My first teacher in my living memory was a woman who lived near my house. She was, I guess, a tutor in a Government primary school. I remember she coming home daily for an hour to teach me and my sister. I must have been about five. Memory is sketchy to be specific. But she taught us the first lessons in language- Malayalam and simple Arithmetic. We then had the lead slate, wrote with the lead chalk slate pencil and used the ubiquitous (those days) “Mashi thandu”shrub to wipe and erase the slate clean.
The next person who taught me was again a woman.Saroja (Saroja teacher) was in her twenties and lived near our house. She was a Brahmin and we (me, and my sister) were treated to fabulous Tamil dishes- sweets, savouries, bajis, paniyarams etc when we went to her house for the classes. She taught at the same convent we studied. She taught me through my first standard to the fourth. The wonderful thing was the eagerness to make the short walk to her house for the classes were I was initiated into the fantastic collection of comics of Phantom , Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Casper the friendly Ghost, Riche Rich and Mandrake the Magician. The comics was in a huge collection in that house. They were owned by her delinquent brother who apart from reading comics, having sumptuous food and blasting hell a lot of crackers for Deepavali did nothing much. He was a drop out! She used to be annoyed when I used to devour the comics between classes . She exclaimed that language was not grammatically perfect in comics and may actually damage a child’s language. Her big sister was always around to soothe her and let me go on with those fascinating comics.
I think I can recall that it was from the third standard and parallel to the classes at Ms Saroja’s, I and my sister were also sent to the almost middle aged Ms E. Sawyer who lived opposite our house and across the street. She was Anglican by descend (not the Anglo Indian) and a spinster. She coached us English. Ms Sawyer had a parrot called Polly that spoke English words fairer than we did. Many years after, I visited Ms Sawyer who had moved away and lived in a different part of the town. Now I notice that someone else live at the place she moved into. I ‘m sure she must be about one hundred if she is alive now. She was the quintessential English woman, mysteriously marooned back in the sub continent.
Mr Sankaranaryana Iyer was the headmaster of a local government high school. He was in his eighties when he began to come home alternate days to teach me and my sister. He was gifted in English, Mathematics and all the array of subjects. The couple of hours he spent with us were enlivening. He let us feel that we were discovering and not in any way coerced to study. He was deftly uncanny in imparting knowledge. I still remember him going about the Second World War, the war time Prime minister Mr Churchill, De'Gaul and so on in the midst of his class in the nonsense called “Algebra”. Those made me forget the anguish in studying Algebra. He spoke about varied subjects in the course of his classes. He was of the opinion that learning must be a fascination and not a bitter pill forced down the gullet. He taught me from the fifth standard to the ninth. Years after, when I was out of college and employed, I went to see him a few times in his house. He was then in his nineties, but alert, and recogonised me. The last time I met him was at his son’s house, he was quite frail and was quite unsure of who I was. He died a few days after.
The memorable moment of my life- a moment when we met after almost ten years is etched with ample goose bumps. Before that, I last saw him when I went to his small apartment in my old High school to seek his presence at my wedding. He was the chief warden and retired from active duty as a teacher. The School authorities, as a token gesture of gratitude and in there graciousness offered him the warden’s job ,after he retired and provided him a room next to the boarders block in the school to live in. He was unmarried-a bachelor, and the only relative, his mother passed away some years ago. He was a revered figure;a man of average height, had a thin steady frame and bald. The long white beard and ocher dhoti and kurta gave him a mystical look. Perhaps everybody who became mattered or not in society and who was educated at the Government Model High School Thiruvanathapuram have gone through his tutelage.
It was the morning of my cousin’s wedding which took place in Thpuram. The traditional reception that was accorded to the groom was on at the gates of the Mandapam. And I was accompanying my cousin brother in the short ceremonial procession into the Mandapam. I noticed this old man of thin frame and flowing white beard and whiskers and simultaneously him, me. He shrieked as if it was a joyous war cry and came running to me with hands outstretched. ”Eda Anil..ey” (Dear Anil). He hugged me in one mammoth straight jacket -vice grip and I in reflex responded by lifting him up. We literally felt tears flood in our eyes. It was indeed one of the greatest fortunate pleasantness to be embraced by a teacher when meeting him after many years and time. He was the family friend of the bride. The whole crowd of men, women and children who were witness to the event, all, were dumbstruck in trance, and did not know for a while that it was the unrestrained natural affection of a teacher for a former student and a lousy one at that. He was Mr. Narayana Kurup, or with the abbreviated name “Kurup Sir”.
For me it was to “Sir with love!”