August 19, 2016

Thank you for the memories

In Myanmar, Thadingkyut, or the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat is celebrated with a three days of festivities when pagodas, streets and houses are decorated with multicoloured lights, lanterns, candles and oil lamps.  The Full Moon Day of Thadinkyut has much religious significance to the people of Myanmar. It marks the end of Lent and commemorates the day when the Buddha preached the Abidhamma Pitika, or the higher doctrine, to His mother, who was reborn as a deva in the celestial abode of Tushita and to thousands of other devas as expression of gratitude to His mother who died soon after giving birth to Him.  Hence, Thadinkyut also serves as an occasion to acknowledge the debt we owe to our parents, elderly relatives, teachers, superiors and other benefactors.  It is also a time to ask for forgiveness for past transgresses, to express one’s gratitude, to share memories, to reconnect with elders we have not visited for a long time, and to connect members of the old generation with the new generation of children of relatives, colleagues and former students.
For those who have served as teachers, it is the time for seeing the harvests of the uncountable crops they have sown and nurtured throughout their career as teachers when their students, past and present, come to pay respect to them.   It is a time when elderly, middle aged and young persons become children and teenagers again as they sit before their former teachers and together they take a stroll along memory lane and recall the joys and tribulations of being students and youths.  The former students are surprised at how much of their antics and naughtiness, their strength and weaknesses, and their failures and successes their teachers remember. On their part, the teachers are astonished to find the monkey of the class become a staid businessman, the mouse of his batch become a senior administrator, the peahen of the class, always preening herself, become a teacher like themselves, and the Romeo of the class settled with a wife and three children. The teachers are also amazed at how much their former students still remember, some after many decades, the advice and scolding they have given, as well as the slips of the tongue, and the blunders that they and their colleagues have made, and the mishaps they have experienced – forgetting what they are saying in the middle of a sentence, falling off the stage while writing on the board, false buns coming undone, contact lenses popping out, being seen by their students at the Inya bund or the cinema with one’s intended, etc., etc.  But, they are also most gratified to note that their former students, some who have become successful entrepreneurs, senior officials, company executives, social workers, teachers like themselves, owners of prestigious schools, and some toughened by the trials and tribulations of life, still listen with respect and attention to their admonitions and advice, even though their former students know much more about the challenges and trickeries of the contemporary world than themselves.  They also appreciate the attention and the generous gifts showered on them by their former students, even though it may be just once a year, and proudly boast to friends, relatives and neighbours about how fortunate it is, to have served as a teacher.  Technology has also been put to service in Thadinkyut to pay respect to teachers.  For those teachers who own mobile phones, former students in other towns and countries, post messages of remembrance and good wishes.  On this day, teachers also remember the unfortunate ones and the black sheep among their students – those who failed to complete their education due to their own fault, or due to family problems, those who have become immoral due to bad company, those who have passed away early in life, and those who are facing life’s many challenges.  While blessing those who visited them, those unable to turn up are also included in their blessing.
For the former students, who individually or in groups, visit their old teachers at Thadinkyut, it is a time of happiness as well as sadness, as with the passing of each year, they note the steady decline in their teachers. Their once eagle-eyed teacher who noticed their every move in class now, could recognize them only when they are just a few feet away. Their teacher who could hear every whisper in the classroom now could only hear them when they shout out what they want to say. Their primary teacher who once ran after them at break time to prevent them from hurting themselves could now hardly walk a few steps. Their teacher, who when they were students could teach non-stop the whole day, now has a hard time speaking coherently.  Every year, they continue to learn lessons from their teachers that the once powerful figures of authority, dependability and security in their early life are also vulnerable to age and ill health.
As we retired teachers celebrate another Thadinkyut, on behalf of the many teachers, the very old, the slightly old, and the still youthful, I thank the thousands of students for the memories we treasure, some sweet, some bitter-sweet, and some lesson giving, but always heart-warming. Your visit to us on this day, whether you bear a small gift of a dozen oranges, or a large sum of money matters little for many of us. What matter are the kind thoughts and the comforting words you bring that we have made a difference in your life, and that together with your parents we have helped you to be strong in body and mind, and provided you the knowledge and the life and professional skills that you now use to boldly face the many challenges in life, and that you will remember us even beyond the day we will no longer be with you to celebrate Thadinkyut, make us feel that all the time that we have given, and the many personal sacrifices that we made as teachers have been worth it!


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