Friday, September 4, 2015

FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 4 : PraNAms to My Teachers on Teachers Day

My PraNAms to all my teachers over the years
On this Teachers Day : Sep.5, 2015

I prostrate at the feet of the following all of whom have shaped me
 in the respective time-periods when I had the  good fortune to be taught and influenced by them into what I am today:

1936-39 At St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Cuddalore: (I, II, III & IV forms)
·       My teachers of English, and Mathematics (Unfortunately I have forgotten their names.  Maybe I did not know their names even at that time of my studentship under them, my age at that time being 9, 10 and 11). The English and Mathematics teacher who was my class teacher in the I Form (equivalent to modern 6th std.) recommended to the Headmaster (a Jesuit Father) a double promotion for me at the end of the long term in the I Form.  On the Headmaster’s suggestion, my father (who was himself a B.A. Maths of around 1900) accepted to cover for me, at home, the portions of Maths, in particular, that I would thereby miss, -- for the remaining short term of the I Form and the long term of the II form  -- and accordingly I was promoted to sit in the II form for the remaining academic year.  So not only to those teachers of those times, but to my father also - who sat with me every night to teach me elementary algebra and practical geometry  that would have been covered  in the terms I skipped, because of this arrangement, which thus ended up by my clearing four school  levels in three academic years – I owe my PraNAms.
·       My Sanskrit teacher: I forget the name. The one thing his students may not forget may be the fact that his wife moved over to the movie-world (a rare event in those times and therefore talked about in hush-hush silence even by us, then not yet teen-agers) and acted in the film ‘Balayogini’ and probably other films.  But we, his students (in those days most of the class opted to sit in the Sanskrit class rather than in the Tamil class)  were captivated by his impeccable teaching Beginning Sanskrit and in fact every year his Sanskrit section became larger and larger than the corresponding Tamil sections. I doubly owe my PraNAms to him because the tree of Sanskrit knowledge that he planted in  me  is still flowering!
1939-41 At Town High School, Kumbakonam: (V and VI forms)
·       Sri S.R. Venkatrama Iyer, my mathematics teacher, who was the first to instil in me the rigorous logic of Euclidean geometry.  His teaching was so excellent, though he had certain mannerisms which we students used to mimick and have fun, that I can remember his characteristic teaching techniques even now.
·       Sri R. Satagopachariar, the Headmaster as also my English teacher. I remember learning the nuances of English grammar under him.  In the VI form, my benchmate in the two-seater bench in the first row was Sri M.V. Santhanam ( who later became one of the most famous performers of Carnatic music and got several awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi of Madras Music Academy)
·       My Sanskrit teacher  (again I forget the name!);
1941-42 At the Shorthand-Typewriting Institue, Kumbakonam
·       My teacher for Shorthand & Typewriting. This is the year when I had graduated from high school but not yet entered College, because of age restrictions. I can’t remember this teacher’s name but I remember his face vividly even now. He had a fascinating method of encouraging me to write accurate shorthand (Pitman’s), the faster and faster way.  His dictations for my training not only made me read more and more English writing.  By this time I had become a regular reader of almost every page of the Hindu and my getting habituated to reading English novels improved my English, which, in turn helped in the longhand reproduction of written shorthand. My teacher and his methods of training were a great inspiration! This shorthand learning was going to help me take down notes verbatim of all lectures of the faculty of English in the ensuing college days.
1942-44 At Government College, Kumbakonam
·       P.A. Sitarama Iyer, who taught me English Poetry. He was past the middle age.  But his enchanting way of teaching the love-poem – Isabella – of Keats is unforgettable. ‘Heard melodies are sweet; those unheard are sweeter!’ .  He used to say this very often.  And the melodious way he pronounced the last word ‘sweeter’ would carry us youngsters to the seventh heaven.  His questions in the examinations were very unusual;  but since I would have taken his lectures in shorthand, I would write answers to his questions using his own words uttered by him in the classroom and I used to get high approbation from him!
·       A.G. Narasimha Iyer , who taught me Physics.  A meticulous teacher with a mathematical precision!
·       The Physical Director (at that time) who taught us Trigonometry. Again I can’t recall the name. But even though he was only a B.A. in Maths. his clarity in teaching us from the book of Loney was perfect!
·       Professor Panduranga Ramachandra Rao who taught me Sanskrit. He taught us Malavikagnimitram. I learnt quite a lot of Sanskrit from his teachings. I also remember one day I got a scolding from him because during the class I was talking to my friend sitting next to me; he found that and ‘announced’ to the class that ‘Krishnamurthy will become an additional professor, because he is talking there when I am professing here’.  Great minds, when they make a statement, it will come to be true!   “RRishhINAM punarAdyAnaM vAcamarthonudhAvati”. Long after, in the year 1960,  affiliated colleges were permitted by the UGC to have, if they like, one more professor in their departments to be designated as  ‘Additional Professor’.  You will not believe it, as I returned in 1960 back to my Thiagarajar College, Madurai (where I had been lecturer for six years) in 1960, after being on study lien and leave  for four years, I had just finished my PhD in Annamalai University,  my College made me ‘Additional Professor of Mathematics’  in conformity with UGC regulations!
Another interesting quirk of good fate: Professor PR Rao’s  great-grand-daughter  and my grandson are now tied in wedlock  and it was almost by accident we discovered this student-teacher bond between me and the Professor  only just before the wedding in 2010!
1944-47: At St. Joseph’s College, Trichinopoly
·       T. Totadri Iyengar
·       S. Suryanarayanan
·       V. Ranganathan
·       G.V. Ramachandran
·       S. Srinivasan
All these taught me Mathematics in such a way that I became wedded to Maths. for the rest of my life. TT’s meticulous precision and clarity; Suryanarayanan’s obvious bubbling enthusiasm and pride for Mathematics; Ranganathan’s incisive teaching making even the dullest head comprehend; GVR’s impatient anxiety when he noted that somebody’s face in his class did not brighten up; and Srinivasan’s threadbare analysis of even the process of thinking – all these never forgettable characteristics of this excellent team of teachers did more service to the cause of Mathematics than even some routine research institutes in Mathematics had ever planned to do.
·       Dandapani: He taught us English in the first year of our three-year Honours. Particularly I remember his lectures on our non-detailed text: John Galsworthy’s Man of Property.  His lectures were spotless and proved to be an academic ‘treat’ for all of the 100 or so students in his class.
1956-60 At Annamalai University, Annamalainagar
·       Professor Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer
My mentor, My Guide, My Guru, My role model of a mathematician-cum-human being. It was my good fortune to work under him.  Routine research guides (who are dime a dozen all over the world, particularly in India) keep half a dozen problems up their sleeve and make their student work on one or two of these problems for which they already know some directions for the solution and finally produce a Phd who turns out to be a ‘specialist’ in that little corner of the subject but cannot even venture to understand the ever-widening  nature of the vast area of knowledge outside his specialisation. Dr. V. G. Iyer was far far above this run-of-the-mill research guides. He made every student of his aware of a wide area of mathematics and made him wade through a lot of literature to concoct his own problem, be it within the area of specialization of Dr. V. G. or not, and then ‘guide’ him, and in this process of ‘guiding’, Dr. V.G’s own grasp of the student’s selected topic – which may even be totally foreign to Dr. V.G.’s acquaintance – would be so fast and accurate that even the specialists in that topic would be amazed! It was under such a Professor, by God’s Grace, I worked.  AUm shri gurubhyo namaH !
1927-56: All the time, ever with me:
·       Brahma Sri R. Visvanatha Sastrigal.
My father, whom I consider to be my guru for everything that may be good in me. From my childhood he educated me.  Even as a boy I walked along with him in the early mornings to the river for a bath followed by Sandhyavandanam and the like. And during the walk either we recited Vishnu Sahasranamam along with his contemporaries who walked along with us or he was teaching me how to read the stars and use some Sanskrit formulae for telling the time even at night by just a look at the stars. At home I had accompanied him on his daily Puja and followed his instructions.  On all possible days when he and I were at home, he had taught me vedic recitations by the strict traditional process. I have observed him how he reacts to various problems of family and secular life and the lessons and morals that I have learnt cannot be numbered. Many times I have sat in his Vedanta lectures.  These lectures of his, according to me, outshone any of the lectures of the great expositors, because in his case it was a hundred percent. original ‘juice’; no compromise, no mixture, it was a totally pure extract of the scriptures. Certain times I have helped him transcribe some of his original writings. Every time it was a process of education for me into the unknown world of spiritual knowledge, culture and heritage. … Well, I cannot list them all.  I have to bow and prostrate to him hundred times on this Teacher’s Day and thank God that He gave me such a Father!

yoginaM vishvanAthAkhyaM asmat-tAta-svarUpiNaM /
Atma-lAbhAt paraM laabhaM vaktAraM na kadAcana //
GItArtha-grantha-kartAraM shrIguruM praNamAmyahaM /
Yo.antaH pravishya me vAcaM dhRRitiM buddhiM pracodayAt //

Meaning: I bow to that great Guru of mine, who took the form of my father, by the name Vishvanatha. He was a Yogi, who never spoke of anything except the gaining of the Glory of the Atman. He composed the work interpreting the Gita.  May he be present in  my mind and prompt my intellect, fortitude and speech.

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