Lucy Rebello, my first standard teacher. In my Orals test, I stood painfully shy and dumb. She still gave me Pass grade.
Zorina Miss. Std.3 My English is very rudimentary. “That is mine’s”, I said to my friend, after school. I don’t know how she heard me, but she has corrected me for a lifetime.
Std. 4, Suman teacher. One afternoon, she gave each one of us individually one whole, big ‘boondi laddu’. Even in our homes many of us never got a whole laddu to ourselves. We giggled when she shyly told us that she had got married in the vacations.
So many of them surface in the memory – like waves, cresting one another – in no order, but some rhythm all the same. Mrs. Moses, who taught us Maths and kind love. In recent years, I came to know that she died in her native Israel. Many of my beloved teachers have now ‘crossed the bar’.
We had quite a few nuns and Jesuits teaching us. Sister Charlotte, gentle-faced and demure. My hair stood in thrill, because she recognized me by name. I knew I was someone.
There was this history teacher, Mr. Raphael, who regaled us with such stories. He told us more stories than he taught history. His one hand was crippled. (Polio? Maybe) The boys nick-named him ‘Ek Haath ka Rifle’. He was much feared for his strictness.
Another teacher also told us many stories. This was a PT teacher who wrote detective stories in Hindi. His detective was the same in all the stories. We called him by the detective’s name. And a lady PT teacher whom we coaxed to sing ‘Naina Barse’ every rainy PT period.
Margaret teacher had dimples and Akila teacher looked like actress Nanda. Did we love them for their teaching? Or their beauty? Or their sarees? In those days, male teachers wore pant-shirt, some even carried an Englishman type hat. The women were mostly in saris or skirts. As our heads were mostly down, we also assessed their heeled or flat footwear. Some Nosey-‘Parkeris’ went beyond that. They would, in long afternoons and evenings, train their spy-glasses on these teachers and tell us about their boyfriends. Some of us invited ourselves over to view Akila teacher’s trousseau. Now, I realise that many of our ladylike teachers were still young girls.
The Marathi and Drawing teacher were top of the charts in our jokes and mimicry sessions – in class and outside. Some children drew cartoon images of Sheikh sir, instead of the pot or vase he told us to draw. I’m sure they cried in the staffroom.
Our high school English teacher, Alexander (the Great, titled by us) ‘daffodilised’ our youthful ‘inward eye’ and now fills our aging hearts with ‘thoughts that lie too deep for tears’. When I taught grammar in later years, I filled the blackboard from my visual memory of Alexander Sir’s blackboard. He earned me the title of ‘the Great Grammarian’.
Mrs. Bharde. Her voice scarcely rose above a whisper. She taught us the power of words. She could use the power to teach, to influence and even quieten the rowdiest of boys.
Aloo teacher gave us 25 problems in Algebra as daily homework. We groaned. She never asked us if we had done our homework. Next day, she would solve or ask students to solve on the board. Those of us who had done HW participated, those who hadn’t felt left out. Most of us never failed to do the homework. She was Maths, Maths, Maths. So we thought until one day she corrected a student who prepared a circular – ‘the library will be open between 9 to 11 am’. ‘Shouldn’t it be ‘between —–and —–‘?
she asked. I have never forgotten ‘between —–and —–‘ when I taught Prepositions.
In our humble State board syllabus, Karunakaran Sir, familiarised us with the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Aldous Huxley – so much so that even the ICSE or IGCSE students that I teach, cannot claim the kind of foundation he gave us. Above all, he discovered me my hidden talent for writing. I pray I never let down his trust.
There are many more names – the list is 11 years long; too much to capsule in a single post. They are not less remembered or honoured.
Did they just teach us languages, social studies, maths and science? Much more, they kindled in us the ability to tell stories, to show compassion. They gave us the expansiveness to be laughed at and mimicked. They taught us the skill of scolding with ownership. They awakened our third eye to surprise the cunningest of truants.
In later years, too, we had many trainers, gurus, leaders, teachers – but the teachers of our childhood, walked tall, literally and figuratively. Most of them are now below the earth, but enshrined in our hearts to immortality.
Having worked as a teacher for several years, I wonder – will I be remembered by my students the way I remember my teachers? I face tough competition from super-teachers like Google Sir, Brilliant Sir, Maheshes, Raus and Singhals.
Be that as it may, I can say one thing for sure – Being a teacher means never having to be alone. Once I ended touring Allepey (Kerala) all by myself because I could not locate my friend’s house. No mobile, no useful clues, I still took in all the backwater boat rides, sightseeing. But then I was hungry and though the aroma of food across the road was relishing, the thought of eating alone was not. Suddenly, this young man in tie and briefcase wished me. I did not recognise him, but he said he was in the boys’ hostel in a college where I taught. He was travelling on work and that day, my companion for lunch. In many strange places, at home and abroad, some student pops up offering help, ride or a tour.
A teacher who has occupied a niche in a child’s heart has not lived in vain. And in the mindscape of a child, becomes a moon that will never wane.