An iconic teacher with a 'festival of youth' around him

He not only taught Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare, who always figured in discussions at the dining table, but also lived them. Poetry was his passion, a way of life for him. He felt that a train too sang a song, an onomatopoeic couplet that he composed.

To the mango flower
And the jasmine bower,
Back to the beauty which is the same!

His close friends dropped in unannounced, while he had his shave. They would discuss literature. I used to overhear the animated conversation between Shri Bendre, Shri Mugali and my father. which was education by itself! The poet in him supplemented the scholar and the teacher that he was. The perfect amalgam of these three facets of his personality made him an extraordinary teacher. He became very popular in Pune where he was permitted to take his classes in the amphitheatre of Fergusson College to enable students from other colleges to attend them in view of their persistent demand.

He felt that a teacher enjoyed forever ‘the festival of youth around him’ as the students that come year after year to the college are ‘ever young.’ He relished the strong bonds that existed between him and his students. He sent books written by Tagore, Ruskin, etc to P G Patil, his student at Sangli, when he was imprisoned during the freedom struggle.

Father relaxed a few rules in favour of Khashaba Jadhav, a wrestler in Kolhapur, and enabled him to improve his skills and bag the bronze medal at the Helsinki Olympic Games.

He radiated the spirit of youth and the creativity among his students. and founded ‘Varun Kunj’ in Willingdon College, Sangli and ‘Kamal Mandal’ in Rajaram College, Kolhapur and Karnatak College, Dharwad, where students were encouraged to write  poems. Lively and interesting discussions characterised their sessions. Awalikar, Vijaya Rajadhyaksha, and Jinadatta Desai who were among the active participants, later became Marathi and Kannada litterateurs. The creative urge within him found a new outlet in Dharwad where he motivated the students to participate  in construction of a road that linked the university campus to the town. He described it the road that “was made through sun and shade” as an ‘everlasting alley.’ The magic of these words thrilled the students.
He described the M N College, which he built right from the scratch in the deserts of Visnagar, and transformed its landscape, as ‘The Princess of The Desert.’

He built the Central Institute of English, Hyderabad, also right from a scratch and showed the path best suited for the teaching of English language in India. His book on the ‘Concept of Indian Literature’ unfolds the variety, unity, continuity and Indianness of Indian literature. His book on ‘Studies In Indo-Anglian Poetry’ reveals its uniqueness.
Though a professor of English himself, he fought for the primacy of regional languages. He made me learn Marathi and Gujarathi when we were in Maharashtra and Gujarat but insisted on my learning Kannada too. “How will you correspond with your mother who does not understand English?” he asked. I had no other option but to learn Kannada too.

He evolved a course in education in human values while he was the Vice Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. It aims at inculcating the values of truth, right action, peace, love and non violence and brings out the essential unity among all religions. Its relevance and utility in various walks of our national life today need hardly be exaggerated.

He shared Bendre’s perception of the role of a teacher, which he expressed poetically as follows:

‘Mine is but a flower’s wish
To leave some seeds behind’

He followed this ideal with great sincerity and tapped the springs of creativity, experimentation and innovativeness among the young. Let the example set by him inspire our teachers and generations of young adventurers seeking sweetness and light!

(The writer is a retired IAS officer)

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