My favorite teacher

V writes,

People who know me describe me as ultra-sensitive and it is true and writing what you are about to read took be nearly 3 months because every time I string a few words together I would break into tears. Memories are painful and I wish I could turn back time. I just wish I had taken a few more minutes to create memories and as they say hindsight is 20/20. Very true.

Today is September 5th, a day Indians celebrate to honor their teachers. Over the years I have had amazing teachers who have played their role molding me. Many thanks to them. But today I want to share with you a special teacher, someone who was always there for me, someone I took too much liberty with, someone who taught me so much about life, someone whose ideologies and principles I admire the most , someone who touched so many lives, someone who spent his life saying no to awards and honors but worked for education. And that someone is my grandfather, Prof.S.Nagarathnam, retired principal REC, Trichy.

In the early 1930’s, hailing from a family of businessmen who lost everything my grandfather was quick to learn that education was the only thing that will change his life and that of his 8 siblings. Losing his dad was the first blow but he was not going to give up on education. Every June when I used to get ready for school, he used to share stories of his childhood in Tuticorin, on what it meant to go to school for him. His biggest recollection is going to Nadar welfare associations to get money to pay for schooling and supplies for himself and his brothers. And such memories from childhood played a major role in his life. He always gifted me books and till his very end, it was my grandpa who brought me all textbooks and he always wanted me to have a civil engineering library. He owned a big collection of books, in excellent condition and was free giving them away to the needy.

My grandmother tells me stories of how many lives he touched, how many people he passed along the wealth of education. I recall as a young gal that many young college-going relatives visiting the house in regular frequency. It was much later in life that I realized that my grandfather insisted on paying their fees and keeping them in college. He followed the progress of each of his wards with pride and yes people have disappointed him. No one really has told me how many people’s lives he has changed it is tough to keep count and tougher to imagine how much he was ready to give up for the sake of education. All his siblings tell amazing stories of how he used to send them money for their education from his days in graduate school in Iowa. Any graduate student will tell you how hard it is to save money within their stipend.

I never had seen him teach a class but I remember him calling my hostel at 5.30am on the day before my fluid mechanics exam and conducting a viva. I also remember sitting with him with doubts and he was one patient teacher. He put up with all the drama I made just because I was his granddaughter. How I wish I could turn back time. His dedication for education never ceased, after retirement he volunteered his time at many engineering colleges around Tamil Nadu. His health and eyesight were failing but he still kept moving forward.

He was disciplined beyond words. It was discovered that he had diabetes in his mid 30’s, heart disease soon followed but he followed a strict diet and exercise regime. Yoga was his biggest passion. And the minute I expressed an interest in it, I remember him buying me 2 books on yoga. I never did even follow it through; I wonder where they are now.

Honors and awards did not matter to him. I vividly remember a year before his death, I was opening his mail and going through it with him. One was from an organization informing him of his nomination for some achievement award and requesting more details, he just threw it into the dustbin. I was shocked and when asked why he said he did not care for them. It was a lesson to me. I have not met someone so self-sacrificing in my life and my grandpa was simply the best in whatever he did.

Probably the best thing I admire him for is accepting life and death. He never complained about anything in life. Like everyone he had his moments in life and compared to his life my life is a path of roses and I still complain. Never have I heard my grandfather complain about anything in life. Well probably the only thing that he really felt bad about was his failing eyesight. He regretted having to depend on someone to read out to him the newspapers, he regretted not being able to use the computer and the Internet. And I was the bad granddaughter, always finding excuses to escape from reading him the newspaper. How I wish I were more patient then.

And then it was his brush with death a couple of years before his death that showed me the other side of my grandpa that I admire the most - his cool acceptance of death. In fact he prepared each one of his family members separately. I don't know what he told others but I remember the conversation with me. He told me, “jitu you should be prepared to say goodbye to me. I will not be around for long but I’ll always love you and be there in your thoughts”. I was the immature 20-year old; I screamed and told him to shut up. I was not ready to say good-bye then. I wasn’t when he finally left this world.

I cried but what kept moving me was he never would have liked me to cry. He felt he was there for a purpose on earth and he felt his time was up. He gave everyone he met something, hopefully something good. But for me he gave me something that cannot he counted, not money but something more valuable – lessons, lessons on the values of education, lessons of patience, love and acceptance of life and death.

He was awarded the best teacher award on this day years ago, but today I want the world to know he was the best grandfather, the best teacher, the best mentor any girl can want for. The lessons you taught are fresh in my mind and I hope someday I’ll be someone you can proud of.

To all teachers by profession and otherwise, changing lives of millions, my salutations.


Manix said...

Hi, I don't know you, but I sure remember Professor Nagarathnam (We used to call him Nagoo or Nagu while in REC Trichy. Great Person! I have never had him teach a class forme, I trained in Mechanical Engineering, but anytime I had to meet him, he would always say Thoothukkudik Kaarana! Nallaap Padikkiriya?. Thoothukkudi Peraik Kaappathuppa. Sad to hear that he passed away.