Of Strength in Sharing: Fellow Durbar
I sat in the brightly decorated classroom, at the end of my first day at Institute. I got the opportunity as part of my internship with Teach For India’s Communications Team. Attendees soon began to trickle in, as upbeat music streamed from speakers to lift their spirits at the close of a long, tiring day. It was 9:30PM on the 6th of June – the last Fellow Durbar at Institute 1. Though the setting was in stark contrast to a Persian noble’s court in the 1700s, the essence of the convention remained intact despite the 300 intermediate years: it was a gathering of individuals, and a space within which they could share, engage with, and learn from each other.
Avinash Raju DV, 2014 Fellow and pioneer of the initiative, says “Once I moved to the city, it was a totally different experience, because class is intense. And in Old City Hyderabad, the kids are also intense. At first, I thought I was the only one occasionally messing up in class. But once I spoke to other Fellows, I found out everyone was going through similar things.” This prompted him to create a platform where Fellows could meet, and discuss their thoughts. The first Durbar was held at Hyderabad, and the program made its Institute debut in May 2016.
Despite being an external observer of their cohort, I felt the warmth and comfort that comes only from safe, free spaces. For every person who decided to step forward and address the room, the audience thumped the wooden desk-tops in encouragement – a rumbling of thunder that would reverberate long after the room emptied itself, as a reminder of the support and companionship that exists amongst the Fellows.
The night had no dearth of diverse, impactful performances – it began with an interactive movie quiz, and moved on to songs, collaborative poetry, and even a PowerPoint Presentation on the benefits of running as a fitness and stress-busting technique for the Fellows once they begin work in their respective cities! Perhaps what best represented the crux of the Durbar was the last address of the night – parting advice from Jai Mishra, a 2013-15 Fellow. He had just learnt of the suicide of a Teach For India student, and expressed his disturbance at it, while putting into perspective the importance of compassion.
“What I prioritize over everything is the kid”, says Jai. “Every number has a story behind it. I don’t know how many of us know those stories. It seems very simple: 1+1 =2. But 1 egg and 1 sperm becomes one life. The moment I’m adding a context behind the number, it’s no longer simple.
Hum itna kho jaate in numbers aur outcomes ke chakkar mein, ki bhool jaate hain class mein baithe un chhote chhote bacche ko (Translation: we get so lost in the cycle of numbers and outcomes, that we forget the little children sitting in our classrooms) – they are more important than their scores. And that’s where I differentiate between a normal teacher and a Fellow.”
His words settled on the roomful of Fellows, yet to experience their first class in their separate cities, arming them with his indelible, poignant advice. He urged them to build a level of engagement with their children that extends beyond the four walls of a classroom and numbers on a report card – to their families, homes, peer groups, troubles and ambitions. In its essence, his advice for a Fellow-child relationship is similar to what the Durbar does for intra-Fellow bonds.
As DV says, “I took the sentence “a movement towards educational equity” very seriously. My basic question was that if we don’t know each other, how are we part of a movement?”