What should I do after retirement? This nagging thought may bother many who are nearing this phase of life. Pose this question and many will simply put on a weary smile and reply that they are going to sit back at the house taking good care of their grandchildren. But not Sheela Joseph, a retired schoolteacher hailing from Kozhikode.
The retired teacher spends her time travelling around the world and according to her, it's the true calling in her life. She is not an avid solo traveller and prefers to embark on journeys with the maximum number of people that she can take along. However, there is a condition, only women should be included in the group.
The 63-year-old reckons she still feels the same enthusiasm and excitement that she had when she first went for an excursion while studying in Class 3. Hers was a family that loved travelling. No matter how busy they were, her family apparently used to roam around Kozhikode city at least once a month. And when they had time at their disposal, they would pack their bag off for a long tour. Maybe, it was due to that experience she was a regular figure in the excursion teams that go on study tours every year post her joining as a teacher at the Athma Vidyasangam UP School, Kolathara, Kozhikode. Then she began taking the responsibility of handling the students and ensuring their safety during such trips. Thus, during her 33-year-long service, she would be there up front to lead the school excursion team on each and every such occasion.
'Girls safe with Sheela teacher'
Sheela Teacher was in charge of the Scout and Guidance. Besides the annual excursions from schools, she used to embark on journeys lasting one- or two days, taking girl students along. Once she visited Kanyakumari with a group of 25 girls. She was delighted to see the excitement and thrill of the students who hopped on a train for the very first time in their lives.
And to make their travelling dreams come true, she apparently used to turn the ‘expedition’ allowed under Scouts and Guidance into ‘expedition-cum-excursion.'
If it was Sheela teacher who was taking the girls along, the parents apparently showed no inhibitions in sending their children along, for they knew that their little ones would be very much safe with her. She used to meticulously plan such trips in advance so as to cut down the expenses to the maximum possible extent and to ensure safe accommodation facilities, thereby making travel arrangements to suit students of any financial background.
Asked whether it was risky to find a safe place of accommodation for girls during such trips, Sheela teacher pointed out that she mostly relied on the offices of Scout and Guidance or the schools and houses of her teacher friends. Interestingly, she never had to go to hotels with the girl students, and used to opt for either public transport buses or trains for travelling, while ensuring concessions for the students. Since they were below 12 years of age, they used to get relaxation in fares. Thus, for two decades, Sheela teacher paved the way for female students to explore a world that they had until then known only through books.
When students turned daughters
Post-marriage, her husband used to lend full support for such ventures. But she lost her better half early during the course of her life. Then for Sheela teacher, who has no children, these students were like her own daughters. They could come to her house anytime. The teacher, too, made it a point to make occasional visits to their homes, for she believed the same was vital to understand the actual living conditions of each and every student to properly handle, guide, and evolve them to heights in their lives.The students used to visit her division-wise, and she used to wait for them with tea and snacks. And Sheela teacher used to undertake the travel sorties after obtaining the consent of their parents in PTA (Parents Teachers Association) meetings.
Sheela teacher and her journeys
While in service, Sheela teacher was the national councillor member of the South Guides and she had to travel to Delhi every year. Her colleagues used to ask her whether they could accompany her. Thus, she started taking them along with her on those official journeys. The first of those trips was in 1998 when she travelled with a group of 18 people. She arranged the lodging facility at the office of Scouts and Guides. And when she attended the official programmes, she would send others sightseeing with her acquaintances in Delhi. This she followed every year.
In between, she embarked on a journey to Kashmir with an excursion group from another school. Upon returning, she had the impulse that every one of her team should visit the ‘Paradise on Earth’ at least once. Thus, in 2013, she, along with 32 others, set off to Kashmir again. Though the travel was with the assistance of a travel agency, the responsibility of each of the 32 persons lay squarely with her. They hopped on a train and first reached Delhi. They then proceeded to the Wagah border and from there to Jammu and Kashmir, before travelling to Srinagar. They chose the same route while returning after Kashmir, which nature has endowed with implausible beauty.
lThe Kashmir visit was in 2013 and Sheela teacher went on a pleasure trip to Rajasthan the next year with a group comprising 34 women. This time too, she had availed of the help of the travel agency. As usual, the women embarked on the journey with the teacher’s assurance that she would take care of everything. In 2015, she visited Pune, where she explored the cave monuments of Ajanta and Ellora, among others. And in 2016, she flew to Europe for a foreign visit, all by herself. She went to Nepal the next year, and in 2019, she set off to Dubai with a group of 18 people. The same year, Sheela teacher also toured Thailand with a group of 22 persons.
The setback during Covid
In 2020, Sheela teacher planned a voyage to the Lakshadweep Islands along with a group of 16 persons. She handed over Rs 35,000 per person to a Kochi-based travel agency for expenses towards ticket, food, and accommodation. But that trip got cancelled due to Covid. The agency didn’t refund the fees on the assurance that the trip would be arranged once the threat of the pandemic receded. However, the world continued to reel under the effect of the deadly virus in 2021 as well. And in the meantime, the ‘agency’ suddenly disappeared, cheating the clients of their money. Now Sheela teacher became answerable to the members of her group who had handed over a sum towards the travel expense to her. The case filed by her against the agency is still ongoing. With her realizing the difficulties of taking up the financial responsibility while travelling with groups, Sheela teacher, as of now, has decided against such travel sorties. However, she has not given any ‘vacation’ for her own explorations.
And she ventured on a visit to Kolkata with two of her close friends early this year. The trio also visited Sikkim before returning. And she flew to the UK, just two months after that trip. Now Sheela teacher is making all preparations for her next globe-trotting mission, one that covers Moscow, Bali, and the US.
Ask her which places she had visited in Kerala and prompt comes the reply, “All districts”. And she has not visited them by chance, in fact, she went on a trip to each of them to enjoy various bounties of nature. Often she doesn’t have to worry about her stay in the places she visits, thanks to her numerous students and also the teachers who worked with her. However, she shares her disappointment over not being able to visit Gavi, a must-visit place for all nature lovers.
Our land still has much scope for progress
Each journey is a different experience for Sheela teacher, just like others. She reckons that the satisfaction derived from opening a new world to her female students through the many journeys that she undertook with them can’t be expressed in mere words.
Sheela teacher always makes it a point to notice the specialities and shortcomings of the places that she visits. She still vividly remembers the innocent query put forward by a room boy in Kashmir in wonder: “How do all the children in Kerala manage to go to school?”. She was amazed by the behaviour of people during her UK trip. “We can’t just imagine how disciplined they are. They are not in a hurry, adhere to all the rules, and don’t interfere with the rights and freedom of others. When we see all this, we realize with sadness how bad the system is in our land. There is a lot to study about the freedom and opportunities in other countries. Kerala is a place where the girls get fired for not wearing a shawl,” she points out.
Switzerland, a beauty; Egypt untidy
Of all the places she has visited, Switzerland lured her the most. Not only is it absolutely beautiful, it is one of the cleanest as well. Speaking of the untidiest cities, Egypt comes to her mind quickly. She visited countries like Israel, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, Egypt, and the like as part of the Holy Land tour. She has also visited almost all the ‘Wonders of the World’, except for the Great Wall of China.
She was forced to postpone the China trip due to corona, and the same is still pending on her bucket list. However, it’s Moscow that Sheela teacher intends to visit next, followed by the US.
Having a lot of money alone won’t serve the purpose. What you need upmost to enjoy travelling is the right mentality. Sheela teacher could feel the pure joy of women that she took along, and that prompted her to undertake more such journeys. If someone asks whether she encountered difficulties in leading such a large group, she would reply that she faced none so far. Though a few among those who accompany her create minor issues sometimes, all those could be solved easily, she points out confidently.
Life is not boring but beautiful
It’s such real stories that should open our eyes and reflect how wonderful life can be if we choose to have the right mentality. Here’s Sheela Teacher who, with no children of her own, could have easily retreated into the shell and led a solo boring life after retirement. Instead, she overcame all her setbacks and enjoyed life to the fullest. It’s been seven years since she retired. And she experiences no loneliness nor any boredom from having nothing to do. She is full of vivid memories of the places and the people she met during her numerous travel sorties.
She also has this picture in her mind of the many places and people she is about to visit. While preparing for the same, she hardly realizes that time is flowing by and that she is getting older and older. During the occasional breaks from journeys, the many students whom she had handheld to a new world of travel would show up and exchange pleasantries. Others would ring her up and ask whether everything was fine or not. And when they meet up occasionally, they would hold her tight and hug her while proudly introducing her to their children, ‘This is my dear teacher.’ And Sheela teacher quips, “What else do you need for a happy life?”