Saturday, September 5, 2009

Very bad English!

Today, September 5, is "Teacher's Day" in India. I thought ours was the only country observing it till my search took me here. (click on link) Many other countries are also observing it. The value of a teacher in one's life is immense.

Prominently, we remember Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on his birthday as 'Teacher's Day', every September 5 [the day I post this]. But Mysoreans also remember another great man, M.Venkatakrishnaiah (1844-1933) whose birthday coincides and is overshadowed by Dr.Radhakrishnan's. He was popularly known as "Thataiah". Let me present a very brief thumbnail sketch about Thataiah.

He was considered a 'grand old man of Mysore' renown for his fearless journalism. He started his career as Head Master of Marimallappa's High School (the revolving chair he used is still being used in the same place!) in the last quarter of the 19th century. He was a freedom-fighter, educationist, philanthropist, co-founder of Sadvidya Patashale, founder of Sarada Vilas School and Maharani's Girls School (the first school for girls in the city) and of a Kannada daily "Sadhvi". Most prominently, he started the "Anathalaya" in 1895 (a free boarding hostel for poor students) which even now, continues to help the needy.

We know a little bit of Dr.Radhakrishnan but not much of Thataiah whose contribution to education in Mysore is great. Hence that little bit.

Now about the subject. Little did I imagine at that time, that a seemingly innocuous incident in Sarada Vilas High School in 1972 during my 9th Std. days would stick in the memory firmly.

Returning my book after a routine test, my history teacher, Sri Panduranga Vittal, frowned with the words "Very bad English!". I stretched out my hand to receive it, head hung low.

Later, mostly due to foolish neglect, I made my two-year-Pre-University a 4-year circus, two of which did not have the need to attend college. It created plenty of time to pursue street cricket and other interesting indoor hobbies which I was adept at. Listening to live cricket commentary on the radio, esp. from BBC and Radio Australia was as fascinating as it was educative, cricket-wise and language-wise. In parallel, I also tried to tune in to other overseas radio stations that broadcast English programmes, mostly for curiosity. It was in one of these, a list of penfriends was being announced. Pen friendship appealed to me as an exciting prospect where I could write freely without being under the powers of an evaluating teacher. Exchanging letters with a few like-minded penfriends brought immense joy, sharpened the language, improved my knowledge and a bit of vocabulary. The excitement of waiting for the postman to deliver letters to me was another joy. One of my introductory letters to a friend had returned "addressee not found" and reading it many years later, I realized why my history teacher had frowned in dismay. In the meanwhile, one of my essays had won a prize in the English Section of Radio Korea's contest, much to my delight. Reading autobiographies of famous cricketers was a passion that cropped up around that time, though not much of novels and stories. My friend Dr.Rajgopal Nidamboor, author of Cricket Boulevard was to inspire me in so many ways, after we met by chance, in a common friend's place in 1979. He is a renown writer for his rich vocabulary and a unique style.

The words of my teacher in that seemingly innocuous incident kept cropping up in my mind often and my conscience probably wanted to prove them wrong, much the same way when Navjot Singh Sidhu was quoted as a 'strokeless wonder' by a newspaper reporter after he failed in his Test debut. That angry look in my teacher's eyes had pierced mine, along with it, my mind.

As years passed and after lots of water had flown under the bridge, my article on this incident was published in a paper. A month or so later, as luck would have it, I spotted Mr.Vittal on the street one evening and went up to him. He had become frail from natural ageing. I introduced myself as his student and told the "very bad English" incident (which obviously, was not on his mind). He was joyed when I evinced interest to visit him more leisurely at his home. He gave his address. A fortnight later I went to his humble home and reminisced the days of yore. He told the passing away of a few of his contemporaries who were also teachers to our class. He was 82 when I met him in 2005 but he said he was normal with his health. I took his autograph (pictured above) as well as on the article in the paper. I offered my respects by prostrating and touching his feet (Indian tradition). When I got up and looked at him, his eyes had moistened. He was so happy inside that an old student was visiting him, leave alone remember. He said it is such a rarity esp. in these days.

Prof.S.Dandapani writes in his tribute to Dr.Radhakrishnan, "I wonder whether this kind of teacher-pupil contact exists today or it got reduced to mere teacher-pupil contract."

It is a meeting that will stay in memory for a long time. Gurudevo bhava.

Date: 5th September, 2009, Teacher's Day.


Ravi said...

Your English is not up to scratch even now. I am not surprised. By 1970s thanks to the central govt's "Hindi promotion at all costs agenda"( even Nehru who was ducated in England indulged in this Hindi promotion nonsense) aided by locals such as Kuvempu, English teaching had lost its lustre. Teachers like SR, MNL and others whose names I am unable to recollect ( I was a student in this institution in 1950s) who were such excellent teachers of English were long gone by then.

Dinakar KR said...

Hi Ravi,

My father and uncle also studied in Sarada Vilas High School. I think SR is S.Ramaswamy - I may be wrong. But MNL I know because he took English Grammar in 8th but he retired when we went to 9th. MN Lakshminarasimiah. It was he was known to my grandfather and he was the head master when I was admitted.

There were some silly and funny expansions coined to some teachers' initials. BN - Beedi naayi, DVN - Donk veene naarada, KRK - Krishnamurthypuram Rotti Kalla, MRK - Madhya Raatri Kalla, NL - Naayi Laddi, VK (PT master) - Vadkal kundi, AVR - Ardha Wade Ranganna. NL was my father's classmate in his school. There was CVR, Anantha Somayaji (Sanskrit), MKG - he took our "Work Experience" period and taught us simple stitching - hemming, sewing buttons and buttonholes (which skill I still practice today). There was one ASL who took our Geography period (we could not keep up the speed of his note dictation). Many years later after he retired, I used to see him in a pathetic condition in dress and appearance, selling agarbathies on the streets. There was Ganapathi Bhat (he did not take our class). One SR joined in 1971-72 (Kannada or Hindi?). NS Seetharam (who still is active near Old Agrahara) succeeded as HM to MNL.

That above generation was the last of good teachers of the "old , school", with kacchhe panche, close collar coat and topi. They all came to school either by walk or on bicycles.

You are right, I remember well, the DWH strike (Down With Hindi) that was such a mess.