Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Road Less Travelled

How many of your schoolmates are you still in touch with? Me? About 100! Thanks to an idea and of course - whatsapp. After more than two decades of last seeing each other, meeting several friends, all at once, is quite a delightful experience. But what really takes the cake is how we rallied around to create an opportunity to honor two of our retiring teachers. The teachers were more than just touched!

Mr Shivprakash was our PT teacher. If there was anything that every kid at St Josephs knew, it was what a fiddle looked like. You just had to meet our PT master! Fit as a fiddle. He was very agile, could run circles around you dribbling any thing that was remotely round. He could bowl, catch, bat, and basically play any sport, like he invented the damn game. He approached physical education like it should be - a life science. Many a time, those who were good at sports would lose focus on academics. I remember how he used to coach them and explain the importance of both. We used to watch him wide eyed, from the sidelines, as he explained various on-field strategies, tactics and mind games to brats who made it to the school hockey/cricket/football teams. Ever smiling and approachable, he was the gentleman's gentleman. To most boys, he was more like a friend. He broke every mold that one would typically associate with a PT master. No wonder his tenure at St Josephs Boys High School, saw greats like Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa, Anil Aldrin, Sandeep Somaiah and several others who went on to make a name for themselves, and in turn the school. There are several well written articles recently from old students, even one in the newspaper that described how much he was adored - across generations. He was an inspiration, even to those who were not that inclined towards sports. I doubt I can say anything more, even though I want to. I'm wondering if there is such a thing as overkill. Which brings us to the road less traveled.

Mr Uday Kumar, was our Kannada teacher. Kannada was not an easy subject to learn. Nor was it an easy one to teach. When we heard that both Mr Uday and Mr Shivprakash were retiring, we decided to meet up and honor them. The batch of 92 decided to do something, Hayward style - (Large!) It was an end of an era, one that we thoroughly enjoyed. Like many of our teachers, both these gentlemen have inspired many generations of Josephites and continue to inspire more. Both teachers wrote to us after we met, almost chocking for words to express themselves.
Here's one of the letters. And a response to it below.

Thank You!
My Dear Josephite Friends,
Hearty greetings to you all! 
As I pen few of my thoughts, I find it hard to express all the love that I felt and am still feeling the day you all took time to honor me.  Emotions keep flooding my heart and mind; but I am unable to find words to express.  How much of thought, love, gratitude and planning had gone into that memorable celebration.  I never realized that that day would become one of my memorable day in my life.  I still ask a question ‘why me?’.  I was only known for my rugged behavior and that’s it.  I was and am not a great teacher who actually has an impact on the student. I stand nowhere compared to the greats like Dr.Chatterjee, Mr. Andrade, Mrs. Sheshadri, Mr. Noronha, Mr. Shivaprakash, etc. Yet you have honored me.  Thank you sooo much. 
I wanted to say so many things that day, but somehow I could not. I am not a great orator. I am an ordinary kannada teacher.  So I thought of writing something like, what I feel about the school, students, etc.
I joined St. Josephs when those great stalwarts were teaching. I could not even speak proper English. You must have realized that in the class??!!  I give all the credit to my elders who just worked.  They didn’t tell us what to do, how to do, etc. I developed a desire to become like them.  I know I cannot reach their standard. 
I had joined the school with a BSc degree certificate and I knew short hand and typing.  School gave challenges and I took them. Got my MA, PGDELT degrees.. I also got an opportunity to work elsewhere as principal.  But somehow the Josephite spirit was so powerful and strong that I could not even think of working anywhere.  I have cried literally thinking of leaving my school.  I could not think of leaving my school.  If I have to work in any other school, it will be ONLY after my retirement.  The school has blessed me with many things – means of livelihood, quarters to stay, opportunities to do higher education, and ABOVE ALL, students like YOU!!!!!

My association with the student community during your period was bit on the rough scale.  I think I was only interested in the subject proficiency.  So going in that direction, I have growled, howled and hurled bad words.  I have even given corporal punishment.  I have felt very bad for having done those things.  So I ask you humbly to forgive me.  You were always supportive of me.  Your love, affection, care and understanding has gone beyond my imagination.  Love you guys. 
May God shower His choicest blessings on you and your families.  May God keep you in the palm of His hand and protect you. You are in my prayers. 
Thanks again.
Affectionately yours,
UK sir
PS: Please pardon for all the English mistakes…
And the Response
Dear UK sir,

Someone had to respond to your emotional thank you letter. And maybe set a few memories  straight.

Yes we had to make several sacrifices to make things happen. Some of us had to skip a meal, others had to make do with dry square chapatis (square meal) and yet others had to put off buying that second Rolls Royce so that we could save enough to thank you. We did check if EMIs (in love) were possible, but the organizers would hear nothing of it.

I'm hoping here that you still have that excellent sense of humor!
You were not just an 'ordinary' Kannada teacher. You may not remember, but you taught us more than Kannada. Of course you were rugged and really strict. A terror actually. A shout that said.. shhhh... UK is coming... would result in exactly that - a shhhhh in the class, and sometimes a shhhh in the pants! And those who had the pleasure of having you teach, UK, in our acronym list stood for your name, much before we could associate it with the United Kingdom or the University of Kentucky.

I still remember you teaching the 'Kadukona' lesson. And every time I see a tree with a branch pointing to the ground, I wonder if there's buried treasure underneath. When I can bear the stink of the toilets and do travel by train, I watch out for those trying to lose a bet on what the next station is going to be. Especially if the prize for winning the bet is hanging around their neck. I'll always remember how you sat on the first desk with your feet on the bench, much closer than most other teachers would get to so much of (freshly releasing) testosterone!

And speaking of testosterone, some of your lucky batches probably also remember that their first sex education classes - were in Kannada. :)

So please don't say that you were an ordinary Kannada teacher. That's not how we remember you. There were important life lessons that we learned, just observing you. You taught us how to treat the opposite sex. Remember how a particular lady teacher was teased to a point of tears? The boys had to deal with you after that. You taught us to stand up for what you knew is right. And to defend (till a ruler broke) those who could not defend themselves. For those who didn't learn anything else, one can still learn a great lesson in humility. Not everyone is great. But greatness is also a point of view. As far as I can remember, you had our best interests in mind and did your job as best as you could possibly do. True, there was only one David Chatterjee, and one Shivprakash, and one Father Dennis. But you can be sure that there was also only one UK. And most of us, I'm sure, wouldn't have it any other way!

Personally, I wasn't that good with languages. But in spite of that, I'm happy that I'm literate in Kannada and can proudly call myself a "Mannina maga" : ) To put this feat in perspective, I can't read or write my mother tongue - Malayalam. Not that I've not tried, but let's just say that some of us are linguistically challenged (Along with all the other subjects! Ha!). When such is the situation, I'm extremely happy that when push comes to shove, I can read and understand Kannada. And when I can't read poorly handwritten script, I did have a Plan B. I made sure that my better half knew exactly which half she had to be good at. It was even specified in her JD:)

And oh, there's more. You'd be delighted to know that I conceptualized and organized Kannada classes to the colleagues in my company. The videos are on Youtube and they've received over 100,000 views so far! I have to thank my Kannadiga colleagues for the actual delivery of the content. It would not been possible without their help. (But your villain does make a brief appearance at 13:13 in the first video). It was hugely appreciated effort, and I'd be lying if I said all the inspiration was intrinsic. Sir, you must have done something right!

Please don't apologize for anything you did - corporal punishment included. We wouldn't be what we are today, if it was not for those pinches, punches and slaps. And compared to Mr David Chatterjee's kick, let me assure you, you were nowhere near our pain threshold! In fact now a days, one can't get a tight slap, even with all those high school fees! We were indeed a privileged lot, to have got some sense slapped into us!

The cubs you raised several years ago, have turned into different kind of wild animals. (You must have experienced this when you met some of us!) Thank you for all the love and prayers. Some of us have even lived again, because of this. But you can be sure of one thing. All of us have our hearts in the right place. And we are grateful. Many of us had to become dads to understand that children learn many things from you, even stuff that you aren't teaching. All we did was to take a moment to step back and say thank you in our little way.

And we forgive you for all the English errors. We had to take special permission from Mrs Seshadari. We'll have to deduct 10 marks from your overall score, but the good news is that you still scored a 100 :)

Batch of 1992.

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