reprints of articles published in magazines

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Ode to the teacher

Come teacher’s day and it is a time-honoured tradition to reminisce about one’s teachers. Many teachers have come and gone in my long years of student hood, all of them have taught me things from the various text books, but the teachers that I always remember are the ones who taught me things that are never written down in text books.

Well, there was this teacher that I had in my very early days of schooling. Her name was Julie something but the little kid that I was, I remember her only as Julie Miss. I happened to be a good student then, but during one of the exams, I fell sick and went off to school with a high fever. I had to write down the Tamil alphabet and I do not know if it was because of my low IQ or the high fever, but suddenly I forgot all about a, aa, e, ee. There I was sitting with a confused look on my face….and this Julie miss just appeared beside me like a guardian angel, looked at my face and without a word, pulled out the pencil from numb fingers, scribbled the entire alphabet on the exam paper and said, “It’s OK, you go home now.” Even my febrile disoriented brain, knew what she did was not exactly right….a teacher ought not to help a student like that, when the exam is specifically meant to test the student’s memory skills. But Julie Miss was more concerned about my health than the meaning of exams. That was the first non-text-book lesson of my life: Rules are all fine, but humanity and kindness come first.

Teachers capable of instilling such profound lessons must be a rarity, for it took a few more years for me to learn my next such lesson. We were studying in Sixth Standard D section then, D for Devils as my class teacher used to tell us ever so often! Our regular history teacher was on leave and we had a substitute Miss. This new teacher found us too devilish and decided we needed to be punished. So we all had to Stand Up On The Bench for her. But she still found ‘some noise coming’ and decided to increase the degree of the punishment, by taking us all to the Principal for admonishment.

I happened to be on the first row on the right, next to Shiny and Satish. Shiny being the first, she had the privilege of leading the line to the Principal’s Office. The teacher gave Shiny a stern look and said “Get Down and stand in the line”. That was enough to make Shiny cry. But tears did not seem to help, Shiny was made to leave the class and stand outside. Next it was Satish’s turn. He tried to buy time, fidgeting and pleading, but the teacher seemed clear in her intentions…so Satish got off the bench and went to stand behind Shiny. “Next” the teacher said, turning to look at me. Well, it seemed certain that we’ll all meet the Principal that day, and since there were two people ahead of me in the line, I did not see any point in wasting time on the bench. I jumped off the desk and went to stand behind Satish. The teacher was furious. She called me back and asked, “Are you not afraid of going to the Principal’s Room?” I shook my head and said “No”

Why would I be afraid of my own Principal! Our Princi Mrs. Mohana Chandrasekaran was to me the Role Model Woman; she was so cool, smart and so kind…. I simply loved to look at her! And when the entire class was there to add safety in numbers I really did not see it as scary at all.

That I was not afraid of my Principal seemed to make the new teacher livid with rage. She withdrew the ‘Stand up on the bench’ and ‘going to the principal’ punishments and made the entire class write “I will not make noise in the Class” twenty five times. For me though, the imposition was for a hundred times. The twenty five times writing took less time, so the others left…and there I was sitting all alone and painfully writing “I will not make noise in the class” a hundred times.

My English teacher noticed my solitary writing and entered the class to enquire why I was still there. When I explained the problem Miss Malathy Ramaswamy who for God knows what reason had a good opinion about me, became very upset. “It is Ok for you to be fearless my dear, but sometimes, you must at least pretend to be afraid…otherwise people take it as a challenge and become all the more cruel.”

That was lesson number two: That Discretion is the better part of valour.

The third lesson came about when I was in my ninth standard of school. Again it was a Tamil exam and we were to write a composition on the Beautiful Landscapes of Kutralam. I was in the peak of adolescence then, even otherwise I was the cranky kid with naughty ideas…and Tamil was so difficult, it had three Naa’s, three Laa’s and two Raa’s- I never knew which came where! It was only my first year with Tamil as a Second Language, writing a full composition was so daunting a task….so I ended up writing a Tamil film song that describes the mystic beauty of nature, interspersed with my comments on that song. The exam was written and the paper submitted when my classmates told me that the Tamil Teacher was the strictest person in the entire campus. She was a no-nonsense lady, who also happened to be the Vice principal of the school. When I mentioned my film-based composition, my seniors gave me a gloomy look. “What have you done? She’ll surely issue you a TC now!” The entire class was anxious, nobody had ever got a TC before and everyone wanted to know how exactly it was done.

A few days later, the Tamil teacher walked in with the exam papers. The whole class became charged with suspense and I became the cynosure of all eyes. The teacher called out each student’s name and handed the corrected papers. My turn came, I walked up to her with a leaden heart…she did not even look up, just handed the paper. What did that mean, would the TC be given later? Confused I went back to my seat and threw the dreaded test paper on the desk. My neighbour picked up the paper and opened it. “Ah! This can’t be!” she immediately exclaimed. What the….I took a look and to my greatest disbelief the Tamil Film Song with all its spelling mistakes was scored 15/15 with a Very Good beside it! My entire class was disappointed….there was no TC for one and film songs were being marked Very Good, that too by a teacher who was supposed to be a strict disciplinarian. And to top it all, at the end of the class, the teacher called me aside and gave me instructions to participate in the next upcoming Tamil Poetry Competition. I was completely stumped! But managed to grasp the lesson that Mrs. Kalyani Varadharajan, so casually taught me: to look beyond the obvious flaws and find the inner beauty in life.

Lesson number four happened when I was in the twelfth standard. We the students were to organise a Science Exhibition. My team was assigned to make a model of the Cave Habitat. Our Biology teacher provided us the chart papers, paints and brushes to make the cave. Our team armed with the painting paraphernalia bent over the many pieces of chart and tried to colour it cave brown. Losing patience with the little brushes and their sparse strokes, I just sprinkled paints of different kinds on the paper and smeared it all with my hand. “Look, this is much quicker” I laughed as long stretches of the chart turned cave brown. But my teammates were terrified, “Just wait till Miss sees what you’re up to! This is not the way to do it….” my teammates were protesting when Mrs C. R. Vijayalakshmi, entered the room and walked straight to us. Instantly I hid my hand behind and waited for the scolding that was sure to come. Of all the charts laying on the table, the teacher picked up the ones that I had hand painted and asked, “Who did this?” All the girls turned to me and I was literally caught brown-handed. The teacher took one look at my hand and said, “Wonderful. Now finish the rest quickly” and walked away to inspect the other projects. I was flabbergasted and my teammates were shocked! But the lesson I learnt that day was: it’s Ok to be non-conformist, as long as one gets the job down well.

After the twelfth standard school days ended. I was off to one Medical College after the other to become a doctor and then a psychiatrist. Medical colleges had no teachers; only tutors, lecturers and professors. Of course the tutors, lecturers and professors were much more qualified and learned than my schoolteachers. But when it came to teaching lessons for life, my schoolteachers were simply the very best! To them I owe all.


Unmai said...

You were really a naught girl Doctor.:)

Dr. N. Shalini said...

not were, are:)

kayaljram said...

very interesting..and the lessons which u have derived..did u derive them at the very moment or in later life when a problem in the same format arose?
powerful nostalgia...

Dr. N. Shalini said...

some then, most later on

rekha said...

shalini u look so calm and quite but you are really naughty...
Meeting the principal is ultimate :)
Thanks for sharing...

PARIMALA said...

My God!!I never thought you would be such a naughty girl Dr. Even now when you talk, you talk with a tremendous sense of humour!!I like you when you laugh your heartout thereby spreading a sense of joy around.

PARIMALA said...

I was in the peak of adolescence then,---ஐயோ தெரிஞ்சிக்கலேனா
தலையே வெடிச்சிடும் போல் இருக்கே!!!! எனக்கு மட்டும் சொல்லுங்கலேன் ப்ளீஸ். God Promise!!! நான் யார்கிட்டேயும் சொல்ல மாட்டேன்!!!

Natarajan said...

You are very right. But I did have some teachers in Engingeering college as well. In that way I should say I was lucky.