Annual day Speech – Usha Pandit


Usha Pandit, Founder-CEO of Mindsprings, was the honourable Chief Guest for the Std IX Annual Day (2011-12) performance “As you like it”. This is her speech:

I am delighted to be invited as Chief Guest for this spectacular performance. Congratulations to the very talented 9th graders for their flawless rendition of ‘As You Like It’. I taught Shakespeare in Hong Kong for 5 years to the 12th grade who had a paper called ‘Shakespeare Our Contemporary.’ Indeed he is because all his themes are universal and human and eternal. He is as relevant today as he was 4 centuries ago. Having both read and taught the play, I know as a teacher that it is no mean task to put up this play. Therefore, a big round of applause to the actors and the director for their talent and effort.


Usha Pandit lights the lamp as the management looks on.

The students of Shishuvan have done a fabulous job where – in order to accommodate most of the class in speaking parts – they had 5 Orlandos, 5 Rosalinds and 5 of all the rest in the five Acts they performed – woven very skilfully and cleverly with no confusion whatsoever. When I first read this in the programme I almost thought they would put up a spoof. I am pleasantly surprised that they have managed so many parallel characters and yet kept the unity intact. Well done.

The use of the original Shakespearean verse in the rhythms of modern speech was sophisticated and delightful theatre. Stage space was used brilliantly.

I also loved the minimalism. The use of large potted plants to symbolically create the forest, simple props and a single accessory to denote costume was so refreshing. I do believe schools must invest in getting children trained in speech and drama because it contains a multitude of skills and spend less on elaborate sets and tailored costumes that are time consuming and wasteful.

Once Vidushi asked me to name 3 people who had influenced me. It sent me hurtling down memory lane and a long lane that was, knocking briefly on one door only to zip to the next…..yes she attracted me.. yes he impressed me..but inspire? Now that’s a special word.

Inspiration is a life enhancer, to me it is a turning point where someone takes you by the hand and walks you on to a different path and says walk …… fear not it will be for the better.

Being the cynical soul that I am, where my scrutinizing binoculars go before I come in, it was difficult to be inspired by many people. There was definitely a lot of support from some in power, a lot of love given and reciprocated but inspiration is another dimension.
So the names that surfaced to mind were:

ROSEMARY CATHCART
Educationist, thinker, boss, friend. The then director and founder of the Gifted Centre in Auckland where I taught for a few years.

When I met Rosemary, I had been a teacher trudging along.. alone. I never ‘did’ the syllabus. The kids used to say she teaches outside the book but they never missed a class. Have taken three sections of 120 all together, when they had a teacher crisis for nearly a year because the admin did not see any discipline problems. So yes, I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer.

Learning was a passion that engaged me totally. I took all my major degrees after I married my man, with the demands of a growing kid, with an old dad and his bed sores.. even today when I find people who can engage me in a good cerebral exercise, I salivate. Often my questions, observations, arguments make them uncomfortable, but I am merely trying to absorb a new dimension. I am not gentle and that’s a fault.

Rosemary never actively taught me anything. She had a zero interference policy but she was watchful. I learnt from her to delegate. If she had a criticism she would say it when we were making coffee in the Centre’s pantry and end it with a hug that often brought tears to my eyes. I learnt from her a generosity of spirit. A teacher is a giver. She’d say give it all away it won’t impoverish us. There is place for everyone. Teachers are big hoarders. I learnt from her the blessing of giving.

I held her praise in high regard. She would share with me stuff that parents said about me. She would mention me to people. She would mention me as one of her best in meetings. She would send me out for prestigious assignments. So simple and yet so profound.

I learnt from Rosemary you don’t have to heap money and praise to reward people, you need to be sincere, to share information, to show that you value the person. I am so different from Rosemary ‘she was soft spoken in the extreme ‘ I am not, and yet, my management style is fashioned on hers. I am firm but I don’t stifle people who work for me. Those who work well for me have every freedom, those who don’t, I let go ‘ yes that too I learnt from her.
Rosemary was, is, and will be an inspiration.

The second person who comes to mind is:

CHANDRA SHANMUGHAM
Mrs. Shanmugham was Professor of English at the Lady Welligdon College in Chennai where I did my B.Ed., my first degree in education.
A Christian Tamil, she was a stout wheezy lady, dark, hair tied up in a tight bun and a big bindi. To me she was beautiful. Again soft spoken and calm ‘ I am attracted to them ‘ yes, my husband is one such.

Mrs. Shanmugham was an excellent teacher. I have fashioned my teaching on hers. Clarity was the key. And engagement. Eye contact, interest in the audience, organization of matter. She showed me how one needs to get into the mind of the child. Be it. That was a big education. I have often looked at children in later years and imagined them as my own and been overwhelmed with love.

Her accent, although thoroughly Indian, was impeccable. She had perfect received
pronunciation, completely British. Her ‘do yous’ were ‘djoo yous’ with no pretention whatsoever. She was awesome.

I learnt from her that you need to have depth. ‘Knowledge is Power’ she once said to me and I have never forgotten. It is indeed. It is the foundation for a lot of courage and fortitude.

From Mrs. Shanmugam I learnt how the foundation was important, from Rosemary I got permission to fly, rather to give myself permission to fly. I learnt to be an independent thinker and have the confidence to be a creator of ideas.
Foundation and Flying. A lot of us miss one or the other. Some of us take off without foundation, so we falter and fall. Some of us have great foundation but we are clutching to the earth of that foundation in a stranglehold that will not let us take off. I was fortunate to find this combination in a span of 10 years.

Meanwhile, I have learnt from lots of people what not to do. My observation of others in the profession was a good handbook on how not to be a disaster. That too was learning.

And the third?
It was an amalgam of the varied influences of authors, poets, movies, theatre and people in many walks of life. From my husband and my father before him, I have learnt to value unimpeachable honesty and integrity. That is another source of immense strength. From my daughter I have learnt empathy towards people who are alternate – like gays ‘ after which I found Brian my colleague and gay Australian friend, a delight as a teacher and a gem of a man.

Had I written this blog in recent times I would have included Kavita Anand – Shishuvan’s dynamic Director as one of the people who inspire me. In a world that is teeming with people who pay loads of lip service to what needs to be done, visionaries like Kavita, who take tremendous risks to bring about and sustain change, are rare and precious. Risk taking is not a common trait, and when it is wedded to good sense and intelligence it is an unmatched quality.

Shishuvan is a “thinking” and “learning” organisation blessed with a very progressive management. There is an advertisement on television of nervous parents and a child have been summoned to the Principal’s office and the mother ventures to ask: How is he doing? The Principal is prompt in correcting her: It is not about him, she says, tell us how are we doing? I think of Shishuvan whenever I see that advertisement. To my mind that is the spirit of Shishuvan.

Shishuvan has a very bright future and the children of grade 9, having lived their text on stage, will breeze through their examinations with aplomb and happy confidence and hopefully learn to love the bard for life. All the very best to all of you and thank you for listening.

2 thoughts on “Annual day Speech – Usha Pandit

  1. I miss working with this wonderful and brilliant lady.Usha you are indeed a beacon of inspiration to teachers like me,whose lives you have touched,even if only for a short time.Thanks my dear.

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