Teacher Man by Sentilong Ozukum

To live is to learn. To learn is to live

Book Review by Asenla Yanger

Sentilong Ozukum’s work of fiction ‘Teacher Man’ in real sense of genre is a realistic novel stirring all the nerves towards seeking life’s purpose.

The novel is a journey of Shisa to his unwanted call of duty to the forgotten far-flung village named Sangtor reaching which was nothing more than a back fracturing travel sometimes in the creaking Armada and for few days on foot. Searching for the meaning behind his existence, Shisa became the air of calm breathing to the villagers and people around. With varied themes, this work is a power pack of views that will grip the mind to myriads of thoughts with every turn of a page. 

No, I am not speaking against private institutions which are imparting unquestionable quality education but what struck my mind reading this was ‘why are the government run schools not in par with private ones?’ It cannot be denied that education is unbolted to all at the most affordable rates in government schools but why the disparity in attendance rate be it of the teachers or the taught, why GHS, GPS, are never to be in the top 10 educational institutions  ranking list, why “new building never materialized” (pp. 36), why “some wore slippers of different forms and incorrect sizes instead of shoes…the once white shirts now matched the navy-blue skirts and trousers in colour. Most were threadbare and torn in different places like it was a crime to be whole” (pp. 37). Ozüküm has deftly brought to light the sheer demand of importance that needs to be diverted towards the government schools because we are by heart and hand a land of villages and farmers with limited resources to afford Oxford or Cambridge education for our children. Living in town throughout this span of my life, ‘Teacher Man’ pinched my nerves and “the abject display of poverty disturbed me greatly” (pp. 47) stirring the heart to walk the untreaded path for the deprived lives who, even though have nothing for tomorrow, yet they “seemed so happy with their lot….” (pp. 13) singing their own joyous song of satisfaction.

Forgive me here but I believe in calling a spade a spade and so had read this quoted line somewhere and since that time this line took roots and has always served an inspiration to the teacher that lives inside me which occasionally, sometimes frequently, tries to be a fugitive.  The line reads, “there are no bad students, but bad teachers.”As Ozüküm wrote, “we were all fugitives in a world where we were sent to serve” (pp. 36) and “it’s wrong to always blame a student when he or she fails. Chances are that the system isn’t suited for them. Maybe we need to build a system that fits their environment as well as their intellect and give them an opportunity to succeed” (pp. 123-124).  Obviously as educators we do not have a prefix of honour to earn respect but is this not the noblest of the professions where a teacher makes a heart to fly and scale heights fulfilling dreams and I salute those who choose teaching as a passion not an option but the coin has an opposite face too with noble souls believing that “As much as education is the key to progress of a nation, I was in no way ready to be sacrificed on its altars” (pp. 2). The reason behind choosing teaching as the profession of the last recourse can be attributed to the constant reminder “that a beggar in the railway station had better financial security….” (pp. 8), but Ozüküm tries to put this notion in the mind of readers and humanity alike and that is to be accepting all that comes to us as the Calling of the Almighty and to put all heart and soul and make it a home because “as much as home is where the heart is, home is also where one finds true meaning and purpose” (back cover, Teacher Man). 

Being in this profession, for a decade and some years now I have learnt the fact that not every day is your day when you come out of the forty / forty-five minutes of lecture satisfied, content. Some days turn out to be the most discouraged of all and you just feel to “break open their heads and stuff the facts and figures inside” (pp. 86), but as they say with the lemons thrown by life, it is pushy to turn those to lemonade and once we learn this art we turn the tables towards taking them as our own blood and imparting them with the best of all they need and that’s when we are handed with “a momentary glimpse of one’s purpose and destiny” (pp. 159) and our purpose is shaping the destiny of the hundreds and thousands we are called to mentor. 

Ozüküm’s Teacher Man opens the mind to the washing away of the dogmatic practices that has infested not only the religious beliefs but also the societal stands, after all which generation are we living in if men “feel insecure and a little emasculated” (pp. 104) at the thought of them being homemakers while the lady becoming the bread earner. Personally, maybe because I am a woman and away from the dogmatic patriarchal standards, I believe my thoughts sync to what the author feels that is, to live as equal-halves not a better-half. This novel will serve as an interesting raw material for those who are focusing research on blind-faith, superstitions, finding the cure to the pain in the sacrifice of muted creatures, etc. With the number of people with stomach pain around us, I bet in score of days chicken and dogs would become extinct species from the neighbourhood. The novel raises the critical reasoning, and along with this it opens the road of appeasement to the exhausted researching mind. How beautifully the author delves into practicality because “…only one way to beat blind faith and superstitions…knowledge” (pp. 260).

Have you ever pondered on what is more promising – the knowledge of death or the idea of death? In case anyone of you have read Walt Whitman’s tribute to Abraham Lincoln through his song ‘When Lilacs Last in the dooryard bloomed’ the answer is in your grip. Ozüküm has forwarded an immense thought regarding what it is to live at the face of getting to know that each of the breath is counted. We become so occupied in gathering for ourselves that we tend to forget we are only like the mist that evaporates away with the first ray of the dawn. It would certainly be worth living “if people knew they only had a few years left to live they’d do things differently, worry less about their careers, jobs, wealth, status and instead, engage in more meaningful things like building a relationship, spending more time with God, and making every second count” (pp. 56). The purpose would be so clearly read, our purpose to bring positive changes in the fleeting life of the ones around us.  

With gripping sense of humour and the simplicity of expression, the novel guarantees the curiosity of the heart to turn to one more chapter and the next and the next till the last page is reached. I sincerely believe that after reading this novel we aren’t far away from that day when the news channels would be flashing news about the state-of-art educational facilities in the remotely located schools and colleges producing the best of the results with rush in the neighbourhood to send their children to these seats of education. Home is not the cozy room in the cities where everything is just a call away to reach your doorsteps, but home is even in that thatch house where life’s purpose is found, the purpose that has the heart’s willingness to serve. 

The number within the bracket indicate the page number in the novel where the quoted text is found. Published in India by Bookipedia Publications ‘Teacher Man’ is a must read and a must have in the bookshelves. 

The writer is Doctoral Scholar (RGU, Guwahati), Academic and Book Reviewer