Thank You Sirs and Ma'ams
by Ravi Chitrapu
Those were the days before any of the corporate schools had mushroomed to ‘coach’ students in packed classrooms for a gruelling 16 hour, 6 (or 7) day schedule, endeavouring to manufacture doctors and engineers! School and college in our days was where we learnt, played, sang and enjoyed – they were fun and never a stress. On this Teachers’ Day we gratefully acknowledge and salute with indebtedness the teachers’ profession for the invaluable service it renders to humanity.
My first school was the famed St.Aloysius’ High School, probably the oldest school in Vizag. Though now pushed to a dusty and dreary corner of the growing port /steel city, it was a much sought after school in those days. Several Anglo-Indian teachers – the plump Ross and the tall Rodriguez, whom all feared, and Margaret Lee (hush – who smoked in the parlor) – all of them helped us learn English and math, organized fetes and taught us lilting English numbers for the school concerts. Once we had a dance program where I lost a silver anklet loaned by my friend Sudarsan. As we made a frantic search in vain, the two Punjabi sister-teachers who were in charge were literally in tears and my parents were in full panic worrying how to replace the lost anklet. It was finally the generous gesture of the boy’s mother who let it go and saved the day for us.
The young and energetic Father Joseph Pulickal was the Principal of St.Aloysius who was always moving about in the school campus and looking into the classrooms - encouraging a student here, gently admonishing a latecomer there or consoling a nursery tot crying for its mother. Popular with all the parents in town, he would often visit our house and chat with my father. A tragic incident comes to mind - once my brother and his classmates had gone for a swim in the sea – unfortunately one boy got drowned and the friends were shell shocked and helpless – it was the gutsy Father Joseph who rushed to the spot, sent some fishermen to search for the body, spoke to the parents and police and sat with the trembling boys and pacified them.
I followed my brother & sister to my next school - the well known V.T.College under the astute administration of P.N.Rao – son of the founder Prakki Venkataramaniah. I too, like many other students, was the grateful beneficiary of the fee concessions and merit prizes (given as books) showered on us by P.N.Rao. We had wonderful teachers, most of whom had retired from renowned colleges and come to teach here – the redoubtable Raghava Rao teaching chemistry, the stocky Venkateswara Rao teaching English and Maths, YVS who taught Physics and couldn’t see very well due to his cataracts but would regale us with extempore ‘kanda padyaalu’ – a difficult form of Telugu poetry which has to follow rigid rules of metre and syllables.
Andhra Medical College, where I spent most of my life as student and later as teacher, was home to several stalwart doctor – teachers - NTS, Hanumanta Rao and
Chittipantulu in Medicine, Veerabhadraiah and Pitchaih in Surgery, Umadevi in Gynaec, Nirmala (Pharma), Sanjeeva Rao (Anatomy & also Principal) Narasimha Reddy (Ortho) and so many many others. And now let me make a confession - as I recall, with mixed feelings of gratitude and horror, my Physiology exams.
Somasundaram was our truly beloved professor, who, inheriting the tradition of late Brahmayya Sastry, would interview each one of us periodically to monitor our progress in studies. For the human physiology experiment, in the Final exams, I got a blood count experiment and somehow I couldn’t do it properly. I pricked each finger of mine to draw a drop of blood and make a slide and examine it under the microscope – but 30 minutes later I was left with about 10 slides, sore fingertips with multiple pinpricks, and, an incomplete answer sheet. The external examiner Ramadas was furious and asked some very basic questions while I fumbled. It was a disastrous performance – and, fortunately, I was blissfully oblivious of the consequences and went for the next part of the exam.
For the Amphibian experiment (frog dissections hadn’t yet been banned then) I went to Somasundaram’s hall and suddenly there was a power cut. My experiment could be done with batteries which, luckily, I carried with me – so, while others were asked to simply write and draw the expected results of their experiment, I was the only one who did it - the professor was impressed and I went away for lunch. For the afternoon viva voce, luckily again, Prof.Somasundaram was there and it went on smoothly. Towards the end, he enquired as to what experiment I had gotten in the morning and how did I do. I mumbled some vague answer and left. A week later I went to find out about my result (Professors in those days often would ‘unofficially’ tell us our result) – he looked at me for a while and remarked that I had passed despite my dismal performance in the Human Physiology experiment! Obviously he had spoken to the External to help me through the exam! Thank you sir, though it feels quite shameful to think that I couldn’t do a simple blood count.
We come across several teachers in schools and colleges who genuinely help students in the class and sometimes during exams too – this doesn’t of course mean they are promoting incompetence or passing undeserving students. Mature and senior, they recognize and help students only when they need and deserve it.
Quite in contrast are some teachers today who favor students in return for gifts, money and recommendations. It is a matter of great concern that such (mal)practices flourish today, discouraging students, from serious study and hard work. ‘Why should I struggle when I know that a bribe or a recommendation works better than hard work?’ asks a student earnestly – I don’t yet have an answer. I hope Anna Hazares and Kejriwals and a Lokpal Bill will. But till then, our most grateful and sincere thanks to all the good and responsible teachers – may your tribe increase sirs & madams. ***