As I am sure many of you know, the Indian calendar is full of holidays. Some, like Diwali, Holi, and Eid, are well known in America. Others, like Rakhshabandan, and Muharram, not so much. One lesser-known holiday that I found out about was Teachers’ Day, which takes place on September 5th.
One of the first things that I discovered about Teachers’ Day is that it is actually an international holiday; other countries just don’t observe it in the same way that India does. Originally, the holiday was created by UNESCO to be celebrated on October 5th. Eventually though, every country picked its own date. India’s is October 5th in honour of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, an Indian academic, philosopher, and statesmen, who is known for his role in creating the Indian education system. In the U.S, Teachers’ Day takes place on the Tuesday of the first week of May. I’ve never actually heard of it being celebrated there. After having experienced an Indian Teachers’ Day though, I’m all for bringing the tradition back to the states!
Weeks before Teachers’ Day, I was informed that, I had to wear a sari on that day. I kept this in mind, but put off the sari buying until the week before. It was a little tight time-wise getting the fall stitched and obtaining a blouse and petticoat, but I somehow acquired all of the necessary accoutrements two days before the appointed date. The day before Teachers’ Day, I attempted to tie the sari myself. “It can’t be that hard,” I told myself, as I intently watched “how to tie a sari” videos on goodindiangirl.com. How naïve I was. I have only worn a sari once before in my life, and that time I failed miserably in tying it, and ended up getting my friend Laura to wrap it for me. This time was no better. Finally, I admitted defeat, packed my sari up in a bag, and carried it with me to school the next day.
As soon as I walked through the school gates, I was greeted by a group of my sixth grade girls, all of whom looked quite put out. “Ma’am! Why are you not wearing a sari ma’am?” They asked. I showed them the bag, and they shrugged, shook my hand, and wished me a happy Teachers’ Day. I quickly extricated myself from them, and made my way to the Principal’s office, where I found a group of teachers, including my coordinating teacher, all in beautiful, perfectly wrapped saris. I explained my situation, and they quickly took action. Because the staff bathroom is always locked, there was some indecision as to where I would change, but we eventually settled on the biology lab. After almost no time at all, I was wrapped up in my sari, with eyeliner under my eyes and a bindi on my forehead. I was also lent a necklace and bracelet. As my teachers remarked, I truly was “looking like a real Indian girl!” Below is a picture of my teachers’ handiwork. I like to think that they quite enjoyed having a life-size doll to play with that day!
The assembly followed. Except today, it was run by the class 12 students, all dressed up in teacherly garb, who gave speeches about the origin of Teachers’ Day, and about the Navyug School teachers specifically. They then led the younger children through the usual routine of Vande Matheram, Hindi prayer, and National Anthem.
After the assembly, the teachers went off to the staff room to relax and socialize while the 12th graders taught the younger kids. From time to time, students would come into the room to give gifts of cards and roses to the teachers. It was quite nice. Eventually, all of the teachers were called down to the library, where the class 12 students who were not teaching handed out sweets and handmade cards to the teachers, then sang a song. Soon after, the students went home, and the teachers were fed a lunch of dosa that had been delivered from a restaurant nearby. Sidenote: I would not recommend having dosas delivered—they really are best eaten fresh off the pan.
What followed was not something I was prepared for. All the teachers were summoned down to the principal’s office. “Now you shall sing to me,” she proclaimed.
Now, this is one thing about Indian culture that I truly love. In America, one never just asks another person to sing them a song. It just isn’t done. If one ever tried to do such a thing, the reply would inevitably be something along the lines of “Oh no, I don’t sing! Well…only in the shower. Oh no, I can’t sing in public!” And so on and so forth. But in India, there is no such thing as “I don’t sing.” Everybody sings. It is as natural as breathing or talking. People sing as they walk down the streets. They sing in temple. School children sing every day in assembly. Singing is just not something to be self-conscious about.
Back to Teachers’ Day. After the Principal made her request, of course, the American was called on to sing first. “Country Roads Take me Home” was the only song that came to mind, so I sang that. I think it went alright. It was an unfortunate choice of song in some ways, as it made everyone assume that I was homesick, but…no matter. I’ve got other songs all picked out for the next time this happens! After I started us off, some other teachers sang some beautiful songs in Hindi, which I really enjoyed listening to.
And that was my Teachers’ Day! I hope the U.S. will eventually pick it up as a holiday. Teachers work so hard, and do so much good. Cliché as it is, I want to take this opportunity to thank all my teachers up until this point in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for all of you!