Thursday, September 27, 2012

How We Were Taught Part 2

It might look like a nice outdoorsy summer retreat, but if you have sat in Mrs. Bharathi's class, you wouldn't think so

Leaving your old friends is never a good thing. I remember the first time I went to the Hill Top Public School, Puthiyara in Calicut. The year was 1998, and it was with my granddad, on his old Kinetic Honda scooter, going up the winding red-bricked road, around the tile factory with the long chimney towers on a rainy Monday morning. It was a modest school with a few building here and there, but more like a holiday home or farmhouse—well that is what the entrance atleast looked like (above) (it today houses more pucca buildings at least two-three stories high). I was not happy at all that i had moved in there. Firstly, I had to sit in a tempo van and then come to a place (whereas i used to walk to school back in Muscat, secondly, I knew nobody there, thirdly, i had to learn the Malayalam language, and finally, did I mention, not having friends? It is always difficult shifting schools, and so it was for me too. But the view from the top of the hill – priceless.

The two years I spent there, seemed to just whizz by, and not many long lasting friendships arose out of it. I am still in touch with a few of them, though. The teachers too, I can vaguely remember. But there was one teacher that who I would say was a reincarnation of one of those clich├ęd boarding-school-warden-english-teacher types. Her name was Mrs. Bharathi. Although the whole class would be at their mischievous best in other classes, her one session, commanded the attention of every student in the room. And surprisingly, it was in malluland, and the influence of this teacher that got me attracted to the English language. She was never the type that would unequivocally pour out marks for you during your quarterly, half yearly, final year or even the most trivial class tests. There was a standard she demanded. And if one could cope with that, you'd pass the subject. I think my understanding of the language increased by leaps and bounds, after learning from her. But back then, we were just plain scared of her. We would make sure we did her homework, even if it meant neglecting other subjects. She also used to be my elder brother’s class teacher. So any bad behaviour or not learning, it would reach my Mom's ears, via my brother. That was more than a decade back. When I met her almost 6-7 years later after her retirement, somewhere around 2005-06, she didn’t seem as intimidating like she did then, even remembering me (although it was my brother she knew better). We talked and reminisced and joked of her 'terror' days, and we laughed over it, telling us 'it was all for your own good'. But she was surprised that I had taken up a degree in functional English, of all the subjects out there—yes, I  never topped the subject of English, the two years I was there (nor any other subject). But proud of us all, she is today.

Other than Ms. Bharathi, I think I remember Mrs. Saira, who used to teach us Hindi, Mini miss, who used to be out PT teacher (we just had one basketball court and no other playing ground), and I sucked at it. It was also here that I got onto the religious side of affairs, as we would go for our dhuhr (afternoon) prayers in the makeshift mosque inside the school (well this was again new for me, because our school in Muscat began at 7 in the morning and ended by 1.30 p.m. Here, it began at 9.30 in the morning and ended close to around 4 in the evening, which was not to my liking at all). I don’t exactly remember the teacher who taught us, but he encouraged me to take part in an azan (calling of prayer) competition. And for the first time, after my second grade sports triumph, I actually won something in a school competition. That was my only moment of glory there. My grades dropped dramatically after moving here, but that had more to do with me, than the teachers. But thankfully, the nightmare lasted only two grades for me—fifth and sixth, because Dad brought us all back to our favourite city—Muscat—in the millennium year.

It was like being resurrected. And it was also about bringing back together a division, that has been close to my heart—F. And with the intermittent memory of Hill Top, I was on my way back to old friends, familiar grounds and the scorching heat of the Middle East.

On that note, I shall leave you lingering for my second stint at ISWK.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How We Were Taught, Part 1

Over the past few days, I have been privileged to read some of the most amazing anecdotes by students of their most incredible times in school or their fondness for one teacher or the other. Some in blogs, some picked up by media, some shared and some just stumbled upon. When I look back, I see that it is not just these few people who’ve had some unforgettable times in school. I believe each and everyone of us have a story or the other. I know what you must be thinking right now—uh oh! He is going to take us on his nostalgic trip once again. Well you don’t go wrong there—as I am going to do exactly that!

School for me were three beautiful establishments—the first being ISWK in Muscat, where I began, then HTTPS, Puthiyara in Calicut and finally MESRRS, Pavangad again in Calicut. I still remember vividly when my mom told me that I had to go to school, but before which I had to give an exam. My mom being herself had us gotten started at an early age, teaching us (my brother and me) alphabets and basic counting and giving the best teachers’ experience even before school began in reality for us. It needn’t be anything major, but you give her a book with question and answers and she would sit and hear you out after she asked a question, pointing out mistakes as we went on. And for her part she loved teaching us. She had sat down with each one of us three brothers’ education almost unto eighth grade. But it didn’t stop there; it is through her motivation that the three of us are into as diverse a field as we are in right now.

So coming back to kindergarten, I still remember heading to Muttrah (that was where our school was located, before moving it to the better building-ed Wadi Kabir location), sitting in a classroom full of little kids, each of them finishing up their own tests. After a couple of days I got my results and it turned out that I had done immensely well. But then my mom saw my paper, and she came up to me and showed me where I had gone wrong. There was a math counting exercise in the paper, where I had to write the number of objects that was in a row. Me trying to be a smartass, went on to count the box also in which I had to write the answer. Thereby, losing marks, but jumping to KGII instead of KGI. The first few years I have not much memory of. It seems to me now as if it was all too blurry and way too quick.

But I do remember my class teachers. There was one Mrs. Neethu ma’am who was our teacher in the first or third grade. Again, as I told earlier, too blurry, too quick. But I clearly remember our second grade teacher, Ms. Loraine Pinto. I have for one have been trying to locate her the past few years. But it’s a difficult situation for a teacher to recognize you after like 18 years—either you had to be freakishly talented or annoyingly mischievous. I was an in between student. But yes, Loraine ma’am if you are reading this, I hope this will be a memory refresher. She was a tall teacher, who used to come in these red and grey suits, had long nails which were always painted red, and used to be super fond of all her kids, me more so. I still remember one science exhibition day, she gave me a new red Pilot pen and asks me to finish off the ink in it. I just scribbled the hell out of that pen, and finished off the ink in it and gave it to ma’am. She looked at the pen and then looked at me, I knew I had done something wrong—in my frenzy I had gone on to break the nib of the pen. She had a good laugh and gave me another pen to finish off. She taught us everything—math, English, science, social studies, assignments where you had to stick pictures, colouring within the borders, and to me, my most fantastic sporting achievement ever in school life—winning the inter class sports competition, after losing out to the A division in every practise run. It was the annual sports day, and we had to take part in a team event, where eight of us would line up behind a race line, and one after the other would run to a distance and go and build and rebuild a pyramid made out of soda cans, placed at a table at a distance. Our class, the F division, which would become synonymous to becoming the average class with extraordinary people, was kind of pathetic at it—that is what one would say, when we went on to come in last in almost all the practice runs. The A division even received prizes during these unofficial races. But when it came to the real deal, we surprised even ourselves. We left our best and fastest runner, Aemon, for the last. Each of us, did our best, making and destroying the can-pyramids one after the other. When Aemon ran back after making the pyramid for one last time, we couldn’t believe our eyes- we had won! I clearly remember the excitement that ran through us, when we finished the race—still gives me goosebumps. Yes, primary school was that exciting for us, especially with teachers like Ms. Loraine Pinto.
Where memories began

Then in the fourth grade, I encountered the teacher I will not forget for the rest of my life—Ms. Charmaine Bell. She is to me, the best teacher there ever will be. I still remember her coming into the class, with her curly frizzy hair and big smile, while we rose in chorus - Good morning ma’am! It was she who inculcated in me the will to be capable of anything, the ability to excel and the importance of being a team player. In that one year in fourth grade, I learned so much, that I believe will remain in memory forever and hopefully will be passed on to my own kids. I remember one instance, when we had to do the class play. There was Warren Vaz (who is right now a chemical engineer, if I am not mistaken) and me who were vying for the role of the Prince in the fairy tale, Cinderella. And then there was the wordy role of the narrator. I really wanted the Prince’s role, but Charmaine ma’am was so sweet, that she convinced me to be the narrator, which had more importance and stage presence than any one else. And I had like pages and pages to learn before I could actually go on stage. With the help of my mom, I actually did learn all those lines, by heart. On the day of the play, everything went absolute smooth, and after I had said my last line, I walked backstage, and Charmaine ma’am, comes and grabs me and tells me I had been just plain wonderful, and plants a kiss on my cheek. I hastily rubbed off the lipstick mark on my cheek (as you would see any young boy do), but the pride I felt in me, when she told me what a wonderful job I had done, I don’t think any other instance with any other teacher could equate with that. The very lady moulded us even more going into the fifth standard. (I met up with her in 2010, along with Jonathan, and she is still the sweet frizzy haired lady with a smile that can make anyone's day)

And then in the fifth grade, there was the arrival of another teacher that greatly influenced me in the art of story telling. When he had come, he was a French teacher, and did teach French to the higher classes. But to us, or rather me, he will always remain our temporary-math-teacher-turned-permanent-math-teacher in fifth grade. We were struggling with a replacement for our math teacher. While Mr. Keerthi Kumar, the man forever in the white shirt, pants, shoes and even hair and beard was up for teaching us in a few years, fifth grade required someone less intimidating. So as we waited one fine day for out math teacher to show up, a thin, lanky young spectacled man walks into our classroom. We were like – aha another substitute, another free period, we are gonna have some free fun time. But then how Mr. Sivakumar got us hooked on for the next half hour is beyond comprehension. He started off by asking us to close the curtains in the classroom in the first place. After which he goes on to tell us one of the most genuinely scary stories of all times. The atmosphere created by him was absolutely electric. There was the chill in the air, there was the simplistic manner in which he actually transported us to the location – it was just pure magic. That was it, the next time Mr. Sivakumar came to our class, he was teaching us math, and from time to time, the brilliant scary stories. I have told that story now to an entire battalion of cousins over various trips to a number of places around the Middle East and back home in India, and even so do too to this day. His popularity was so immense that he was even invited over for birthday parties, where again he weaved his magical story telling ability. From being a substitute, to being a part time math teacher, to a full time favourite – you sir, are indeed an inspiration to this day. (Mr. Sivakumar went on to teach French to my other friends over the next few years).

But then it is not like other teachers didn't exist. There were others without whom we could not have made it through those young years, and I betcha my classmates who are reading this will remember, and hopefully one day all us kids and teachers can meet so that we can tell you from the bottom of our hearts, a big thank you!

We shall now take a small interval, since after the fifth grade, I too left ISWK for a couple of years, moving back to India. But that as we all know, folks, is for another post, another day and another time.

(Yes, I have restarted my shameless to-be-continued series of posts)
(But pliss be the kind and bear with me J)