Today is my uncle’s birthday. Usually nobody but the family knows this, for he neither celebrates it nor grants it any importance. Just like his parents.
Mama is an English teacher, probably the best that there can be. It is hard to believe, for he’s been the same smiling-and-joking self all along and doesn’t seem to be aging, that mama is good friends today with students he taught nearly twenty years ago. Many of them made it big later in life, much to his happiness. Some stories of his students are particularly endearing, but that’s for a different day. This post is about the teacher.
Being his student for three years, I saw three different facets of his personality that he beautifully brought together as a teacher. There are many good, if not great, teachers in my life so far, but few made a mark as he did during my impressionable years.
Everyone loves the story-teller in him. If we ran out of them in the texts, he would narrate new stories, suited to the occasion, drawn from his vast selection of books. “Keep’em coming!” we used to say, at least in spirit. To be treated to long stories in his hall on relaxed Saturday evenings was a much sought-after pleasure. Our wild laughter and bonkersness to his witty jokes was a bit disrespectful in a classroom setting, but he enjoyed it anyway.
His commitment to value education was awe-inspiring. For a complete week in cool winter mornings, reading out Gerald Durrell’s essay, he treated his class to bitter truth and utter godlessness of humanity’s war on Nature. It didn’t matter that that was a class of six. What mattered to him was that we grow up to be wise and sensitive people. It is just this aspect in his students that pleased or angered him. You know all of this is not for nothing when you witness that moment of blank when students had to leave after five happy years of being looked after.
There is no escape; to learn means to go the hard way. So, nothing but the best was accepted with regards to attention and diligence. But all the demands were made in a way you can’t refuse! Recalling Grammar classes, and study hours when he watched us over, I am reminded of this comic by Zen Pencils:
“No, you may not work in groups.” “No, you may not ask a question.” “Why won’t I let you to go the bathroom? Because you are bored”
All else: the person
It is difficult to say in a word what he meant as a person to his students. He made friends with all his students, signed autograph books school children of the yore carried, celebrated festivals together, never failed to crack a timely joke, and has, to this day, been a wise counsel.
Those were days when we chose to be innocent, and be affected by others; not that there weren’t smart and manipulative fellows. He enjoyed their company too, and earned a few more friends and admirers thus.
If fortunate enough, one finds a teacher one can anchor to for life. Such a teacher will always be there, eager to talk to you and happy for just what you are. Never drift away.