A Ray Of Light Through The Darkness
When we think of Sat Lal Razdan we think of a high level teacher who shaped the character and career of a few generations of students in Jammu and Kashmir state. He was original and innovative in his teaching approach and uncompromisable in his work. Add to that the ambition and energy he brought to his work. Anyone taught by Sat Lal Razdan for a reasonable length of time would not remain the same as he was before that. As the biannual anniversary of his passing away on April 29th is approaching we again mourn the loss of this brilliant teacher. If we only had a few dozen teachers like Sat Lal Razdan the modern history of Kashmir in some areas might have been different than it has been.
Master Sat Lal, as students used to call him fondly, was born on 6th June, in 1924, at Anantnag, Kashmir. He passed his matriculation from Mission School, Anantnag. He was awarded “The best all-round boy” by Tyndale Biscoe in 1941. He graduated with distinction from Government College Lahore, then considered at the level of Oxford University, in 1945, majoring in science. Later on he attended Prince Of Wales College in Jammu for bachelor’s in teaching. In 1947 he was appointed a master in Tyndale Biscoe School, in Srinagar. He went on to be in that institution till 1984, rising up to the level of headmaster. Immediately after that term he was reemployed by the school till 1988. Overall he spent 41 years in Biscoe School.
In 40’s and earlier the cultural and social environment in Kashmir was vastly different from what it is today. In fact the difference is so enormous that it is hard to believe it. The aim of the education then for the students and their parents was to just pass the examinations so as to get jobs in the government. Extra-curricular activities were shunned because they detracted the time from the education and were also culturally looked down upon, especially by Pandits. Pre-conceived notions from religion strongly influenced the development of a student’s personality. The pursuit of knowledge was a flimsy goal, as a student believed all his knowledge came from his religion. Students were docile, diffident, and meek. There was very little idealism in the society. Survival was the prime focus of nearly all the efforts a man expended.
The Misson School, the forerunner of Tyndale Biscoe School, was started around 1881 by Rev. J.H. Knowles. Students attended it to learn English as that was replacing Persian in certain state offices. Soon the foreign school staff learned the tremendous barriers that they had to cross to impart modern education to Kashmiri students. It was indeed a heroic struggle for the school to soften some of those barriers. This school has had a tremendous impact on the development of the modern Kashmiri education and culture. Kashmiri students did not want to play games, go hiking, or swim. They only wanted to learn in the classrooms. The school carried the European vision of sports being a necessary activity to develop a person’s character, his sense of enterprise, and the worldly competitiveness. It is hard to believe that in a place of lakes, rivers, and ponds people did not like to learn swimming. Athletics in general were offensive to Kashmiris. If a house was burning or men were drowning people would crowd around the accident scene to watch an extraordinary happening but not lend rescue efforts. The Mission School went all the way to inculcate a sense of civic duty among its students. So that in the ending part of the 19th Century its students would help rescue people in fires and floods, and help people during cholera epidemics that would visit Kashmir often those times. So, for Mission School teachers education meant more than book learning, it meant being an active person who engaged in sports, hiking, and in social calamities where he could be of help. Even in learning they preached a different doctrine. They believed that a person grasp the practical aspects of a subject besides any esoteric aspects it might have. They were against learning by rote, which was then the Kashmiri approach to learning. The Biscoe School’s motto In all Things Be Men bears an excellent summary of its educational philosophy. By “men” is meant people who combine both the values of strength and kindness. The school crest consists of two rowing paddles with heart shaped blades crossing each other with the motto encircling them. The paddles indicate hard work and strength and the heart shaped blades symbolize kindness. The crossing of the paddles express sacrifice and Christian cross.
The well established Mission School philosophy of education was the environment which Sat Lal encountered when he joined Biscoe School in 1947. He was familiar with it to an extent as he had studied earlier in Mission School, Anantnag. But Sat Lal imparted his own personality and imagination to the philosophy and teaching of the school. His activist approach to teaching, in and off the class room , was more than ordinary. He seemed to have thought that education is something like the air we breathe in – it is needed every time. He made sure that his students were well-versed in the local geography, current affairs, and other general knowledge. Even though general knowledge was not covered by exams but he believed it was essential for an educated man. I do not know how many teachers in his day thought like him or thought so vigorously about it as he thought. Even though having general knowledge was an extension of Mission School philosophy but in the hands of Sat Lal it became an indispensable requirement for a student to have. Sat Lal had become so famous a teacher in his time that many politically well connected and wealthy families hired him to teach their children, so that they would do well in exams. Also, hiring Sat Lal had become a social status. He taught many people who rose to high positions in the government and commerce. But the families’ power and wealth did not deter him to be as hard with their children as he thought was necessary to educate them. His toughness was a salient feature of his character.
Sat Lal’s communication and rapport with his students was special and it became a great asset to him in educating them. A teacher’s personality, at a school level education, is of greater value than even his knowledge of the subject he is teaching. A teacher or a leader influences his audience by touching their sensitive points. Students want their teacher to be good looking, well poised, respectful to them, articulate, un-stiff, and in command of the subject he is teaching. Sat Lal possessed all these qualities and some more.
Sat Lal possessed a larger than life image which elevated him to become a great teacher. Also, he would generally know the weak and the strong points of his students and he used that knowledge to lift their academic and personality levels. His authoritativeness was well balanced with his humor, courteousness, tact, chutzpah, and sheer enthusiasm for his work.
Where did Sat Lal’s vision of education come from? A good part of it came from Mission School education philosophy but why were not other teachers in Biscoe School as successful as he was. So, the factors of his success partially stemmed from beyond the school. We have to search for them in his upbringing, education, and personality. Human mind is a vast mosaic which grows and changes. While I do not have good knowledge of Sat Lal’s mental history but it seems to me his personality had a large role to play in his teaching abilities. Obviously, he believed education to be a mind stretcher. That is, the quality of a mind grows when it is taught to do things as against when it just memorizes them. Perhaps, Master Sat Lal would agree with what the renowned American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, thought: “Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.” Teaching how to live life would be the greatest education we could have but the mankind does not yet know how to do that but teaching a student how to think is obviously of very great value. So, to acquire the knowledge of the standard subjects with an ability to think about them has to be the aim of all school education. We hope later this ability could mature to help a person to live a good life.
With time Sat Lal’s renown rose and his recognition followed. The British Council chose him for training in Scotland for full term in 1964.He was awarded “Best teacher Of The Millennium” in 1999 by the Tyandale and Mallinson Education Society. In 2002 he was awarded “Dr. Yog Prakash Award” by D.B.N. School, Jammu. He wrote a book, “Science And Spirit” in 2000 which was well liked.
It is very difficult to estimate the impact of an outstanding teacher like Sat Lal Razdan on a society in certain time period but we can say that he inspired many a student he taught. At his passing away one of his old pupils, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, the former chief minister Of Jammu & Kashmir state, travelled from Srinagar to Jammu to attend his funeral. The present chief minister, Omar Abdullah, had his office make a statement on his passing away. His name is enshrined in the hearts and minds of the students he taught and the people who knew about his contributions to the Kashmiri society, and in the history of Mission and Biscoe Schools. Besides missing a beloved teacher we miss a man of warmth and charm.
Like a ray of light in darkness
He wanted to remove one world
And replace it with another –
To awaken a new consciousness,
And ignite a new spirit.