science to kids in grades three, four and five. I am on my feet the entire day teaching. I am exhausted when I come home. I eat, watch tv, watch my son playing and then I sleep. I even talk to people on the phone and read a bit of the newspapers. I have not skipped the meds since the last three years. I did consider it. I tried skipping the meds on holidays but I could not bear the rush of paranoid thoughts in my head. I thought that people were out to kill me again and knew that I needed to take the meds; the meds are as important as air and water to me.
My school is new and has little funding. The fees are low and most students are from poor families. I am bossed over by a man, more interested in completing ‘the portions’ than in making sure the kids understand and love what they are doing. He constantly tells me to ‘be strict’ with the kids. He tells me “Don’t worry if they understand or not. Just see that you complete the portions in time.” He is furious that I am not caning the kids. I have told him time and again, that caning will only make the children afraid. “They will hate me and they will hate maths”. But this Great Guru, believes that fear is the key.
I cannot take this anymore. I am sick of this guy nagging me. I am sick of trying to teach algebra to kids who can barely add and subtract. I may be schizophrenic. But I am not crazy.
God save these children. They are helpless prisoners of this miserable school. I do not know how many will end up like me….If I had to learn algebra before I knew addition and subtraction, I would have become psychotic at 8 instead of 18.
 Will these hapless children drop out of school and into a life of delinquency? Who knows?
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I am schizophrenic. I agree.  But I do know how to teach children; And believe me, teaching them, the say my boss insists, is not the way to teach!
 I know, how to keep them, i.e. the children from becoming schizophrenic.
Who is normal ? Who is schizophrenic?
Am I schizophrenic when I insist that the students have some free time to let off steam; when I refuse to cane the students? when I insist that students know basics before I teach them higher level maths?
Or is my boss  schizophrenic when he tells me: “You should complete teaching the syllabus by the end of  March. Do not worry if the children do not understand. Your job is to finish teaching by end of March. Whether they understand or not is not your problem.”
I do have a conscience. And I do care about these students. But I cannot fight alone. I am but an underpaid teacher, hired out of pity by someone who knew my father. I am teaching though I am not qualified. I can be kicked out any day the management wants to. I am a diagnosed schizophrenic, without a degree or a B.Ed. That they will not kick me, as they are saving a bundle by having me instead of one with proper qualifications, is another story.
 I know what the future holds for these kids. They will graduate from school, not knowing how to read or write or add or subtract. They cannot think or reason. They fear teachers and hate learning. Being children and being poor, they have limited choices. Their futures are screwed and being screwed irretrievably on a daily basis by the very systems which are supposed to nurture them: their schools and families. How does one fight this tide of irrationality? How do you deal with  Parents who believe that beating makes a child, obedient and good;  How do you negotiate with teachers who want to unthinkingly follow the rules set down by the government, without checking about feasibility; How to deal with a government which follows either archaic rules or blindly copies the west, without considering the huge disparity in context between the west and east. 
 It’s a losing battle.
The outer world is more schizophrenic than my inner world. It is easier for me to handle my schizophrenia than the world’s. My schizophrenia goes away with meds. But what about the world's?
I am tired. All I want is my meds and blissful sleep.

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