Friday, November 18, 2011

To Sir, With Love

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  slate, wrote with the  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 were 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  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. But, 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  array of subjects. The couple of hours he spent with us were enlivening. He   let us feel that we were  on a discovery and not in any way coerced to study. He was deftly uncanny in imparting knowledge and making us question him. 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 subject called “Algebra”. That made me forget the anguish of  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 eight. Years after, when I was out of college and employed, I went to see him a few times at his house. He was then in his late 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 his only relative, his mother died 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  Thiruvananthapuram 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 bear hug -vice like 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  pleasantness and fortune 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  and for a while in trance, and did not know  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”. To “Sir with love!”
He passed away a few years aback and a peaceful death. He died while having food at a local restaurant.


Meera Sundararajan said...

I remember reading a comment somewhere "Never mind the tiger- save the teacher!". Today's good teachers are so few and far in between. For most of them teaching is just a source of income... It is sad that very teachers make it to retirement in the schools that they have joined. Students no longer respect them as we used to ( cant blame them because children can sense committment in an adult). It is a sad state of affairs- there is no sir or Madam to whom we can offer our love these days! Good post!

Sandy said...

This is one of the most delightful stories that I've read in a long time..I especially felt a tug in my heart when I read the ending with the elderly gentleman....Thank you for sharing....

NRIGirl said...

That's wonderful knowing about the teachers who have influenced you.

I could almost visualize the setting and the people and of course the little you with a love for those comic books, you have painted with your words.

Thank you!

....Petty Witter said...

What an amazing story, it brought a tear to my eye I can tell you.

What wonderful teachers they must have been that you remember them with such fondness.

Interesting comment from Meera, as an ex-teaching assistant I agree that pupils on the whole have less respect for their teachers (or anyone else in authority come to that) than we did but I have to disagree that most teachers are in it for the money. Mostly dedicated to teaching, I think it is the system that lets teachers down - that and the amount of regulations that sees them filling in forms and having to reach targets rather than just getting on with the job of teaching.

Insignia said...

Teachers help you to become what you are now. I had few great teachers in the convent I did my schooling.

You should be fortunate to come across one such at every stage of your schooling

Makk said...

Its a fulfilling experience to see world in your words.

btw Do I know the origin of "kuup" in your name??

KParthasarathi said...

The post is a touching tribute to the many teachers who shaped your mind and filled your mind in the younger years.Lucky are those who get teachers like Saroja who fed the belly also along with the brain or the wise iyer who rightly mixed learning about world and its affairs along with routine subjects like algebra or Kurup Sir with his warmth and affection for his wards.
I enjoyed reading your well written post

kavita said...

This is one blog post that i would love to read out to my kids this evening .I still remember some of my teachers fondly.Now a days it is hard to find/see a teacher working at the same school for a long duration(except for in govt schools)thanks to attractive salary packages offered by different schools.

anilkurup said...

@ Meera Sundarajan,

Commitment in teachers? Well the same as we know in Physicians. They are at the nadir.
Thanks for the appreciation.

@ Sandy,

Thanks Sandy. Yes it was a momentous pleasure to see him run to me with that cry and delight in his face!
Thanks for the appreciation. Be frequent on the Blog.

@ NRIGirl,

Thank you for the appreciation.
Yes those comic were a fantastic matter.

@ Petty Witter,

Good to see your appreciation.
Yes you are right it is the system that makes the mess. Teaching, a profession most underpaid and ignored by all. I fact a Teacher must have the equal status of a Physician.

@ Insignia,

B you are right. And yes there were teachers who were scholars and I perhaps was among the last few lucky academic generation who had the fortune to be taught by some good and wonderful men in their own tiny ways.

@ Makk,
Yes fulfilling , refreshing when you look back at some who gave you a hand.
The "Kurup" is a Sur name . And no relationship here besides coincidence.

@ KParthasarathi,

Thank you Sir. You will understand more, I'm sure.

@ Kavita,

Thank you. A bed time read ? Oh me that is a bit far fetched. isn't it?Thanks any way .

kavita said...

My daughter takes her art teacher (who comes once in a week to our home to teach them) for granted because he is very soft spoken and lineant .I want both of my kids to regard and respect their teachers so i read out your post to them(like a story) and later showed them your picture in fb .I always tell them that how much we respected our teachers and still remember them fondly and i felt that this post is a perfect example of that.BTW they loved Polly the parrot part the most after all.

anilkurup said...

Posted by kavita to Musings at November 19, 2011 8:33 AM

kavita via
15:37 (1 hour ago)

to me
kavita has left a new comment on your post "To Sir, With Love":

My daughter takes her art teacher (who comes once in a week to our home to teach them) for granted because he is very soft spoken and lineant .I want both of my kids to regard and respect their teachers so i read out your post to them(like a story) and later showed them your picture in fb .I always tell them that how much we respected our teachers and still remember them fondly and i felt that this post is a perfect example of that.BTW they loved Polly the parrot part the most after all.

@ Kavita,

I could not see the above comment you made on the Blog. Technical issues, I suppose they reflect only in the gmail box. So I took the liberty of cutting and pasting here.

As I wrote in my email, Im overwhelmed. Thanks K.Let me wish you all success in bringing up those little ones. Once again let me say that your response brought me back the moments from the past the walk to the class, the discussion with Mr Iyer. And the concern Mr Kurup had for his wards. The distinct thing was how they all felt when a former student visit them after years. The happiness and contentment they feel is reflecting all over them.

Between us grown ups, this is one side of the coin, the distress and irritation that has been deliberately inflicted on teachers is another story. Certainly not for the kids. Thanks

R.Ramakrishnan said...

Beautiful story of your nostalgic growing up years. I am amazed at your astonishing memory to recollect minute details about your teachers.Obviously they were all very good had a great impact on you. That explains your marvelous mastery over the English Language !The finale of your post-the meeting with Kurup Sir was so touching.
I have a post on a visit to Tiruvanthapuram you may be interested to read. Pl log onto:

anilkurup said...

@ R.Ramakrishnan,

Thank you for the comments.
The personalities mentioned stand out among the gentry who affected.
I tried logging on to the link , but displays it dose not exist.

adithyasaravana said...

what can I write.. You were gifted.. and when I look back, I still could remember with fondness, Sujatha miss and ambujakshi madam..
the latest being Dr. Rathnakumar, who used to listen to me presenting cases after his clinical hours, when I failed my MD and was working in voluntary health services till I cleared next time. Each day I used to go to GH, after his clinical hours, and he used to discuss in detail about all cases. .
He is the only teacher whom i still have contacts. anyways, I met him with meena and adhi last time in GH, and he was very happy to see us all..
I stil remember the intial 6 months when I and shyam, my other PG would escape and bury ourself in nearby ward , when his roar is heard while he was on rounds.. it gives a chill even now.. but learnt.. we.. Our mistakes were shown directly on our face.. never to be made again..
it is him, who almost held my hands and taught me surgery..

anilkurup said...

@ Adityasaravanan,

Thank s for the comments

Betty Manousos@ Cut and Dry said...

what a touching story! thanks for sharing.
drooping by via petty witter's blog to say hi. your comment aroused my curiosity...

have a great day!
p.s. and i'm a greek!!

Betty Manousos@ Cut and Dry said...

oops! i meant to say...dropping!

anilkurup said...

@Betty Manousos

Thank you much for DROPPING by( ha), and the appreciation.

The Holy Lama said...

A pleasant read, written from heart.

anilkurup said...

@ Holy Lama,

Thank you for the comment . Good to know you liked the read. Wonder why some folks like you are seen less in the Blog world!

Monalisa said...

Wow! What a wonderful read! Its always nice to talk about good old teachers who who've been through our days of nothingness. Its a greater pleasure when we see them later on and the best when they recognize us from a crowd.

I'm reminded of my principal at college (my ever best loved teacher), who used to take me for his adopted daughter. He died recently of blood cancer, without letting any of his students know of his illness. I was in trance how the hell it could happen. Even now I remember him with utmost respect and love in my heart.

A lovely post Anilkurup.

Happy Kitten said...

A wonderful post of great teachers who have shaped your life..

and hence you weave words in English so well..

Sadly these days the students dont find such teachers who affect them the same way..

anilkurup said...

@ Mona Lisa,
Thank you for the comments. Each of us may have memoirs like this. All said and done there is an element of awe when you see a teacher who taught you, after many years have passed.

@ Happy Kitten,

Thank you for the good words and appreciation. All that we are are still infants flexing our muscles!

The last observation you made about the students of these days being unlucky is a painful fact. There are no teachers of calibre. The system has decimated the growth.