Teacher that once mattered

Dear reader,

I’m confused. I feel clueless, untethered, like a boat without a compass, in the midst of a storm. I’m thinking in circles, and boy it’s tiring! Will you help me?

This is about a teacher, and how I feel about him.

It was a few years ago… I was still new to computer science. I wanted to learn all the awesome stuff and I wanted to learn it from awesome professors. From a few seniors, my friends and I heard that there was this professor, let’s call him ‘Guruji’, who was supposed to be a kickass teacher, about to retire and leave. “Oh no!” we thought. “We got to experience at least one of his classes” we decided.

Guruji was quite old. Duh! He was about to retire I told you na! So yeah, Guruji! Among majority of students, he had a terrifying reputation of being an over-strict dictator-monster. Many of those students, I bet, had never had one-on-one interactions with Guruji.

Tall, bespectacled, with a tucked-in and well ironed shirt, Guruji sure came across as well-disciplined. Tell you what, you should’ve see him smile! Upper lip hiding behind the white bristles of his mustache, he had a genuine smile… you know, that smile which reaches the eyes, which makes you like that person? That smile! His deep, resounding voice and well articulated and carefully constructed sentences exuded authority, at the same time, you wouldn’t miss the care, the concern, the warmth with which he spoke.

My friends and I managed to get him to teach us an ‘extra class’. Yes, you guessed it right, many classmates were pissed at us for that! Who wants to do extra work with an over-the-top strict professor, right? During those classes and during chats out of that class, I observed Guruji’s yearning for his students’ success. You know the issues that bothered him? Let me tell you. It bothered him that in big classes, teachers can’t really pay attention to progress of students that typically lag behind. It bothered him that choice of subjects and field of study is being forced on students. In his long years, he had seen a lot of students. Students with learning disabilities, students with family problems, students with personal issues — you name it. He spoke passionately about how this system could be gradually made better. His genuine concern and ‘we can do it’ attitude — I just loved him for that!

Oh, I totally forgot to mention… Just before he retired, there was this proxy fiasco! One of the other professors had scheduled an extra lecture on a weekend. You’ll be surprised to know, in IITM, attending classes is mandatory. We all thought that the professor was also a bit of a sadist. First of all, he hardly taught well, on top of that, he enforced the attendance rule without exceptions. “Weekend class? I’ll just tell my friend to sign in my place too on the sheet.” I thought. Sadly, so many other classmates thought the same too! 15 people in class and 32 signatures!! Boy we were terrified! Proxy has really dire consequences in IITM (if caught, that is ;)).

What could we do? We went to Guruji! He listened to our story. You know what he said? “Sujeet, I’m disappointed.” That’s it. Fighting back tears, I stood there, with lowered head, while he talked to others. He knew the situation all too well. “I understand why you guys did that. But why not look at attending the class as part of professional integrity? It’s good to see that you guys came to me and owned up to what you’ve done. Now here’s what you’ll do…” He told us how to handle the situation and also assured that he’ll talk to the other professor too.

Guruji! I liked him so much! We used to go to his house to catch up after he retired! He was the only teacher I talked to about things outside of computer science. I really really liked him a lot.

“What is this, Sujeet? What’s the problem, will you please tell!” you feel like asking, no? Yeah, I’m coming to that. The problem is: I don’t feel anything toward him anymore.

A couple of months ago, on September 5th, teachers’ day, I called him up. How happy he was that I called up! There are quite a few of his students he was attached to, apparently, none of them had made any kind of contact lately. One of those students had recently gotten married. Guruji heard that news from me. Another’s paper in a prestigious conference, from me again! He asked me about all these students and how they were doing. All these, who used to be in touch with him, but no more. I could feel the pain in his voice. These students had moved on with their lives, Guruji hadn’t. I too am one of those students.

I had called him because ‘it wouldn’t be good not to’. The love has gone, the connection long evaporated.

Am I worse than those others because I expressed something non-existent?
Am I being manipulative?

I really feel bad about him. Almost pity. Isn’t it demeaning to others when you do things for them out of pity? I, for one, won’t want anyone’s pity! There seems to be a measure of quality associated with emotions. Pity being a low-quality one.

What quality are fake emotions?
Concern out of pity that masquerades as concern out of connection?
Sense of duty that puts on the mask of love?
“Do this, be a good person” versus “feel like it? do it.”?

It all boils down to whether one should be ‘loyal’ to their feelings. Keep in touch with Guruji because once he meant a lot to me? Don’t forget to wish your childhood friend a happy birthday because once we used to be ‘such good buddies’?

I feel the others are being jerks by cutting him off like this, but am I not being a bigger jerk with all my fake expressions? I don’t know, it’s just too saddening to move on while he still clearly hasn’t…

This makes me wonder about his situation. How long before he forgets the pain of his favorite student completely forgetting to invite him for his marriage? How long before he stops expecting us to keep in touch? How long before he moves on too?

What’s even more alarming: how I moved on. There were times when it would have been impossible to even imagine that one day I’d be indifferent to Guruji. What if tomorrow I no longer feel that my sister is the sweetest thing in my life? What if I marry and then don’t love my wife anymore? What if these things happen the other way?

Scary.




2 comments :

  1. Oh, he was such a wonderful guy, the Guruji you are talking about here!

    My two cents, I don't think it is wrong or manipulative that you reached out because you thought it wouldn't be nice not to! By reaching out, you are just following "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and it means so much to him. The very fact that you don't want him to feel something not nice of you, is because what he feels matters to you, and you are trying to make sure what he feels matches with what you want him to feel. Manipulative or not, as you may feel, it's a beautiful thing to do, and I think you should keep that up :)

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