Lecturer par excellence

In the late 1970s, I was an impetuous PUC student pursuing the Science stream at Mount Carmel College, in Bangalore. At that point, all PUC Science students had their eyes set on possible entry into professional courses, like medical and engineering. Just out of school, our batchmates loved biology, particularly dissections, a precursor to possibly becoming successful surgeons?

A lecturer whose worth we discerned only afterwards was Nagarathna Ma’am, who put her heart and soul into teaching zoology. She had a loud, booming, theatrical voice and gave such forceful deliveries of her lecture that it was difficult not to notice her. So, whether she was teaching about coelenterates or vertebrates, she made sure that we got a thorough knowledge of the theory behind these living beings. She was astute enough to discern that drawing diagrams on the board was not enough. She knew if she used coloured chalk to draw different organs, like say, in the digestive system, it would drive home points more succinctly. Mind you, this was the 1970s when lecturers did not use smart boards or tablets as audio-visual teaching aids.  

Nagarathna ma’am was brilliant when in her element. She was also shrewd enough to gauge which girls were whiling away their time and which girls were brilliant but riddled with adolescent distractions. She once pointed out, “We lecturers are in it not for the income. We are in it for the outcome”!

That was 40 years ago! Fast forward to 2019. I had evolved into a writer for I had always been under the spell of the written word. On February 18, 2019, the Metrolife supplement of this paper wrote an article about me, since I collect well-expressed quotations as a hobby.

Nagarathna ma’am read this piece and called me immediately, re-establishing our teacher-and-taught bond. She mentioned that she had since retired, was being taken care of by a relative and that she loved hearing from her former students about their achievements. The years just melted as we talked animatedly, nineteen to the dozen, about those good old days.

Nagarathna ma’am then said, “Keep your memories intact as they are precious. At a beach, there is sometimes a gradient slope formation. Write your good memories on the higher side of the slope where the sea waves cannot reach them. However, write your unpleasant memories on the lower side of the slope to be washed away by the waves forever.”

I tried to steady my voice, for tears were streaming down my face. I had touched rock bottom as I was going through a painful phase linked to a past memory which I was trying to forget, but couldn’t. Nagarathna ma’am’s words were just the advice I badly needed — a timely balm for my bruised soul.

“Thank you, ma’am, you know best,” I whispered as I put the phone down and burst into tears. Nagarathna ma’am had shown that behind the façade of strictness she had a beautiful heart of pure unalloyed gold that beat for her students.

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Lecturer par excellence

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