Thursday, August 9, 2012


A Teaching Story – A Fable


Long ago, there was once a King who cared for his populace.

His kingdom was in an undeveloped part of the world and the people were quite backward. The king wanted his people to progress. So he decided to visit the developed part of the world and see for himself how he could harness the fruits of development for his people.

During his visit he saw a sundial. Curious he asked what this strange contraption was.

“A sundial is a device that determines the time of day by the position of the Sun,” they told him, “you can tell the time by looking at the shadow cast by the Sun as it shines on the pointer of a sundial. As the sun moves across the sky, the shadow-edge aligns with different hour-lines. Thus, you can tell the time of the day.”

The King was so fascinated as he witnessed the working of sundial next day that he bought the sundial, took it back to his Kingdom and had the sundial installed in the centre square of the city as a gift for his people.

The sundial changed the life of the people in the kingdom. They began to differentiate parts of the day and to divide up their time – in short, they became adept at time management.

Yes, the sundial made the people of that kingdom conscious about the concept of time since before the advent of the sundial they knew only about night and day. they became more punctual, prompt, orderly, reliable and industrious; thereby producing great wealth and achieving a high standard of living.

The sundial had enabled them to realize the importance of the adroit use of time which resulted in great prosperity for the people of the kingdom.

One day the king died. His devoted subjects gathered together after his grand yet tearful funeral to decide how they could pay a fitting tribute to their beloved king.

When they enumerated the king’s achievements, they all thought of the Sundial, which their benevolent king had gifted them long back.

Because the Sundial symbolized the king’s generosity and because it was the Sundial which was the main reason for their prosperity and success, the citizen’s decided to build around the sundial a grand temple with a golden cupola – yes, they decided that it would be a fitting honour to the departed king and the best gift he had given them – a fabulous temple with a beautiful golden dome to adorn the sundial.

But, when the magnificent temple was built and the imposing golden cupola soared above the sundial, the rays of the sun no longer reached the gnomon of the sundial.

Yes, as the sundial was now completely covered by the magnificent temple with its impressive golden dome the sun’s rays could not reach the sundial and the shadow disappeared.

The covered sundial no longer worked, and its shadow, which had told the time to the citizens of the kingdom, had vanished.

Now, since the sundial did not work, the citizens could not discern the time of the day and they started losing their sense of punctuality and promptness.

Deprived of their standard of time, they soon reverted back to their old ways, their pre-sundial laid-back lifestyle, and it was just a matter of time before their prosperity dissipated away and the kingdom collapsed.


Imagine that the Sun is a Teacher and the Sundial is the Student.

If you allow the Sun (Teacher) to seamlessly illuminate the Sundial (Student) then the best learning will take place. But if you put a barrier or obstruction between the teacher and student (like covering the sundial with a structure of temple and dome) the this can impede the learning process. This “obstacle” can be the “education system”, the “administrative hierarchy”, the “rules, regulations and red tape”, the “academic environment” in the particular place, anything which is detrimental to seamless teaching and effective learning.

Let me give you my personal experience.

A few years ago I used to teach Electronics and Communications Engineering at the Post Graduate Level (for the M. Tech. students). I found that that the syllabus was archaic, outdated and irrelevant as technology had progressed at a fast pace. I recommended a revision and updating of syllabus but this got stuck in red tape since the procedure for curriculum revision was a cumbersome time-consuming bureaucratic process. Meanwhile, I started teaching my students the state-of-the-art technologies and cutting-edge developments. My students were very happy and appreciative of my initiative.

However, the status-quoist “academic babus” who ruled the roost were not at all happy. Unfortunately, some progressive students cited my example and asked some teachers why they were teaching obsolete things which had no practical utility in the modern industry. When the teachers gave the excuse that they had to teach as per the syllabus, the students retorted that if I could go beyond the syllabus and teach the state-of-the-art, then why couldn’t they too follow my example. Now, most of the faculty was quite happy with the old outdated syllabus since they had given up learning new things long ago, and secure in their “academic cocoons” they had a total disconnect with the outside world, and were content with maintaining status-quo.

The upshot was that I was criticised for teaching “out of the syllabus” and not confining myself to the approved textbook. Some disgruntled colleagues passed snide remarks that I was “inciting” the students and putting “wrong ideas” into their heads thanks to my over-smart initiative and over-enthusiastic efforts and that I was trying to “rock the boat”. My faculty colleagues had an inferiority complex because I had extensive professional and industrial experience prior to my joining academics, unlike most of them who had spent their entire life in academia. They bore a grudge against me because, like most of them, I did not belong to the “academic mafia”.

Next semester, my subject was allotted to a conservative status-quoist “over-the-hill” professor, who was clearly past his prime, and who believed in strictly following the obsolete syllabus and dictating notes verbatim from the prescribed text-book.

Thus, I, the Teacher (Sun) was not allowed to illuminate the Students (Sundial) because of the Education System (Obstruction).

This is one of the reasons I quit teaching Engineering and shifted to Induction Training, where I had a free hand.

The metaphor of the Sundial Story is relevant in so many relationships.

In marriage, where the seamless relationship between husband (sun) and wife (sundial) can be encumbered by “obstructions” like your parents, in-laws, or even children.

You can see this phenomenon everywhere, at your workplace, hindering inter-personal relationships and acting as a barrier to effective communication.

Even within you, there can be taboos, hang-ups, phobias, complexes, values and beliefs, which act as internal “impediments” and inhibit you from realizing your full potential.

Apart from red tape, rules and regulations, sometimes things like Rituals, Customs and Traditions and Societal Pressures can also be akin to the “cupola dome” between “Sun” and “Sundial” and hamper your aspirations.

Sometimes, these “temples” you build to cover your “sundials” may be well-intentioned.

It is for you to ensure that you do not “build temples” around “sundials” – you must let the “sun” shine brightly and unhindered on your “sundial”.

Think about the Sundial Story, let the metaphors perambulate in your mind, look around and apply the allegory to your real life, and have a nice day.

I look forward to your comments, views and feedback.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2012
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like reading this blog post? Did you like the Story?
I am sure you will like all the 27 stories in my recently published book of short stories COCKTAIL
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Foodie Book:  Appetite for a Stroll

About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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