This is a season of farewells for me. I have lost count of the persons who have already left or are being hauled up before the firing line by the Orwellian Big Brother in the last quarter of the year. The person, to whom we bid farewell today, however, had chosen to leave on his own. He is going as the Principal of R K International School, Sarkaghat, Himachal Pradesh.
Mr S K Sharma was a colleague and friend. He belongs to the species of human beings whose company enriches you and whose departure creates a vacuum, notwithstanding the fact that Nature which abhors vacuum will fill it in its own unique ways.
Administration is an art for Mr Sharma, though he calls it a skill. Management lessons, strategies and heuristics are only guidelines. No one can manage people merely with the help of these guidelines. People are not machines which can be controlled mechanically. Machines work according to rules. People do not do so usually.
“... intelligent, alert people rarely carry out instructions exactly to the letter. They always modify and interpret them...,” says Fritjof Capra in his book, The Hidden Connections . He goes on to say that “Strict compliance can only be achieved at the expense of robbing people of their vitality and turning them into listless, disaffected robots.”
I don’t know whether Mr Sharma was aware of cognitive science from which Capra drew his conclusions. But I know that Mr Sharma put these ideas to good use in managing the hostel under his charge. I was also part of the same hostel as teacher-counsellor. I don’t remember Mr Sharma ever telling me what to do and what not to do as part of my duties. He let me decide those things and carry out my job in my own way. If there was any specific work to be done by me, he would put the matter before me in such a way that it would appear that he was doing me a favour. That was a unique skill he possessed. A lot of work can be extracted from people very easily this way rather than by issuing orders and diktats.
He did something quite similar with the students under his charge too. Democracy ran mellifluously in his veins. He knew how to get the students to do what he wanted them to do by involving them in the decision-making process. Since the students were of the senior classes they were mature enough to understand and play by the unwritten rules that the very personality of Mr Sharma scripted.
“Never create a problem where there is none by imposing ourselves on the students,” Mr Sharma used to say again and again. Getting things done without those impositions was his style of managing people. Its secret lay in understanding each person, whether it be a colleague or a student, his/her potential as well as limitations, likes as well as dislikes.
It does not mean, however, that Mr Sharma was lenient. Far from it, he was very rigid when it came to matters of his convictions and principles. He wouldn’t budge an inch on them. Many of his students will remember the taste of his palm on their cheeks or backs. Physical punishment was not entirely out of his syllabus although it was illegal. But no student ever complained about those punishments. When a student gets a punishment that is well deserved, there are no complaints.
Mr Sharma was a lover of adventure. I climbed the 10,000-feet high Hemkhund with him (along with a group of students) in 2004. Last year when he asked me to join his Gaumukh trek (13,000 feet, an 18-km trek from Gangotri) I hesitated. I doubted whether my flesh was strong enough though my spirit was willing. Mr Sharma had his own way of getting me in the group. He knows how to get what he wants. When I completed the trek, I was glad that he got me in the group though it was quite against my own wish.
We reached the base camp at Bhojbasa in late afternoon after the daylong arduous trekking. Freezing winds howled in the air and penetrated through our jackets into the marrow of our bones. I was shivering. There were no buildings to take shelter. Our guides, along with the students, were setting up the makeshift tents in which we would spend our night.
“Shall we go for a walk?” asked Mr Sharma looking at my sullen face. I was really furious with him for bringing me to such a place. “Yeah,” I said. “A walk my keep me alive; I’m freezing to death,” I said. And our walk took us almost near the place where we were to climb the next morning along with our students. Thus Mr Sharma and I created a record of sorts climbing the final 4 km of Gaumukh twice during the same trek. What’s more, I learnt that my flesh was not as weak as I had imagined.
Later Mr Sharma told me, “There, in Gaumukh, I saw a different face of yours which I had never seen earlier and had not even imagined.” I remembered how I had uttered a thoroughly negative remark in front of a few students about the freezing weather. Mr Sharma was referring to that. I had already realised my mistake and was feeling remorse about it. I shouldn’t have made such a remark before the students. But the way Mr Sharma called my attention to the error touched me.
Mr Sharma and I belong to the opposite poles when it comes to the two jobs: teaching and administration. I love teaching and hate administration. Mr Sharma loves administration and is not particularly fond of teaching though he was both a teacher and a House Master. Now he is going to be a fulltime administrator. I know that he will be an excellent administrator. Because he is one of the few administrators in my life who did not see me as a pain in the posterior.