He brought meaning to history


A

tensed Thursday afternoon. The classroom at Mannur Chengalvarayan Naidu (MCN) Higher Secondary School, Chennai, was unusually quiet. Each face I looked at glistened with sweat that hot June afternoon. We were waiting for the first post-lunch hour for our first experience of listening to Muthusubramaniam, the history teacher.

Muthusubramaniam was a veteran teacher. A short man, he was respectably dressed. His brown, clean-shaven face (which some of us often compared with Sunil Gavasker) was particularly unforgettable for the sharp nose and piercing eyes. Since he took classes for class IX and, most of them had nothing more than a fleeting look of the man who would stride into the staff room each morning with the dot of fresh ‘kumkum’ gleaming on the forehead.

Some of us, including myself, who studied in the school from class VI were fortunate enough to listen to the great teacher as he explained the significance of Prudential cricket World Cup (1983) and how India unexpectedly played the final.

Though I listened to that short speech with anticipation of watching the finals and with the eagerness to get home early, I remembered the clarity with which he spoke. It didn’t take long for me to realise that he was a great narrator, an ideal history teacher. That was what we thought — part of the things we fantasised. But how was he as a teacher?

The question was partly the reason for the unusual silence in the class. Any amount of discrete enquiry with our seniors did little to clear it. Some said he was good, most dismissed him as a terrible bore. Such comments did little to discourage the anticipation and the obvious respect we had for him.

The first class was on the Egyptian and Babylonian civilisations and the hour-long lecture on the subject kept us enthralled. With the magical twinkle in his eyes, Muthusubramaniam went about explaining the significance of the age and its enormous contribution to the advancement of humanity.

“Most of you may think what’s so important about a civilisation far removed by time,” he said as a way of closing the session. “But don’t forget that both the civilisations continue to fascinate humanity even today. You find news items about new findings in Egypt that revealed how advanced people were in those days.”
Truly, most of us wouldn’t mind owing our interest in history to him.

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