Though I have never been a formal teacher, invariably every Teachers Day, I receive a few messages – over the phone or on social media, thanking me and wishing me on this day.
It was the same this year too, and this led me to a realization of how our teachers change as we go through life.
From larger than life figures with awesome authority over us, five to ten times our age to contemporaries and sometimes younger than us, who smoothly slip into the role of friends once the class is over.
The first teacher that I still remember was my class teacher at St.Joseph’s High School when I was in the first standard. As a dog bite victim who had to take a round of anti-rabies injections in the morning, I was allowed the privilege of not having to wear the school uniform. I can still remember her million-watt smile and look of appreciation when I used to lift up my sweater to show her my shirt. Seems silly now, but the fact that I still remember how good I felt, after nearly fifty years shows how small gestures can mean so much to children.
Having shifted to Stewart School from the fourth standard onwards (St.Joseph’s did not allow boys beyond the third standard), I was fortunate to be taught by some excellent teachers, some of whom have left indelible memories. While some like Mr Rao made Physics interesting and some like Mr Ambrose encouraged my love for reading by making me a librarian and allowing me to borrow multiple books from the library, one teacher who stays firm in the minds of every student who was taught by him was late Mr Nayak – the Geography teacher. While he made the subject interesting, he was famous for the stories he would tell in the last few minutes of the class that were preceded by Condition – when all the students had to maintain absolute silence for two minutes. Thanks to him, I still remember the dates of the Solstices and Equinoxes, for as he used to say – many many years hence, when we would be old and he would be older still, if he ever met us, he would ask us these dates and he would expect an immediate answer.
As I proceeded through my formal education and was fortunate enough to be exposed to some great teachers, it was only during my post-graduation at XIMB that I truly understood what teaching could be like.
For the first time, the age gap between my teachers and me was a few years at best, and there were some who were my contemporaries too. There were some like Prof.Govindarajan whom I knew as a friend even before either of us came to XIMB, who is probably one of the best Marketing teachers in the country. He was renowned for his friendly nature and also his absolute professionalism – as many of his students would confirm, he would be casually chatting with them over a cup of tea before the class and it was only when they entered it that they would be confronted with a surprise exam! We were fortunate to have brilliant professors like Prof.Latha Ravindran, the Damodaran couple Prof.Uday and Prof.Suma, Prof G K Nayak, Prof TAS Vijayaraghavan, and of course, Prof L S Murty who once gave me an exclamation mark as my score for an exam on factory location because, in my answer, I called it a steel plant instead of the pig iron plant mentioned in the case. I was also lucky to learn from late Fr. Bogaert who instilled in us the fact that we needed to always keep in mind the societal implications of our decisions as managers, and late Fr.McGrath, the author of Basic Managerial Skills, a book that is still relevant thirty years later for my son in his journey at XIMB.
These teachers taught me more than their subjects – they taught me how to learn. They taught me that learning is a lifelong journey and while remembering what is taught is important, understanding it and being able to use that knowledge is much more so. It was here that for the first time we were exposed to open book exams, and quickly learnt to fear them as they truly tested us. They taught us to be curious, to question them, to argue with them if we felt we were right. I still remember Prof.Murty saying that as long as I could defend my hypothesis, any answer could be right. Coming from a system till graduation that enforced only one correct answer, it took a little time to adjust to. And even today, they are valued friends and guides who I know I can turn to whenever needed.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one other person who has played a huge role in helping me learn about something that I previously had absolutely no exposure to – culture and the arts. Thanks to a couple of architect friends of mine, I got associated with a project being run by Rajeev Sethi for the Odisha government and later on with an event to launch a university at Mumbai in the mid-nineties. Conferred with the Padmabhushan by the government, Rajeev is a living encyclopedia of anything and everything to do with creativity as well as culture – both traditional as well as contemporary, and he is equally at ease with the highest in the land as with tribals in a remote village. His curiosity and eagerness to know more even today is something that helped me understand that there is no end to learning, and I am deeply grateful for that.
Today, as we ready ourselves to face the challenges that the future holds for us, I hope and pray for our children to get the benefit of teachers like these who encourage curiosity, creativity, compassion and courage.