‘INFLUENCE’ is not a mere nine letter word, it’s a thought that is radically put into our system as we take on the world at a young age. There is no neutrality associated with this word, as we speak about positive influence or its negative counterpart. How often has the statement “You need to be an influence” posed in front of us? To this ubiquitous statement, how fanatically have we searched for examples where we were of some influence to somebody? Thus garnering a certain amount of self-satisfaction if at all we successfully locate those examples. It often gives us a good night sleep thinking we influenced a soul. Having said enough about this nine letter word, is there a moment where we sit back and ponder upon this question “Is influencing a society, the greatest asset of a so called human being? If our answer is a ‘Yes’ then we ought to be satisfied with the self-satisfaction that tags along, isn’t it?

I was a person with the above mentioned qualities attributing my goodness to influencing the society and treasured the ‘feeling good’ factor that came with it. Hence, when the opportunity to be a part of ARPAN PADHAI came along, I wasted no time thinking of the benefits on lines of ‘Influence’ and ‘Self-satisfaction’. Day 1 being the demo-class had the usual norms of exchanging introductions and the kids could not pronounce my name. I asked myself, how hard it could be to pronounce my four letter name-Abel. I shrugged of my slight disappointment and asked them to call me ‘Cable’, ‘Table’ or any other word that would rhyme with my original name. Maybe for the first time they encountered a teacher who asked his class to make fun of his name, this beckoning a question in my head “Had I made my mark?” Every week after the class, I did a background check that aligned with my good human attributes.

But over the weeks, this feeling of self-satisfaction started deteriorating and my good night sleep also fading away. I immediately looked at my good human check-list, but nothing seemed out of place. How come this awkward anonymous feeling was paving a way into my brain? I thought maybe there was a decline in my teaching efforts that had made this feeling of self-satisfaction taken a sidestep. Therefore, I tried putting a better effort in each class but still the same feeling hung-over my heart so much so that one day one of the kids in the class asked “Sir, why are you sad?” Obviously I shrugged of saying “Nothing, I am just a little tired” and continued teaching. An inner voice whispered “Whom am I fooling?” I had to do something to get this feeling out and hence everyday there was a thorough self – introspection till I was furious enough to tear off that check list. Alas!, what had I done? I just shredded my performance sheet. The piece of paper that told me where I stood in the race of being a good human.

The following day, when I went to teach, the class was over, that same kid came up to me and said, “Sir, you look happy”, I smiled and asked “Do I?” A quick introspection again, that feeling had gone. I tried hard to remember at that moment how it had happened but couldn’t. I reached home, the bits of paper that once was a checklist still lying on the table, and I knew how that feeling vanished. As I tore that piece of paper, I also tore the motives in it. The comparisons and reasons of being influential had to be shredded. Sometimes, benefits on humanitarian grounds also affect us, no matter how hard we try to justify it, we can’t just as that innocent child pointed out looking at my face.

The last week of the initiative had the students say something about the teachers, this same kid came up front and started weeping, I quickly rushed to her and asked “What happened?” Sobbing, she replied, “You come a long way to teach us, and for that we are grateful”. I hugged her and said, “No, I am grateful to you” Obviously I couldn’t explain her my reasons of gratitude, but if I had to go back to my old self and asked the same question “Did I make a mark?” Through the eyes of an outsider, I might have but I wasn’t falling for this question again.

Being a good human doesn’t have to do anything with influence, at the end of the day we need to check our motives and what drives us to be a good human and this journey with Arpan has taught me exactly that.

Abel Paul Kannan

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