Today is Teacher’s day — a good day to remember Nagarajan Sir. Nagarajan Sir was the head master of the panchayat union elementary school in which I studied from second standard to fifth standard. Being the head master, of course, he taught fifth standard. He cycled down from a village that was about eight to nine kilometres from my village. He was rarely late. There were three more teachers (teaching Standards 1, 2 and 3) who were from my village itself. But, he ended up reaching the school almost always first.
Nagarajan Sir was not particularly liked by the other teachers. His work ethics was very different from the others. He also has problems with a couple of teachers who were relatively violent and especially with one of them who was an alcoholic. He did not like the demeanour of one of the teachers (who wore dark cooling glasses and a very colourful kerchief around his neck).
We loved the strategies that Nagarajan Sir’s taught us — especially, his method of teaching us to read English (which, according to my father, by the way, was not the right method) is to write down the most probable sounds for the english letters (and sometimes combinations of english letters) in Tamil; then, using this chart as the guide, we were supposed to read English. I also distinctly remember his teaching subtraction as an inverse addition (which I use till date when I do paper and pen calculations). He had to do all these and spend lots of time with us because we came with not so good preparation to his classroom and he just had one year to bring us up to speed before we left for 6th standard — in a new school in a nearby village.
Even though Nagarajan Sir spent lots of time teaching us English and Mathematics, the subject he loved to teach was history. Learning history from him is to listen to riveting stories; the story telling was a very dramatic too; there will be pin drop silence punctuated by excalamations and laughter from us.
Even before I reached fifth standard, I spent lots of time in his classroom. Once in a while, the class teacher will ask me to bring him or her a tumbler of water. The water pot was kept in the Head Master’s room which was also the fifth standard class room. While returning the tumbler back to its position, instead of returning to my classroom, I used to just stay near the door of his classroom and listen to his stories.
Nagarajan Sir’s handwriting was very beautiful — be it Tamil or English. He tried to get mine better in vain (though after a couple of years Padmavathi teacher managed to improve it).
There was a huge wooden box in the Head Master’s room. One day, Nagarajan Sir, in spite of vehement opposition, decided that the box needs opening and the books in that box need distribution among the students. The thrill of seeing those colourful books and the pleasure of having them given to us for readiing is still fresh in my mind; I feel the excitement even as I write this post.
Unfortunately, Nagarajan Sir passed away very young. I was too young to know the details of his illness. But it was one of the first deaths I remember which made me very sad.
Whenever I think of Nagarajan Sir, I remember his big eyes, slightly protruing teeth, his lean body and visage, his black and white, shiny and curly hair (which he tried to fashion in what was called as American crop, I think), and his fascinating description of the city of Bombay that he visited and the difficulties that he had in crossing a busy road.
Nagarajan Sir was the one of the many great teachers I was fortunate to have had . But, he is special because he is the first teacher (if I leave out my family members — especially my grandfather and an aunt of mine) who made a real difference to me by kindling an interest in learning. He will be remembered for long.