"Who is your teacher?"

It is hard to write about the great teachers in my life. I was blessed to have many to mould and inspire me to what I am.  A Japanese proverb says it best: "Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher." And   "The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth."( Dan Rather ).  All of us recall special teachers... who not only taught us but inspired us in ways that changed our lives.

It was long time back, way back in 1964. I was studying at a Government Malayalam medium school.

They used to call the school “ Kurangan Pallikkoodom”,( Monkey School ) because it was thought only the Kurangan students would attend that school. I was asked to join that school because it was closer to my home. The other school was St. Berchmans , which was almost 5 KMs away. There were no school buses those days. One had to walk or catch a bus to reach the school.

Some of the best teachers I have come across in my life were at that school. During my career, I have gone to different parts of the world. But the commitment and perseverance shown by the teachers of that Govt school is still uncomparable. They were never rich, they could never become rich by teaching those days. Going for “tution” meant that you were below standards at the school.And teaching a batch of students,where only two of them could pass all the subjects,was a really tough job.

I used to walk about 4 KMs to my Hindi class at 6 in the morning, come back, take my bath and go to my regular class. (These Hindi classes were given by the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, and by the time I entered college, I had passed the Hindi Visharad examination).And while waiting for the medical college admission I had cleared the Lower exam of typing and short hand....all attempts to bag a job somewhere, somehow. My father had a small business, and also had agriculture to look after, and never had time to look after our studies. The only time he played the role was while signing the progress card from the school. He will look at the card...Science....48/50 and will ask, “Where is the balance 2 gone?” That was it..

As a rank holder at the college , my entry in to the Medical College was very unceremonial.  I was selected to join the Kottayam Medical College. When the intimation came, it was harvesting time . My brothers had already left for colleges elsewhere. So I took the notice and went to the Medical College myself, wearing my usual Dhoti and shirt. When my name was called, I went in. The Principal and others with him for the interview would have laughed within, but simply asked me “ Has someone come with you?” I said "No". This time they had a laugh, and asked me about myself and my family, and said..” OK fine, we will let you come with someone responsible  from your family next week”. I remember my past when I see the fuss some parents make for a Medical College admission these days. The other best student from the ‘Kurangan Pallikkoodam” didn’t choose the science subject, and has become our DGP now. I always admire his guts to do that those days, when getting an admission to Medical College was thought to be something great.

Our Head mistress at the Pallikkoodom was Aleykkutty teacher. She was my immediate neighbour and knew my family vey well. She was short and very obese, to the extent that she could not raise her hands above her shoulder to beat a student for punishment.Instead, she used  the services of Ramakrishnan sir, who was our NCC officer , tall and athletic. Whenever she wanted to punish some student, she will just call him and say.” Ramakrishna.....Randu " (two) “or “Moonnu ( three)” and he will promptly deliver them with utmost sincerity.

Our classrooms had thatched roofs and sand floor. Only classes from 8th to 10th were pucca buildings. It was common practice those days to employ the class monitor to take care of the class and keep watch and write down the names of those Kurangans who talked in the class during her absence. My class teacher was Susan Koshy teacher ,and I used to adore her. I still don’t know what kind of  adoration and respect I had towards her. I only know it was much more than simple respect. I learned my basic lessons of English from her and another Margarette teacher. Later, when I got the rank for English Language, I mentioned their names during the ceremony. That was the only way I could show them my gratitude.

Once when my teacher had gone to the staff room for something, as usual, I was taking care of the class ,writing down the names of those who talked in the class. ( Occasionally I used to get small bribes like a Mittai or so, to leave out some names). Headmistress was making her usual rounds and paused when she saw there was no teacher in my class.

She asked me,” Whose class is this?” and I answered “ Susan Koshy”.

She waited for few seconds and again asked “ Whose class you said it was?”

I again answered “ Susan Koshy”

She didn’t say a word again and gestured me to follow her. I didn’t have any idea why she was asking me to go with her. She reached her office room and called” Ramakrishna...” and he promptly appeared. She simply said “Randu”. He was hesitant, because he knew me as the best student of that class, but the Headmistress was insistent and gestured with her head...”go ahead and give it”. He delivered  the two with his cane on to my outstretched hands. My first and last experience during my whole school days....

She asked me” Do you know what this is for?”. I said “No”.

She asked me again.

“ Who you said was your teacher?” And I promptly answered “ Susan Koshy”.

“Ramakrishna ....Moonnu” ( “ Three” ) was her response this time. Ramakrishnan sir had no hesitation this time.I received all the three cane beats. I was crying out loud when she asked me again the same question.” Who you said was your teacher?”

This time something flashed in my mind and I came up with the answer “ Susan Koshy teacher”.

“ Aha ...there you are ,Good boy....So who did you think she was all this time? Your house maid? For such a young boy to call the teacher by her name?”

I had never repeated that mistake in my life again. Even today, when I remember my teachers, the postfix” teacher” comes to my mind as a reflex.

Times have changed. Earlier teacher was considered a spiritual father and  guide. He was given respect by the students as well as by the whole society. Now the teacher is considered a hired being who is supposed to dispense knowledge in return of monetary gain.  From a spiritual father, guide and role-model, the teacher has become a paid employee who is only supposed to make the students pass the examinations . I read stories of teachers being held at knifepoint at our colleges. Being abused and thrown at.

There are no more beatings at the school. Teachers sing and dance with the students and are “ friendly”, like in the US. Everything has been globalised. We have a different set of values alien to us.You don’t have to unfold your dhoti to show respect to the teacher , if you meet him on the road. One can look at the skies and ignore them. I only wish the students leave them alone, and not abuse or beat them, if not respecting them.

And I have no resentment of that beating I received at my school.


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