I was in class 8 I think when I had Mr.Govindarajan (we called him GR Sir) for my class teacher. From my sieve like memory I clearly remember that he was short and frail with a small physical frame and unkempt hair and appeared much older than his early fifties. But I cannot forget the twinkle in his kindly eyes and the ever present mischievous smile in his face that belied the initial impression one got of him. His witty and lively classes, however drab the subjects were, made him very popular amongst the boys in the school. Despite his bubbly humour and warmth, there was a certain aloofness inhibiting any intimacy or liberties. He knew well how to instill and inspire confidence in his pupils and in making them believe that they can achieve whatever goal they had set for themselves. He never derided even the weak students and took trouble to explain the lessons again and again. He used to devote invariably the last 10 minutes of his class to kindle the interest of the boys in general subjects and expand their mental horizon. There was some innate charm about him and his teaching method that we wouldn’t have willingly foregone his classes. A wise master, he inspired awe in his abilities and earned the respect of one and all including his peers. He had surprisingly a soft trait in that he could not be harsh even on impish and roguish boys when occasions demanded it. When any boy complained of slightest physical discomfort, he never looked askance but sent him home immediately for rest
For reasons not known to me, he took a special liking for me possibly because I lived very close to his house. He used to give me small errands occasionally like getting chalk pieces from the office. It was one day when he entered the class unusually late by a few minutes; he looked distinctly fatigued and distraught. He called me near him and whispered”Partha, I went to hospital this morning to admit my aged mother who is suffering from acute Asthma. It was an emergency and I am coming directly from there after she stabilized. You know my house. Can you please collect the lunch from my wife? Tell her that I was held up and couldn’t come home. Also tell her that doctors are attending on my mother and that I would be going to hospital directly from the school.”
I virtually ran to his house that was close to school. It was a small two room side portion, dark and dingy. After I conveyed the message I was waiting for the lady to pack the lunch. I could see in the dark and bare hall a small boy of my age huddled on a mat. When he saw me, he tried to get up but could not. He made some unintelligible guttural noises that brought his mother scurrying to his side. She said “Lie down quietly and I will come in a minute to you after sending lunch to appa”
I blurted foolishly “Aunty, is he not well? He is not getting up and is making strange sounds.”
She turned to me attempting to hide a tear and said before going to kitchen” Yes, he is very unwell and cannot walk on his own. He cannot speak and is not a normal child.”
It struck me then that he was not only polio affected but also mentally retarded. What a cruel punishment to have befallen on the excellent and loving teacher who never betrayed even in an unguarded moment the piteous and depressing scene at home. An aged sick mother frequently on bouts of asthma, an abnormal child with no future, a small decrepit home and low emoluments is a deadly combination that no ordinary person can withstand. I wondered how this man’s devotion to his duty and amiable disposition remained unshaken by such extreme personal disappointments. My esteem for him grew boundless when I remembered his natural dignity, infectious warmth of spirit and willingness to walk the extra mile to teach the slow children till they understood. He never allowed his private grief to intrude in the call of his duty.
Education for him is something more than book learning. For him it is an initiation of the young and eager minds into the wonders of the world and life where time and money played little part at personal level. The memory of such a great but simple teacher of the past abides like a perfume even after the lapse of long years. Such rich contentment and serene detachment are no common possessions of ordinary mortals..