Wednesday, September 5, 2012

They made me...

...and shaped me.

 
Looking at me, you would probably say that they could have done a better job of "shaping".

So today was a day I was happy and excited like never before. If you ask me to describe it, I would say "Oh boy! o boy! Happy happy joy joy!!" Today I contacted and talked to all the teachers who influenced me in a positive way, who made me what I am (in a positive way, I mean :P). Right from my primary school teacher to one of my most favorite professors here at IITM. I took the occasion of Teachers' day and called them all up, conveyed my regards and gratitude. The ensuing conversations resulted in a pleasant journey down the memory lane which I will cherish forever. Not to mention bonds re-forged and connections rejuvenated...

One very important thing which I learnt in US was : "If you like it, say it!" Believe me, shy is the last thing you would want to be; unless you want to miss out on a multitude of heart-warming conversations and incidents only because you didn't feel like speaking out. I think the best way to convey your admiration, appreciation and affection is to cut the crap and come straight to the point and say it clear. "I really liked the way you taught <foobar>". "What you taught in <blah> was very useful." "The way you explained <spam> was simply amazing." After all, these are not phoney words, they are heartfelt emotions directly translated into words. The best part is, they understand, they appreciate! I am sure pretty much everyone among us has a teacher who made a mark. That particular prof, who always made you feel at ease in class.

All I needed was an assurance that my appreciation will be appreciated. And let me tell you, after talking to all of them, I was euphoric, I was surprised, I was humbled! Here's what I told them, every word spoken with truth. What you see is what I said and what I said is what I believed in. Because I had no incentive to do otherwise:

Tambare Madam (Primary School)
Once we had a "question making competition" in class three. Simple stuff: make as many questions as possible from chapter x. I had figured a simple way of making loads of questions: make a question out of almost every word from a sentence.
  • Cat sat on a chair.
  1. Who sat on the chair?
  2. What was the cat doing on the chair?
  3. How many chairs was the cat sitting on?
  4. What was the cat sitting on?
Well equipped with this super-awesome algorithm of mine, I churned out questions after questions. When I filled up my slate (yep, we used slates, not notebooks) and my extra slate, I borrowed slate after slate from my this classmate and that classmate! At the end, the pile of slates clearly showed the winner and he was awarded a pen! Pens will come and pens will go, the memory of that pen and the pride and joy associated with it will stay forever... I had to tell her how much that pen meant to me. I called her up.
me: Sujeet here, maam...
she: Yeah Sujeet, tell! [surprise! she still remembers me]. How was your US trip? [oh my dear god! she really remembers me!] How are you doing?
me: I am doing fine ma'am. Today Teachers' day, so thought I should convey my wishes and regards. I am in my final year of engineering now. How are things back at school?
she: Everything is as usual here. It was really nice of you to call up. Thanks a lot...
me: I still remember those various competitions you used to hold... especially the question making one... I just can't put in words how nice and proud I felt when I won that pen! [she chuckles] One more thing ma'am, you remember the cry baby I used to be?
she: [laughs whole-heartedly] yeah! Of course I do! What of it?
me: Well, ma'am, this Sujeet is no longer the cry-baby you knew... he is still the topper you knew though!
she: [chuckles again] You should call whenever you feel like. It has been years since I last talked to any of the old students... thanks a lot for calling up. I am proud of you!

Mayachari Sir (8th to 10th Sanskrit teacher):
me: Hello sir! Sujeet speaking from Chennai.
he: Sujeet! How was US? [OMG! My parents must be really really proud... looks like they have spread the news far and wide]
me: US was great. Had a lot of fun there and learnt a lot too... My best wishes for Teachers' day, sir.
he: Oho! Teachers' day! Nice, nice. Thanks a lot. So nice of you to remember!
me: Sir, I never got around to say this, but come to think of it, you have quite a big share in me getting into IIT. For the two years after tenth, I did not have to spend even a single minute studying Sanskrit. It was all the same all over again! You had taught it really well, sir. I realized it more when I was in Hyderabad preparing for IIT. I still remember how we used to laugh hysterically whenever you used to say "jambufalani pakwani... ...jalmadhe dubuk dubuk" [both of us start laughing hysterically again!]
he: nice to hear you enjoyed my teaching. Do keep in touch! Thanks again!

Chaudhari Sir (8th to 10th Math teacher):
me: Sir! Sujeet calling from Chennai.
he: Sujeet beta! How are you? Suddenly remembered me after so many years?
me: Don't embarrass me, Sir. Ever since I could not get 150 out of 150 in my boards, I just could not dare myself to talk to you. I know how many hopes you had from me... It was a big dream of yours... One of your students scoring perfect... I am truly and really sorry for that, Sir.
he: There, there... [jovially] mad or what? No big deal... so, how come suddenly you called?
me: It's 5th of September today. What better day to clear the air! I really felt like letting you know that even I felt real sad not scoring a 150... But sir the way you taught us, was something I really miss.
he: Seems like you have taken the marks thing too seriously... But to tell you the truth, I felt good in a way... to know that math and my teaching meant that much to you. My school is about to start, will catch up with you again soon... Take care!
me: You too take care, Sir.

Madhusudhan Sir (JEE coaching class chemistry teacher) (by then, I had grown mischievous enough to give nicknames to teachers. Madhusudhan was sometimes "The Massun Saar", sometimes "Our Maddy"):
me: Sir, I am Sujeet speaking from IIT Madras. I am from 2007-09 batch. I am currently in my final year of B.Tech in Computer Science department. [Obviously I was no one special among the oh-so-brilliant kids at Ramaiah. No need for him to remember me. Must make my point before conversation becomes awkward.] Sir, today is 5th September, Teachers' day. I thought I should give you a call and wish you...
he: I see. [Oh the good old jovial Maddy voice which I miss even now!] Thanks a lot, Sujeet. So nice of you to call and wish! A really rare thing! How are you doing?
me: I am doing pretty good, Sir. I went to California this summer to work at Facebook for three months...
he: Oh! Very good, very good.
me: It is quite odd to call you after 3 years have passed by...
he: No, no... very few even bother to call back...
me: I must admit, I owe a huge part of all these good days of mine to you. Also, let me tell you that those two years were the ones when I had real high intellectual enjoyment. [I had a sudden urge to say "the c-c double baand" in a really really high pitched voice, exactly the way he used to say it...] Even now any thought about chemistry doesn't end without giving rise to the memories of you teaching organic chemistry... All these years, whenever I hear someone say "that's aaall" in that particular accent, immediately "catechol-resorcinol-hydroquinol" pops up in my head!
he: [bursts into the typical Massun-Saar-specialty thunderous laugh] Ha ha ha...
me: Not just that, Sir. After coming here I realized one thing, you taught chemistry way better than how it was taught to us over here at IIT. Once a professor was bad-mouthing coaching institutes and he actually said "Ramaiah". Felt really sad and angry, Sir. I felt like calling you up and telling what kind of stuff they talk about here and maybe you should do something about it. But did not have your number around then. During those courses, I really missed the way you taught...
he: Thank you! Thank you! [I could imagine him grinning widely and scratching his head the good old Maddy style...] Very nice, very good! Come around and meet me whenever you happen to come to Hyderabad!

Surendranath Sir (JEE coaching class physics teacher) (a.k.a. Suri):
Almost similar as above. Here is what was different...
me: I was wondering how things are going back there...
he: You see, nowadays more and more good students are going to those "other corporate colleges", our results are not as good as once they used to be... [like I care! You guys rock! I know you are awesome teachers!]
me: Oh I see... Apart from these, Sir, right after passing out, I represented India in the International Olympiad of Astronomy and Astrophysics and won a silver medal...
he: Whoa! That's great! Congrats...
me: Thanks [I smile not realizing that he couldn't see me]. Without you -the way you made physics intuitive and fun, the way you taught each and every concept in a detailed manner- none of the olympiad stuff would have happened... You might not remember, but I had borrowed a physics olympiad book from you. You had not come the day I returned it. I never really got to thank you for that. Thanks a lot, Sir! And not just that, I still vividly remember the day when you brought that HUGE metal slinky to the class and when it was quite not spacious enough, you took us out in the courtyard and demonstrated various wave phenomena. It was a really unique and fun day in the all-serious Ramaiah [he chuckles]. Now that I am kind of a grown-up, almost an engineer, I mean, now my feedback has a chance of being taken seriously,  I guess I can tell you that I really appreciate your teaching methodology, you showed us interesting videos related to what was being taught in the class, the java applets which you wrote were very nice too. I really respect you for the way you tried to bring more interactivity to the class by your innovative and engaging ideas, all that while other subjects were still being taught in the strict traditional board and chalk way...
he: That's quite a feedback! I am proud that you liked the applets. I don't remember the last time a student talked to me this frankly. Really nice to hear that someone liked my methods... Good! I guess students are afraid to talk, even after they pass out... Feel free to call me anytime you feel like!
me: Sir, talking of frankness, I wanted to ask this thing since long...
he: Yeah, go ahead...
me: When we were in 12th standard, there was a lot of talk about you delivering guest lectures in some university... [actually, the rumor was that "Suri is a guest faculty in a foreign university"... one of the gazillions of those baseless Ramaiah myths! But wanted to hear from the horse's mouth, now especially that I was anyway talking to him]
he: What? [starts laughing] Must be a rumor. No no. I don't give any lectures anywhere else.
me: Oh. I see. It was very nice talking to you, Sir. I will keep in touch!

Sule Sir (Astronomy Olympiad and the respective camp):
I had not talked to him for past two years, but we were quite aware of each others' activities  via Facebook (one of those modern profs you see...). Today was his birthday too! I called him, and as expected, he had my number saved! (I was prepared for an introduction on the lines of "Sujeet from IIT Madras, IOAA09 team, silver medal blah blah" anyway). Straight to business then! I wished him for both the occasions, he sounded pretty delighted. Then we talked  about my career plans etc... But today I was going to tell him something which I had not told him before... something quite insignificant for him, which had made quite an impression on me. During the camp at HBCSE, one day we went on a trip to IUCAA, Pune. On the way, we ate ice-cream at a place. When the bus was just about to leave, I threw the wrapper out of the window. Sir was just boarding the bus and he saw it. He came inside and asked in a stern voice about who that person was. After I told him, he made me get out, take the wrapper and properly throw it in the dust bin! As far as I remember, apart from my parents (if you count them as my teachers too), he was the first and only teacher who taught me "manners"! Something no one really bothers about teaching nowadays. I narrated him the incident and told him about how he taught me manners!

RKK Sir (IIT Madras, Computer Science and Engineering Dept):
RKK Sir never taught us any CS course "officially". Having heard from our seniors about how great a teacher he is and how nicely he teaches, Devesh, Vikram and I had approached him to take an "unofficial-informal" course for us! Till date, one of the most detail-oriented course I had. Perfection was mandatory and there were no deadlines! Even after the course, we kept in touch. Going to his office and meeting him, talking to him about our problems academic and personal. Once, when we had a mass-proxy issue (both Vikram and I, along with 13 odd more people were caught bunking classes and getting someone to sign for us on attendance sheet) after the initial fair bit of scolding, he was as helpful and understanding as a caring elder brother and a wise grandfather respectively. It was he who guided us through the situation, helped us to not get freaked out and stay calm. After he retired, we even went to his home for a chat.
Having had a really good bunch of students, even he was very delighted and pleasantly surprised when I called him up and wished. We had a lengthy chat about all thing related to department, internships, how various people we knew are doing etc etc. One thing I couldn't but notice: Boy, was he so so happy!

S Mohan (IIT Madras, Humanities Dept) (a.k.a. smo pronounced yess mow)(By this time, I had stopped adding "sir" while referring to people) (What will I call him anyway, "S sir"? "Mohan Sir"? Neither has the required ring to it):
     I met him personally. Just before going to meet him, I went to Taramani Guest House. It has some Magnolia trees. I plucked two fresh Magnolia flowers and took them with me. By the way, smo is a prof, jovial like no one else. I had met him many times in gym, or the road cycling and otherwise. He would always smile, wave nicely and enthusiastically greet me. What does a student want from a teacher personally anyway? Some recognition, that's all!

me: [entering his office, while he was playing solitaire on his computer :P] May I come in, Sir?
he: [looks at me, tries to figure out where he has seen me if at all he has seen me] Come in, come in.
me: [pulling the chair back] Sir I am in final year. I had taken your Science Fiction Appreciation course in the third semester...
he: [face lights up] Oh yeah, yeah! [I bet he still doesn't know my name. Doesn't matter]
me: Today's Teachers' day. So I came to wish you. [shook hands with him accepting his "thanks". He looked pleased and surprised. I guess no one bothers nowadays.]
he: [while I put the flowers into the flower-pot-ish paper-weight on his table] Very nice of you to drop by and wish me. [he just saw the flowers] Oh! How nice of you! [a big, nice grin on his face]
me: I wanted to let you know that your course was an exceptional course for me in many ways... Generally, my opinion about a course seems to change once I receive some grade in that course, but even though I got a B grade in your course, it is still one of the courses I would fondly cherish memories of. [he chuckles] Again, in general, I like a course because of the subject matter being taught in the course. But to tell the truth, even after the end of the course, I am afraid to say, I am not able to appreciate Science Fiction the way the course expected me to. Also this course was one of those rare cases where I enjoyed each class and always looked forward to the next one, not for what was being taught, but for how it was being taught. I am not sure whether this is a compliment, but I really liked the way you taught, what you taught being immaterial [there's that big grin again. I look at my watch and indicate that I have got a class to attend]
he: Thanks a lot for your frank feedback. I am really glad that someone really enjoyed my teaching. Maybe I should have done a better job at making you appreciate science fiction. Anyway, thanks again! You are here for quite some more time, you know. Feel free to drop by!

2 comments :

  1. u did a good job, calling ur teachers and posting it in ur blog here.....got back the good old memories of Ramaiah :)

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  2. An Eye Opener fr me! I regret not being in touch with any of my childhood teachers.

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