I work for a company that values teachers quite a bit. So for Teachers' Day, many of us were asked to write a short piece on a favourite teacher. As I did it, I realised it only made sense to add a few more and make it into a 'thank you' post.
When I was in school, standard essay topics used to be “A person you admire” or “How I spent my summer vacation” or the stupendously vague “The progress of science”. Whenever a topic like that came up, I promptly asked my mother (for English) or father (for Bengali) to help. They gave me pointers, quotes or – if I managed to delay it enough – pretty much the entire essay. Job done. Language hated.
Sometime in Class VII, a teacher’s topic for an English essay was: “The Legacy of Childhood”. I was stumped, in fact so stumped that I wasn’t even able to explain the topic to my parents. My father was convinced I had got it wrong. So, I looked up the dictionary for the meaning of ‘legacy’ and somehow wrote the essay by myself. I remember writing it very poorly but it was quite easy. I was surprised at the ease with which I wrote the essay. I started writing essays by myself from then.
Sometime in Class VIII, the same teacher gave a topic I couldn’t disclose at home. It was something on the lines of “How Difficult is it to Live with Parents”. It was a perilous, scandalous, blasphemous topic but I never had so much fun in a language class. I wrote a very long essay in one breathless burst. In fact, I was so pleased with it that I showed the final thing to my parents, who – to my eternal surprise – suggested some of their own quirks that I had missed including.
By giving crazy topics to write essays, by suggesting teenage boys read ‘adult’ books, this teacher kindled in me a love for the written word.
Thank you, Amit sir.
When I was in school, there used to be a ritual. Schools run by the Ramakrishna Mission regularly conducted essay competitions. Participating schools were given topics (e.g. “Swami Vivekananda and Yoga” or “Swamiji: The True Patriot” or similar) beforehand and on a given Sunday, one teacher would take a bunch of students to the host school to write the essay. The content was prepared, memorized and regurgitated on paper. Swami V was a great guy but writing about his yogic tendencies was just not my scene. By now, my classmates knew I could write a bit and they often recommended me to participate. The teacher in charge never forced me to go.
Sometime in Class X, he told me “I think you should go for this one. It is a creative writing competition. There is no essay to be prepared. The topic will be given on the spot. You will have one hour to write.” I had never heard anything like this. I wondered aloud if I could churn out 1000 words in an hour. He smiled. “Who said anything about a word limit?”
Much to my amazement, I won the first prize at that essay competition. Delighted, I went to tell him. “I knew you would”, he said with the customary twinkle in his eye. After that, I participated in many creative writing competitions and won quite a few prizes but that was not the point. The fun I had in all of them was something I never knew to be possible outside a movie theatre.
By not making me do stuff I wouldn’t like, by helping me find stuff that I would enjoy, this teacher gave me a lifetime of fun.
Thank you, Rajat Sir.
When I was in Class III, we used to travel from South Calcutta (where we lived) to North Calcutta (where my grandparents lived) every Sunday. During the hour-long drive, this teacher used to make me factorise car license plate numbers. The operative word was ‘made me’ because I hated it from the bottom of my heart. How can you break up a four-digit number? Yes, I know when a number is divisible by 3? How many tables do I need to know for this? Why on a Sunday? This 9017 is a prime number… no, wait.
Anyway, this eventually led to my mental calculation improving manifold and at some point in life, this had considerable brag value. I also believe it shaved off at least a few minutes of the time I took in competitive exams. (With my level of prep, God knows that I needed this.)
During my +2, he was always two chapters ahead of me in maths – actually solving problem sets after sets. But whenever I went to him with maths problems, he NEVER gave away the answer. In fact, he made me perform all sorts of mental calisthenics to arrive at the answer. What was the point of spending 30 minutes to solve one problem? So what if it took only 15 minutes to solve the next ten?
Many years later, I hunted down the Bangalore chapter of Mensa, took a half day off from office and sat for the entrance test. All because this teacher had done it when he was young.
By never giving up on me, by asking the right questions, by losing to me in mental math games, this teacher took away my fear of maths.
Thank you, Bapi.
One Sunday in the early 1980s, she told me to finish off my homework in the morning itself. I was No. 82 in the list of Top Procrastinators in the World then and this seemed like a preposterous suggestion. She said, “There’s a great movie on TV this evening. Let’s watch it together.” In a city where Hindi films were ‘low culture’, this was unusual – if not unique.
This teacher not only watched Aradhana with me, she pointed out the high points, sang along the songs and sighed audibly when the second Rajesh Khanna appeared. For as long as I watched Chitrahaar, this teacher named the film and started singing the song before the titles could come on – thus giving me a benchmark to live up to. She got her copies of Stardust magazines (from the early 1970s) bound into volumes and didn’t let them go in many changes of homes and cities. As I wrote in one of my books, when mothers were taking their children to watch Born Free, she was taking me to Yaarana. When mothers were teaching their children Rabindrasangeet, she was teaching me Rahul Dev Burman. When I got married, my wife remained confused for days – unable to distinguish relatives from film stars in my mother’s conversations. I don’t blame her because “Sad that Abhishek’s engagement broke off. He is such a nice boy” or “This wastrel Sid is always after Deepika, does he have any work or no?” doesn’t really sound like filmi gossip.
By making me a pop culture junkie, by never frowning on my movie choices, by giving me my writing genes, this teacher made me an expert in the most enjoyable subject of the world.
Thank you, Mamoni.
And for no reason at all, each of the four segments are 287 words long.