“I hate my teacher
He's the reason for my scars
Woh mujhpe chillata hai
He likes it when I sweat
When I fall
When I can't even breathe
He's the reason for my pain
He doesn't care if I sleep.”
The video starts with a jarring shot of Olympic silver-medalist PV Sindhu screaming in agony, which is then followed by the aforementioned lines being spoken (presumably) by her.
Soon, we learn that Sindhu is thankful, grateful for the pain, the sleeplessness, the shouting, the breathlessness, because how else do you win an Olympic medal?
Gatorade's latest ad, featuring India's star badminton player and her coach P.Gopichand, is a teacher's day special done differently. While most ads tend to focus on how amazing teachers and how much we love them, Sindhu says it's okay to hate your teacher for the right reasons.
The ad ends with her smashing an unlucky shuttlecock from a great height as she says, “I hate him because he believes in me”. It's glorious to watch, but once one gets past the aesthetic of the advertisement, better sense prevails.
How can we differentiate abuse from the coaching methods of Gopichand as described in this ad? Does a medal convert years of cruelty and turn it into ideal teaching methods? What message does this ad send to teachers who hit kids “for their own good”?
These are uncomfortable questions, for no one wants to see Gopichand through the lens of an abusive teacher. Known to have moulded some of India's best sportspersons, Gopichand is understood as the prototype of a good teacher.
The problem with this ad aren't his teaching methods, though. It's that it chooses to show a very abusive side to what coaching could entail, and then sells it with a sweeping statement – “Gatorade celebrates those who teach us to sweat more”.
Teaching really isn't necessarily about making your students sweat. It is a disservice to thousands of brilliant teachers, including Gopichand himself, to redefine teaching as a clinical, heartless method whose ends justify the means.
It is misleading to celebrate apathetic teaching methods when India reels from hundreds of horrifying cases of corporal punishment in schools. Despite there being a law to protect children against both mental and physical harassment – RTE Act 2009 – not many teachers in India spare the rod.
Interestingly, the law also covers mental harassment, and what could be more indicative of mental harassment than the student actively hating the teacher for their teaching methods?
Some might argue this is stretching the argument, and sure, the context is that of a student-teacher duo the whole world knows. However, knowing their context doesn't mean everyone will get the same message from the ad.
For teachers who believe in corporal punishment, this only reinforces the need to punish, or, at least, be ruthless, because surely, that will get you a performer. We're not sure that's the message Gatorade would like to, or should, send.