The Inspiring Story Of A French Teacher In Ladakh
Once in a while in the corporate world, you come across someone who gives you a new perspective to life itself. And, that too without intending to! This incident happened several years ago, but I still remember it as if it was yesterday!
At that time, I was working with TCS and the CEO had called us to Mumbai for a meeting. The review meeting was scheduled on a Friday and a large number of participants had reached Mumbai the previous night itself.
The meeting started rather early and went on until evening. We hadn’t met our targets so it was anything but smooth, for us. As it so happened we were not alone. There were many others who were sailing in the same boat as us. Understandably, by the end of the day, people were exhausted.
Just when I was thinking of returning to Delhi for the weekend, we were asked to stay back in Mumbai for another night.
The reason for the additional night at Mumbai was a talk by a speaker unknown to most of us, at that point in time. All we got to know was that she was not from the corporate world at all.
Hearing this, spirits plunged. Participants had come from all over the country and it had been a particularly hectic week for many of them, including me. A lot of us were looking forward to unwinding over the weekend. Most of them were wondering what a person who had nothing to do with the corporate world could really have to share that would be of any value to them.
But, this request had come straight from the CEO so there was no option left, but to attend.
That evening, the entire team gathered on the lawns of one of the green offices of TCS, in the suburbs. Out on the lawn, people had started to unwind after a long day but no one had a clue, who this speaker was or what the talk was about.
In a short while, we saw a delicate looking young lady, clearly not an Indian, accompanied by a male companion who escorted her to the middle of the lawn. When she reached the center of the lawn, she stood for a moment before she was introduced as a person who had something to share that could be of interest to all of us.
When I looked at her, there was a strange kind of serenity about her countenance and in the middle of all the corporate stresses and pressures that we were used to, she seemed to be a very different person.
She started out by sharing her story that she was working with visually impaired children in a remote part of India, called Ladakh.
She was a French national and had done all her studies there. From a very early age, she was interested in helping other people and wanted to get into a profession that allowed her to do so. She said that a year and a half ago, she had called the principal of a school for visually impaired children in Ladakh, and expressed interest in coming to the school to teach the children there.
The Principal was skeptical.
He said, “You are a foreigner, living in a very developed country. Our school is in one of the most remote parts of India. The life you lead is something that the children of my school can’t even dream of! You can’t even imagine what the conditions here are. What could you possibly have in common with the children of my school that you think you could teach them?”
That’s when she responded, “I am also visually impaired. Just like the children of your school, I also can’t see. But, I wasn’t always like this. Until a few years ago, I could see clearly. I live in your children’s world now and understand what they must feel. Since I have lived as an able-bodied person, I want to share all the beautiful things I have seen in this world, with children who have never seen any of it.”
There was a hushed silence as we all took a second look at her. No one had even the faintest inkling that she was visually impaired! Her composure and the matter of fact way she said it, simply bowled us over.
She continued. The principal, however, was still not convinced. He said, “How will you come to this remote place and live here all by yourself? While, I understand you and the children have something in common but have you considered how you will teach these children? They speak a remote dialect of this region that is not spoken anywhere else in the country, leave alone out of it?”
She asked the principal, “What if I come to Ladakh by myself and also learn the dialect, then would be willing to let me teach your students?”
The principal said he would be agreeable to do so.
She then spent the next six months learning all she could of the Ladakh dialect and then traveled to India all by herself. Coming to a country like India that she had never been to before and then traveling to a remote part of the country was no cakewalk but she persisted and finally reached Ladakh.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ladakh, it is a high altitude desert in the northern part of India and is relatively under-developed. The weather conditions are harsh there. Summers are short although the summer weather is dry and pleasant. Temperature ranges are from 3 to 35 degrees Celsius in summer while the minimum temperature ranges from -20 to -35 degree Celsius in winter. The landscape there is what you see in the picture on this post!
She said that the children of that school took to her very quickly and constantly asked her to tell stories from her life, which she did. The days are very short in Ladhakh but it didn’t matter to her as she had already adjusted to the world of darkness.
She said, “When I came to this school, I wanted to teach the children what I knew in a way that they could relate to it, but the children turned out to be my biggest teachers. Unlike me, these children had been visually impaired from birth and so they were very happy in their own world, for they had never seen anything in their lives. So they had no reason to miss anything and their state was the most natural to them.”
She showed us pictures of happy children from her school, playing in the school premises with no care in the world. The pictures showed children with perpetual smiles, doing all that an able-bodied person does, with no constraint whatsoever.
When she finished, there was a spontaneous round of applause for this person who had lost something so precious, yet wanted to spread joy to children who were deprived of their sight.
It was a very humbling moment for me and I would say, for a lot of us there that evening. We had come to Mumbai lost in the trials and tribulations of the corporate world, each of us believing that what we were doing was the most important thing for our organization and ourselves. We couldn’t have been further from the truth!
Think about it. How often do you feel unhappy because you don’t have something that you desire or have not achieved something that you aspire? How often do you complain about trivial things that are not even worthy of mention? I guess, many of us including me, tend to be wrapped up in ourselves.
As the old saying goes-
“A man wrapped up in himself, makes a very small package”
And then, there are people who lose something as precious as their sight and yet spread sunshine in other’s people’s lives and perhaps in the process of getting engaged in a bigger purpose, lose sight of their own problems!
Think what this attitude and perspective could do for you and I!
About the Author:
Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.