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.

The Orator/Story-teller

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.

The Taskmaster

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.

A decade of interestingness

Today is my birthday. I turned twenty.

The jump from single-digit to double-digit age, that happened ten years ago was less eventful and was not recorded as I had no blog and no audience. But the decade that followed was power-packed and high on learning and growing up. Perhaps it is everybody’s story. Here is mine, anyway.

My enjoyment of cricket, with the company of a very leisurely grandfather (and his lovely dog, which is no more), knew no territories or time zones. (I learnt world geography from cricket.) Hitz (the highlights show) was my favourite. I remember to this day, Team India’s exploits in Australia and Pakistan (2003-04), first an Australian summer followed by our very own sub-continental heat – match after match. That was the time when Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble were the mainstream. Most teams were at their best. MSD’s debut – and the great Tsunami that claimed thousands of lives in 2004 – were to happen in two months. Test matches in England, suited so nicely to my school timings, were a delight. The likes of Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen pulled off a stunning Ashes win in 2005. That event sealed my fascination for the game, for its class, in particular the longer format. Thanks to ESPN and Star Sports. That was before the IPL.

Classic Cartoon Network, Toon Disney were on the decline. I was fortunate to have formed memories of the Looney Toons, Timon and Pumbaa, Tarzan, Gummy Bears, Mickey mouse and friends. Kids today miss these, I must say.

School was, until recently, very easy. I honestly believe that those were some wasted years, doing absolutely nothing of interest.

Chandamama filled my evenings with its colourful illustrations and rich language. In later years, that too went with the flow: it came printed on glossy paper, computer graphics replaced the ornate hand-made paintings, the paintings themselves encroached the text.

Everything changed suddenly in high school.

The new schools of new concept arrived. With them, they brought long hours of school, very good teaching (not many used to bother about quality earlier), personalised attention to students, and big promises of fantastic results. Before I noticed where I was going, I had gone places.

‘Young India’ was just coming of age. Technology penetration had happened before it was written about. So came e-mail, internet, reduced phone call-tarrif, Orkut, late-evening-school-bus. Oh boy, some time we had!

Growing up – a substantial part of it was to enter the best college around – was never simple. Nor was it intended to be so. But for my family’s support, it would not have been steady. Faith is a great thing. Or is it trust? Is there a difference?

Ten years is not a very long period. But this one seemed like it had been; it was so eventful. We shared some amazing stories that were similar in course and (wildly) varied in details. How is the next decade going to be? How ever it might be, it should be worth writing about.