Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kindling the young minds

I remember this was one of my early stories written almost two decades back and an apt one for Teachers Day. Many of my current readers might have missed it.

Our former President Dr.Kalam always exhorted students to dream, hoping that dreams may ignite their minds to accomplish great things. This wasn’t so a few decades ago for back, as then a dream was associated with slumber and I still remember getting whacked for yawning in class. Yawn, I did not know then, is a prelude to sleep often induced by boring subjects or people.

No one explained why the paper planes that fly in the classroom glide effortlessly at times but nose-dive most often. Nobody ever asked such questions as minds were not encouraged to be inquisitive. It would be presumptuous to interrupt the class with questions and riskier if they turned out to be foolish.
I was in class VIII when the English teacher asked us to write an essay on what we would like to be when we grew up. As a child, I fancied being a steam engine driver with the thrill of driving the engine in the dead of night across the fields accompanied by the rhythm of the wheels and occasional long whistle, watching the stars and stopping at stations to drink coffee from the IR restaurants without the risk of ever missing the train. But afraid of being reprimanded, I wrote about some mundane ambition.

My friend Chellappa, more imaginative and bolder, refused to divulge the subject he wrote about. In the last hour of the day, the English teacher walked in. From his ominous look, we could sense that something untoward was about to happen.

“Chellappa,” he bellowed, “come here.” Chellappa walked with trepidation towards the table.

“So, you want to be a scientist,” he roared and laughed hysterically like Gabbar Singh in Sholay. The entire class joined the laughter only to be stopped abruptly by the tight slap my friend got. “What is your optional subject,” the teacher asked.

Chellappa mumbled, “Book-keeping.”

“How dare you want to be a scientist, having chosen book-keeping,” he demanded. 

My pal replied meekly, “Sir, you asked us to write what we would wish to be and not what we would be.” Rebuffed, the teacher dismissed him from the class.

The teacher also ridiculed a boy who had a squeaky voice and wished to be a playback singer and another who took part only in the lemon-and-spoon race but wished to excel as an Olympic runner. Then, there was the boy who opted for Tamil medium on account of his poor scores in English, but wished to be a playwright in English like Shakespeare.

The unimaginative teacher, who had neither vision nor compassion, smothered all the harmless instincts of the children. The young minds, peculiarly sensitive to ridicule, never recovered from the shock.

Luckily, this teacher was an exception. I have known several scholarly teachers who responded to their calling with sincerity and passion despite the pittance they received those years. They shaped minds and stoked fires that lay latent in young hearts. They would discover talent-academic, aesthetic and technical-and stimulate and guide the children to become proficient in their chosen skills. 

The teacher should act as a trigger, letting children roam free in their minds and seek answers to their unresolved questions. He should rejoice at the discovery of kindled spirits and provide the answers wherever he can.

Monday, September 4, 2023

The lingering fragrance


Today being Teacher's Day, I have posted here an old story of mine written years back to salute the great teachers 'who inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love for learning in their wards.'

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 in height, 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 on 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 could achieve whatever goal they had set for themselves. He never even derided the weak students and took trouble explaining 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 varied general subjects and expand their mental horizon. There was some innate charm about him and in his teaching method that we looked forward to his classes.

 A wise master, he inspired awe in his abilities and earned the respect of one and all including his peers. He had a soft trait in that he could not be harsh even on impish and roguish boys even when occasions demanded it. When any boy complained of the slightest physical discomfort, he never looked askance but sent him home immediately for rest.

 For reasons not known, 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 here directly from the hospital after she stabilized. You know my house. Can you please collect the lunch from my wife? Tell her that I was held up in the hospital and couldn’t come home. Tell her that my mother is stabilizing and that I would be going to hospital directly from the school.”

 I 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 to him “Lie down quietly and I will come in a minute 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 too 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 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 a little part on a personal level. The memory of such a great but simple teacher of the past abides like perfume even after the lapse of long years. Such rich contentment and serene detachment are no common possessions of ordinary mortals.


Friday, September 1, 2023

The inexplicable power to foresee (914)


“What is for dinner? “she heard her husband’s gruff voice as he ambled along towards the dining table.

 Ranjana said “Dinesh, go and wash your hand before you sit for dinner”.

 This made him angry and he pounced on her. Ranjana felt a slice of sharp pain in her arm as she defended herself from Dinesh. He looked scary with bloodshot eyes, slobbering mouth and a scowl of hate on his face. “I hate you, you slut. How dare you to talk back to me’ he said in anger as he raised his hand to slash her again.

She hit him on his wrist and the knife flew from his hand to a corner. He started blabbering and of late she was afraid of hearing him talking in foul language. An alcoholic beyond redemption, he was the antithesis of what she thought he would be, a suave, handsome, diligent, upcoming executive and a loving husband. Her marriage was a total failure and luckily, they had no children.

It was only yesterday evening, she remembered, he was sipping his tea in the sit out while reading the newspaper. Suddenly he put the cup down and said “Check whether Peter’s wife is Okay. She was admitted in hospital I feel. I have a queasy feeling.”

On the next day when Ranjana rang her friend who was living adjacent to Peters, she was shocked to hear that Peter’s wife suddenly took ill only the previous night around 1 am and passed away despite emergency treatment. Ranjana looked at her sleeping husband with horror when it dawned on her that Dinesh had a premonition of the impending death.

She recalled how one day a few months back when they were walking in a mall, Dinesh pointed out to a middle-aged man with baskets on both hands and said that he would fall down on the escalator. She felt Dinesh was talking insensibly as the man appeared strong and walking with firm steps. As they were climbing down to the lower level in escalator, she saw to her great shock, the middle-aged man suddenly folding in two and falling on the moving escalator few steps ahead of her. A crowd gathered and rushed him to emergency. She asked Dinesh how he knew he would fall. Dinesh said it was just a hunch and he really did not know why he felt like that. She had dismissed then the event was sheer coincidence. But, in retrospect after connecting with Mrs. Peter’s recent demise, she was convinced now that Dinesh had some inexplicable power to foresee events.

She looked at her arm as blood was oozing out. He did not stir to help her  but shouted instead,” How dare you hit me, you stinking slut. I hate you and am leaving you for ever. Take it from me, you will see no more of me. You can romance unfettered with your office manager. Don’t think I am not aware of your shenanigans. I am fed up with you.“  He went out blabbering nonstop till she heard his car start and leave the house hurriedly.

She was outraged at his insinuation though there was no such romance with her colleague except they were good friends. Her boss knew she was married and maintained the friendship at a decent level. She would often feel that he would have been a better choice than Dinesh but knew the mistake had been made.

She did not feel like eating after Dinesh’s sudden exit without a trace of remorse. She became morose that her marriage had entered the shoal of mutual dissatisfaction and incompatibility. All her efforts could not wean him away from excessive liquor into a responsible and understanding way of life. She went to the sofa to calm down her agitated mind and fell asleep. She must have slept long for it was 3.30 AM when the telephone rang shrilly.

A sudden fear engulfed her. She did not like Dinesh talking of leaving her permanently. There was a cramp inside her stomach as she clutched the receiver to hear a male voice. “Is it Dinesh’s house….? I am sorry, madam, to disturb you. Are you Mrs. Dinesh? Oh oh….er …er. There has been a ghastly accident. Maybe he drove while fully drunk. Can you come to the hospital at…”

She did not want to hear anymore, knowing what was in store. She slammed the phone down She dreaded to visualize what must have happened, as memories of the middle-aged man falling on the escalator and Mrs. Peter’s sudden death rushed in her mind.

The phone rang repeatedly. She decided finally to listen, come what may. As she held the phone on her ear, she heard the same voice telling her surprisingly in assuring tone, “Do not fear as all is well. You did not allow me to complete. Your husband is miraculously safe and free from danger despite many fractures and abrasions in many places. It will take a long time to become alright. He is now fully conscious and wants to have a word with you even as I hold the phone near his mouth.”

“Terribly sorry, Ranju. It will never happen again, I promise you. Won’t you come immediately to see and caress me?” he pleadingly mumbled in a slow voice.

“Do not worry. I will be there within 30 minutes,” she assured him.

Ranjana’s spirit soared as she happily realized that his dreaded power was just sheer coincidence even as she called for an Uber taxi.