I am writing this blog from my hotel room in Helsinki. I have come here on the invitation of HundrED to give the keynote address at their Global Summit. HundrED is an amazing organsation under the leadership of innovative thought leaders who have great vision of what innovations in education can do to reshape the future. I have been very excited about this opportunity to speak at this summit and network with leaders in education across the world. I came here to speak on “Making Education Relevant for New Age World”. I love the topic because it gives you the possibility to think out of the box, think about the future which none of us can guarantee and look into the crystal ball about what is likely to happen. And, then, doing all this in a country like Finland, which is known as an avant-garde in education — so many years ahead of many countries and even some of the developed ones. Here I am from a developing country to talk to representatives of developed countries on what education should be. My excitement knows no bounds.
I have always known that when I get too excited about anything there is a conspiracy in the universe to bring in the equilibrium. And, so it happened. I woke up with a sense of foreboding early this morning at around 2.30 am Finnish time and saw this text message from Kalpana from Parikrma which sent me reeling in shock. She had messaged me that our very own Viji who was the Head of the Junior College passed away at 4am IST. She was in the hospital when I left India but her husband had said that her blood platelet count had gone up and she was better. Viji was young and not of poor health, so who could imagine that just fever in today’s day and age could be so fatal?
Viji alias Vijaylakshmi was a very special person. As I write, I can visualize her smile that would reach her eyes, her gentle way of getting across ideas and her ever willingness to take feedback the positive way and wanting to learn.
I remember she had applied for the position of a Science teacher. She had come for the interview with her mother who was made to wait outside while I asked Viji some difficult questions. Those days I didn’t have an office and used what would otherwise be a meeting room and storage room combined. I remember teasing her about bringing her mother as a chaperone when she had come for a life changing career interview. I never let her live that down. She would not argue or defend herself. That is when I saw her warm smile that became her best armour. Her smile said, “Say what you wish. I will do what I do.” Her smile became all invasive when I said that she was overqualified for a teacher and would she consider taking up the challenge and become the Head of a school? It was like she threw down the gauntlet and immediately said “Yes”. I told her that I didn’t want such a hurried response and that she needed to discuss with her family since she carried them along with her everywhere! I met her a week later at Café Coffee Day close to her house. This time she brought her entire family to meet me, her two sons and her husband. I said that I was not used to interviewing the entire family and she replied that she needed her family to interview me and to see me because she was taking the job only because of me.
That is how Viji joined the Parikrma family four years ago. Viji had taught in international schools before and I have seen her struggle to adjust to what we call the Parikrma Way of doing things. We are a little crazy about hugging, giggling while solving problems. She found this kind of informality a little disconcerting at first then began to thaw because my other team members would not allow it otherwise. And then we began to see the warm side of Viji. We would see her take up the challenge and slowly get out of the slot from being the new kid in the block. She would argue and get her point across with Parikrma veterans who had been in there for ten to fifteen years. I saw her gentle and strong and never waver. I saw her identify issues quickly, analyse it fast and come up with a solution. She knew that as a Head she could not complain, she had to find solutions and that she did.
I am cutting short my visit here and going back because my extended family, my team, is numb with shock and we need to have a good cry together. I am going because discussing education seems so theoretical when this vibrant life is no more.
I am always the one who has believed that we need to be exciting and excited all the time because it is only then that we could be good teachers. But how can you be excited when you see a young life like Viji’s snuffed out so prematurely? She was a great asset to Parikrma and to education and now she is gone.
I have said that we will commemorate Viji by doing something she loved and we will do it every year. She loved to be with children and encourage them to do well. Maybe that is what we shall do.
But Viji, whatever said, we will miss you dearly and always.