Guru of legendary cricketer Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar, Ramakant Achrekar passed away last Wednesday [2nd January 2018]. Sachin’s coach from his childhood when he was in Mumbai’s Sharadashram Vidyamandir was indeed a Guru in the true sense of the term. We often associate the term Guru to a prominent spiritual leader or teacher. Our land is referred to as a land of Gurus, great teachers of Vedas or Yoga. There are teachers, trainers, instructors and coaches who have been acknowledged as Gurus. All teachers, trainers and coaches impart knowledge or skills, but all of them are not considered Gurus. Though the term Guru is used in a broad sense to all these categories, there are few who excel and change the life of their students.
Ramakant Achrekar, belongs to the category of Gurus who has made lasting contribution to Indian cricket by training and coaching Sachin Tendulkar as one of the greatest Indian batsmen whose cricketing prowess is legendary. Though there are other prominent Indian cricketers like Sachin’s old schoolmate and batting partner Vinod Kambli, Ajit Agarkar, Pravin Amre, Amol Mazumdar, Sameer Dighe and many others trained by Achrekar, Sachin was his favourite whose prodigious talent was nurtured by him.
Shivaji Park in Mumbai’s Dadar area is considered the cradle of cricket where Achrekar discovered future Indian stars. A strict disciplinarian, he had this uncanny ability to spot young talent and take them under his wings with avuncular care. He would impart every technique in his quiver to convert a raw talent to a great one and Sachin is a shining example of that. Those visiting Shivaji Park could probably spot this unassuming trainer of Sharadashram Vidyamndir. Two of his wards Sachin and Vinod Kambli got into cricket record books with a 664 run partnership in Bombay’s inter school Harris Shield semi finals in February 1988. Scoring 326 not out and 349 not out Tendulkar and Kambli proved to be Achrekar’s prized disciples.
Tedulkar pillion-rode on his guru’s two wheeler going around the city’s favourite cricket grounds, learning valuable cricketing lessons. These were opportunities for keen observation and receiving suggestions that helped in the career and character formation of young Tendulkar. Their relationship exemplifies ancient Indian Guru -Shishya parampara which lasted till the demise of the Guru last week. Tendulkar’s tributes to his Guru are worth quoting, ”Cricket in heaven will be enriched with the presence of Achrekar Sir….Like many of his students I learnt my ABCD of cricket under Sir’s guidance.” Tendulkar in his tributes writes about how last month he visited his Guru with some other students and shared the nostalgia of old days.
In this land of Gurus, how many real Gurus like Achrekar can we name today in various fields? In sports we can name a few like Pullela Gopichand, the coach of international Badminton stars Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu. There may be coaching centers for various sports which cannot be compared with the ancient Gurukuls, where students stayed for many years at the Ashram of eminent Gurus which meant constant guidance and interaction between the Guru and the disciples. Our ancient texts are full of such Gurukuls. For example the princes of Hastinapura, 100, and 5 children of two brothers, Dhritarashtra and Pandu respectively went to the Gurukul of Dronacharya or Guru Drona and learned all the Shastras including mastery over use of weapons. They lived in his Ashram during the entire period of their studies.
Gurus were almost omniscient and had mastery over almost every discipline. All Indian royal families had their respective Guru/Gurus who guided the kingdoms in the art of governance, defense and statecraft.
The term ‘Guru’ is a combination of two syllables- GU and RU- GU meaning darkness and RU meaning light. So a Guru dispels darkness with the light of knowledge. The role of the Guru therefore is to give knowledge and enlightenment. Can we attribute such a role to teachers of today? Gurus according to our ancient heritage are highly respected and come after Mother [Mata] and Father [Pita] in importance. Like parents Guru was also worshipped. Our ancient Guru-Shishya Parampara has given way to the co called modern education thanks to western influences. In the process, today the concept of Guru has been changed to teacher, trainer, instructor or coach who may be a specialist or an expert in a particular discipline or subdiscipline.
In the modern school and university systems, the preeminence in the old concept of Guru seems to have almost disappeared. The respect that the Gurus of yore commanded is not in vogue today. A guru like Ramakant Achrekar has been an exception. Our education system seems to be bereft of our own culture and traditions; our teachers seem to become more of service providers, than a Guru. There is a tendency to downplay ethical and moral values in a structured and profit driven education industry where there is lack of personal touch or individual attention. These factors may be responsible for the diminishing importance of teachers in our society.
Why are teachers not considered counselors and role models by a local community? The teacher even fifty years back was respected and local communities approached them for advice and problem solving. Parent –teacher meetings notwithstanding there is not much of interaction between teachers and parents. Majority of teachers are not community leaders; nor are they social ballasts who can ignite the minds of the students and the parents.
Here again, teachers are considered people who do not enjoy social status as they are not in a lucrative profession, however well educated they may be. It is a tragedy that teaching is not a preferred career where pay scales and not the sky is the limit for pecuniary benefits. In a job hungry country people consider the profession of teaching as a last resort for someone who could not enter more powerful, paying and glamorous professions. Secondly, for a lot of ladies from well to do homes at least in urban settings, teaching is considered an ideal job with plenty of leisure. Of course of late a teacher’s job has become demanding and with the problem of unruly behavior of students there are instances of teachers being charged with criminal offences for the delinquencies of students.
The abysmal story of lack of basic facilities in schools is another problem for which the teachers are not responsible. The physical and academic environment in rural schools and even in the so called municipal, government or aided schools in urban areas are not conducive to a proper learning atmosphere. There are of course attempts by certain states to improve this situation. The Delhi government has taken measures to improve the overall environment of the government schools in the national capital.
One would say that there are plenty of teachers who are in the business of teaching more by accident than as part of a well planned choice of a career. Leaving the future of students in the hands of such teachers is not exactly the ideal thing. For young people who have good academic records, if teaching is made an attractive, remunerative career option with prospects for growth, the situation will change. It is gathered that in a prosperous country like Germany, teaching offers, probably the best paid career option. On the contrary our teachers especially in the private sector are paid even less than the municipal Safai Karmacharis! In such a scenario, how can our teachers assume the role of Gurus?
As someone associated with teaching for over three decades one feels that, the quality of teachers both at school and university levels is often poor. Many of them do not have brilliant academic backgrounds and cease to be learners once they land in a job. Research and publication of scholarly papers are taken in a perfunctory manner with an eye on fulfilling certain UGC norms for career advancement.
There is need for political will to really make our education system more meaningful and relevant for a modern democracy. Instead of that there are attempts to tinker with the curricula and for sectarian ends. Selection of teachers and educational administrators in the government sector needs to be more transparent and merit oriented. Otherwise there will be heads of universities who would motivate students to use violence against their opponents or ministers who would order arrest of students for alleged misbehavior.
We need Gurus like Ramakant Achrekar who was a school teacher who made a legend like Sachin Tendulkar. He was honored by the country with Padma Shri and the coveted Dronacharya Award, for being a great Guru in our Indian tradition. Well, sports in general ought to be promoted with academics in schools and colleges. For that, education has to be given priority by both central and state governments and educational planners, policy makers and administrators have to be pragmatic and visionaries. We need more Gurus in the true sense to make our education system which can ensure a more enlightened future.