Joe Sheth and an essay

[4 MINUTE READ] The long journey of a small gesture

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I was an ordinary student in school. More than praise or punishment, what I experienced was a comforting anonymity.

There was an English teacher who taught me during my last four years at school. His name was Joe Sheth. A well-dressed chain smoker, unflappable and charming to the lady teachers. I would watch him in casual banter with them during the school assembly, admiring his other worldly confidence. Removed from the uncertain maze of chattering corridors, immune from the confident sneers of the insecure, he stood within his own effortless game.

During a race on sports day, the front runner slowed down on the home stretch and gestured to his friend to catch up so they could breast the tape together. It led to a commotion at the finish line. The spirit of competition had been undermined before a large and impressionable audience. While a posse of indignant teachers lectured two tired and confused friends on the field, Joe Sheth watched with a wry smile, as the eternal conflict between the ignorance of youthful rebellion and the wizened fears of the tamed played out.

He had no wisdom to share. No ideas to give. He was not a nurturing guide. He was witty, enigmatic and detached. A natural role model for most adolescents.

During our 10th standard midterm exams, the English paper included a choice on writing about a memorable summer holiday or the meaning and purpose of religion. I took the rare chance at a school exam to write something not drawn from books but from my own observations. The only line I still remember from that essay is the opening one written with the image of a temple in my mind.

‘Religion is like a pillar. We take its support when we lose our balance’.

I spoke about the beliefs and rituals that underpinned daily life in my home and the anchoring effect they provided to my family amidst the fluidity and fragility of each passing day. Of the inevitability of our fears and the need for faith in the mystical to rise above them. It was a warm and quiet conversation with myself.

Once back from vacation, on the day of our English class Joe Sheth walked into the classroom and took a seat at his desk. He picked out one of the essays from the answer papers and said it was something he had to share with the entire class. Forty faces perked up with curiosity and expectation. He did not mention whose essay it was but began reading it out with his usual flourish and panache.

A surge of energy swept through my body as I realised that he was reading out my essay. As I type these words more than three decades later, I can still relive that soaring feeling in my heart.

He read slowly, pausing to look up at the right places to let a point sink in and taking the right lines up to a crescendo that heightened their impact. At the end of what sounded like his operatic rendition of my essay, he sent a brief nod in my direction, concluded his discussions on the answer papers and got on with his class.

In the span of a few minutes, he cracked open a window for me into another world. Where I could allow a central aspect of my own nature, which didn’t seem to have much tangible value, to build roots and find its voice. As time fills the space between that moment and today, the remnants of that small but significant gesture by my teacher on my life remain.

To discover and acknowledge the intuitive nature in each child is the privilege of a rare teacher. This seeds a natural cycle of learning that does not rely on external competition but on the much larger canvas of self-acceptance and introspection. The outside world can be understood, when we first understand ourselves.

I remain an ordinary student of life. How much I learn, how well I love or how simply I live – remain as unexceptional as my class rank. Useful for others to judge how well they can get along with me but of limited use when left to oneself.

There is much about the world and my life that I don’t understand. With age one assumed this would change, but it is not entirely true. The things we are more aware of might change, but an ignorance towards what unifies it all remains.

We can live our lives in search of answers. Or we can live it letting go of the endlessness of questions. How we choose depends on how much we trust ourselves. And the smallest things can build that confidence. Like the acknowledgement of an essay perched amidst old entangled memories, that enabled me to first listen to a voice within me. Gave me the courage to earnestly question convention and its false ideas of who I was and why I am here.

Joe Sheth died young, more than two decades ago. But the enduring influence of his small gesture on my life reminds me, that long after we are gone, the light imprint that we leave on the lives of others continues to nurture the human spirit in ways that are hard to imagine.

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36 thoughts on “Joe Sheth and an essay

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    1. Mrs Gonsalves ex teacher of our wonderful school will always dear Joe Sheth. I stand with all that u wrote about him. So true and well worded.

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  1. Anand, yet another beautiful piece!
    loved this
    ‘Religion is like a pillar. We take its support when we lose our balance’.

    I spoke about the beliefs and rituals that underpinned daily life in my home and the anchoring effect they provided to my family amidst the fluidity and fragility of each passing day. Of the inevitability of our fears and the need for faith in the mystical to rise above them. It was a warm and quiet conversation with myself.

    and this

    In the span of a few minutes, he cracked open a window for me into another world. Where I could allow a central aspect of my own nature, which didn’t seem to have much tangible value, to build roots and find its voice. As time fills the space between that moment and today, the remnants of that small but significant gesture by my teacher on my life remain.

    beautiful words … eloquent as ever!

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  2. Look forward to Ananda’s posts. His writing takes us back our childhood memories that are memorable and provides us the instant escape to reminisce fondly. We had nothing then, but happy; now with almost everything we aren’t….

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  3. So, Joe Sheth is the catalyst that set you off on a journey to within yourself!

    Beautiful piece, Anand! We never know what is it in the course of our lives that nudges us and triggers the means to route our inner voices. We all do have inner voices, don’t we? The voice always accompanies us day and night, sometimes even in sleep, in garbled dreams. Sometimes we hear it, but most drown it out in the racket of the outside world. Fortunate are those who give form to it, in words or music or art. You are one of the fortunate ones.

    Joe Sheths are there around you in the world, all around you, all your life. It takes good fortune and a certain karma to even recognize one and be touched by it.

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  4. What a beautiful post Anand! It’s truly life changing to have had such a teacher… your observations on religion are so mature … keep sharing your writing ❤️

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    1. Anand !! Phenomenal. This reminds me of my teachers who have had a great impact on my life. I still have a scrap book which writers just two to four lines about me but are so relevant even today. They know me more than anyone else. When i read them i get motivate even today …… after twenty years. I can understand what impact it has had on you blessed are we with such philosophers and guides. Hope out next generation have the same reverence for their gurus.

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  5. Amazing Anand.. esp liked the opening lines of your essay on religion.. so true!! Although I don’t remember meeting Joe Sheth, heard so much about him. Between Arjun and his friends and mom, it seemed all our dinner conversations centered around Campion! And beautifully written as always..

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  6. There is so much power to learning within to see what is outside. Your essay and his gesture equally bring out this aspect of individual growth being superlative and comparative learning being a mere speck in the journey of life.
    Love it!!

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  7. Thanks Anand. I savor your words like sipping a good cup of coffee. This one made me think of my own moment when certain quality got recognized and set roots. It was nice to remember that.

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  8. So well written, Anand! Yes, Joe Seth has left a great impact on my boys too, it was such a pleasure, to speak to him. His humour at our parent teacher meetings would regale with laughter..RIP

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    1. I shared this with my sister – a teacher, it is always good to be reminded that what feels like insignificant praise can mean the world to a child

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  9. It’s a beautiful gift anand – how you write – and how your writing has so much resonance for all of us .. if inspiration to write was Joe Sheth’s gift to you, he left us all a precious gift in return

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  10. Beautiful tribute to a soul who inspired and left a lasting impression on all of us. I was privileged to have spent a fair amount of time with him in school and received his guidance and training which has shaped the way I am today.
    Joe Sheth – May your tribe increase !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ananda, that was surreal. I was there in the class with you.
    That whole piece just sent a happy tingle down my spine. Thanks for that.
    Cheers,
    Karambir

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  12. Anand, when I read this piece, two things struck me.

    One, no person can move and inspire us more than a dedicated and earnest teacher can.

    Two, the true mark of a good writer is when the writer can transport the reader into his/her world and make the reader feel one with the writer’s joys, sorrows, losses, small and big victories, all of it…You, as a writer did just this. I could palpably feel the anticipation building in the students wondering whose essay would eventually be read, apart from the other highlights of this beautifully and sincerely constructed piece of writing.

    Thank you Joe Sheth, for gifting us with a good writer! 

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  13. Brilliantly written. Anand you have a gift of language that facilitates expression of subtle shades of your inner most feelings. It evokes in me a compelling urge to look within and contemplate the very nature of our appearance on this planet. This has taken me back to a very moving story about my school teacher. Well some other time. Lots of love and best regards. … Uday

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  14. So many have said it before me, Anand. It is a beautiful piece because it is not only a beautiful gesture on the teacher’s part, given the contrasting buildup you give him at the beginning but also captured in lovely prose by you. A certain sense of calmness pervades the piece. Many thanks for posting and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a beautiful post. Your words, as I mentioned before, are so comforting. For me it’s like visiting a very sacred place. Thank you, Anand

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