Friday, September 05, 2008

To Sir With Love

In India, we have a penchant for celebrating everything with fervor. And most festivals or holidays are linked to one religion or the other or else have such mythical beginnings, the stories of which have gotten lost over centuries.
One of these happy occasions stands out in its uniqueness. The day I'm referring to is Teacher's Day. This is celebrated on Sep 5 each year across all educational institutes in India. However, it is the enthusiasm in schools that truly brings out the 'teacher' and 'student' in us.
As Sep 5 just went by, I wanted to talk about a few such teachers who left their mark on me during my growing-up years and have most definitely played a role in shaping my personality. I spent my childhood growing up in South Delhi and went to a school called Green Fields. At that time, it wasn't one of the top league schools such as a DPS or a Modern or a Sardar Patel, but it was the best. :-)
One of my earliest memories is of a music teacher way back in kindergarten. I don't even remember his name anymore but do remember that he was a tall, thin, dark man with an English-sounding name who could make the most beautiful and heavenly music from a piano. I'm sure the music he played then was nothing more than the regular prayers or rhymes or maybe Christmas carols at times. But I do remember him as the first teacher in my life. He brought music to our little hearts and minds. Thank you, Sir.
I also remember my class teacher from the I st standard. Some of the reasons that she is still in my mind is that I was the apple of her eyes...:-)... and also she was the one who unknowingly initiated the desire for books in me. She used to have a huge (in the eyes of a 5-year old) red-colored book about a boy and a dog and would read out parts of it to the class during the last few periods of the school day. I don't remember the story anymore but I do remember the feeling of eagerness with which each one of us would wait for the story-telling sessions to begin. The red book about a boy and a dog filled our imagination and colored our dreams...
I continued in the same school from kindergarten till XII th standard, and so it forms a huge part of my history.
It was in class V that we were introduced to the study of our ancient language, Sanskrit. I know in today's day and time most schools offer foreign languages such as French or Spanish to help prepare children for a global environment. These languages help the children, their parents, and even their neighbors appear more smart. The parents can also place wagers on which child will settle in which country 'abroad'. However, back in my school days, the language option in an English-medium school was between Hindi and Sanskrit. I chose Sanskrit simply because I thought I could learn two languages at the effort for one. The translations would be in Hindi and so I would get to learn Hindi as well. There came a time when we had a Sanskrit teacher by the name of Nand Lal Sharma. He was a thin man dressed in greys and whites with a forehead that would get marked on hearing our grammar. But even at that age, quite a few of us felt respect for a man who was trying to teach us a language mostly forgotten, never used, and frequently ridiculed for its inclusion in the syllabus. He would make us memorize by rote essays written in Sanskrit!! He would explain excerpts from Kalidasa's Meghadutam and bring the beauty of Ujjaini women and the stories of Malvika-Agnimitra into our rooms of metal and wooden benches. I met him in a market many years later and was touched when he remembered my name. It is obviously easy for a student to remember a teacher's name but for a teacher to do the same is a feat. :). He was also the one who told me the meaning of my name...
English teachers, I believe, always have had the reputation of being the most approachable and creative people in a school. They are the ones who make your days seem more livable in times when all the laws of thermodynamics are eating up the insides of your brain. A close second came trigonometry and the periodic table. These were the people who shone like knights in shining armor and salvaged our souls from permanent damage wreaked by the havoc of the aforementioned subjects. I remember Indira Ma'am in class V or VI who helped me read and understand 'The Death of a Salesman'. I remember Sudha Ma'am who got us interested into dramatics and theater. Shobha Ma'am - a confidante for many at such times when suddenly all girls were getting their hearts broken...:). Kumaraswami Ma'am (of the beautiful sarees and jewellery) for being the shoulder to cry on about bad marks, expectations from parents, competition from peers.
I remember Radhakrishnan Sir, our biology teacher, who was simply the most loving person and till date my knowledge on genetics and mitosis and meiosis first bring up the visuals of the diagrams in our notebooks, copied from the ones he drew on the board. He was a friend, philosopher, a guide. He encouraged us to look outside the window and learn from nature. He was one person who did not limit himself to just his subject but talked to us of all things. He called us the extinct species...knowing well that the generations to come would not be the same as us.
School rolled into college - the entry point into a world which was not ready for us and for which we were not ready. In college, through myriad days, I remember Mr. Madan who taught Indian Politics at my college. There was Ghosh Sir with with his political philosophies ranging from Chanakya to Plato to Gandhi.
From there on I moved to JNU, one of the finest universities of the country. JNU evokes a strong sense of belonging and makes you feel that your journey to discover yourself has only just begun. At JNU, I was introduced to the fantastic world of great French artists and the world of impressionists. Dhir Sir threw open the windows to a whole new world of Picasso, Lautrec, Modigliani, and Monet. Then, there was Sengupta Sir whose classes on Sartre made me watch plays based on Sartre's writing even in Hindi. There was Vijaya Ma'am who taught us Indian French literature...such ideas, such concepts came up. She helped me discover Indian literature through a foreign language and it brought me closer to my roots. All those discussions about le beton desarme and Indian mythology and modern India - beautiful and awakening. I did my dissertation in her guidance - a story on getting to know oneself through the eyes of the other...Michaux. Then, there was Madavane Sir - the one who had corals on his desk and millions of ideas forever swirling in his mind, the author of La malediction des etoiles, the one from whose room we could see the library building crying, the one who pushed us to think and write better.
I wanted to say Thank You to all these teachers who opened all these doors and windows to such fantastic worlds, and made a lot of what I am today.
Thank you