The Guru

On this Teacher’s Day, I would like to honor a teacher whose classes I have not attended but from whom I have learned a lot throughout my life and still continue to do so.  I had originally posted this on Facebook in September 2016.  September 5th is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India.  It commemorates the birthday of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first Vice President  and subsequently, the second President of India.

A few months ago, an event transpired that did not make it to this parallel universe on Facebook. In an age where we publicize our achievements on Facebook and earn kudos from our friends, a significant one in my brother’s life did not pop up on my feed. Now, my brother is a very self-deprecating guy and he would never do this, but I am not and I love to bask in the reflected glory of other’s achievements! In March this year, Ravi completed 25 years of teaching at the M.R. Ambedkar Dental College in Bangalore and was felicitated earlier this month on Teacher’s Day. In my profession, such longevity at a single company is unheard of but in Ravi’s case, it does not surprise me. He loves teaching, is absolutely principled and is dedicated to his profession.

I am not one of Ravi’s students and its been almost 25 years since I left home but I had a ring side view during the crucial formative years of my life. If Ravi is half as good a teacher as he has been a brother to me, then I think his students have been truly blessed! I love to read and I can trace my love of reading directly to him. From reading Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit books to me at nights in the “hall” of our Kumara Park house to bringing home books by James Herriot or PG Wodehouse from the library and suggesting that I read them, he has had a tangible effect on my reading habits. He continues to read, though I suspect his focus is on dental journals and articles now. I followed him to the same High School, enrolled in the same house – St. Patricks and much like him, joined the Boy Scouts. You could say that I was the kid brother following in his older brother’s footsteps.

Ravi was outstanding in academics and I guess my parents did not have to push me since I just assumed that I had to try and emulate him. There was however a crucial difference in our approaches. Mine was more superficial, with exams in mind. His approach was different, he took pains to understand the subject and his understanding and retention of concepts is amazing. He is five years older than me and it still blows my mind that when I started studying Calculus and was struggling with some concepts, he casually took my notebook and helped me solve the problems. Mind you, this was 5 years after he had worked with any form of Mathematics. This was not an isolated incident. Thirty years after taking High School Chemistry, he was able to teach my nephews the concepts of valency and balancing of equations. I merely remember the authors of my textbooks from high school, he remembers their contents! 

He is pretty good at chess and has a mean stamp collection. Lest you think that he is just cerebral, he was a pretty decent bat, partial to the offside with a wicked square cut. I remember him scoring 58 or so out of a total of 90 odd in probably his only informal college cricket match. As a boy scout, he was an avid camper in his high school days. In addition to the Jamborees and Jamborettes, he would disappear to Annie Besant Park in Doddaballapur for a couple of weeks each year and often return like an impoverished prisoner of war, much to my parents chagrin.

He has always been a perfectionist and takes his work seriously. Over one of his summer breaks, he completely changed his handwriting since he figured his earlier writing was hard to understand. He is one of those few Dentists/Doctors whose handwriting is not only legible but actually beautiful to look at. As a freshman in his dental school, I was his guinea pig. He would stick contraptions in my mouth to take dental impressions. I still have memories of a clove-like after taste. His patience was on display when he would create blocks with plaster of paris and then file them down to almost perfect cubes or cones. He would write down his notes meticulously and revise them while listening to Pankaj Mullick or Hemant Kumar on the cassette player. It goes without saying that he did very well academically. We tend to love flamboyant superstars who talk the big talk. To me, Ravi is the epitome of hard work, solid technical skills, quiet confidence and utter dependability. He is not given into bragging and is a supreme craftsman to boot. Reminds me of one of his and my favorite cricketers – Rahul Dravid.

There are good teachers who help us understand the topics taught in class. There are great teachers who inspire us to delve further and understand the principles while making the topic enjoyable. Then there are the outstanding teachers who inspire us to not only excel in what we do but inspire us to be good human beings. These are the teachers that we remember long after we finish school. Ravi and I talk to each other over the weekends. The conversations meander lazily over a vast terrain of topics: books, newspaper articles, memories from our childhood, old Hindi and English songs, our high school and teachers, performances of the Indian cricket team, our children and our hopes and aspirations for their future and so on. During our rambling discussions, Ravi sometimes exposes glimpses of his teaching life. His care for his students and their well-being. The need to motivate them to do well. The need to give students the benefit of the doubt since we don’t know what really transpires in their life. His meticulous preparation, his generosity of nature, patience, gentle sense of humor and his willingness to listen when added to his solid technical chops and communication skills leads me to believe that he is truly an outstanding teacher. Students whom he taught several years ago still keep in touch with him and call him every now and then. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a few of them on my visits home and their genuine respect for him is evident. With Ravi, it is “Do as I do, not just as I say”.

So to cut a long story short, Congratulations, dear Ravi. I’m glad that your college felicitated you. I initially got to know of it through Papa. Being the proud father, he filled me in on the details. Here’s wishing you all the best! As you finish acknowledging the kudos that come your way, I know you will not rest on your laurels and take things for granted. You will take fresh guard again as you prepare for the next 25 years! I must thank Dr Murali for suggesting that I write this appreciation. We rarely tend to let our loved ones know how we feel about them and this is a good opportunity for me to do so. Just as you bought me those cone ice-creams in school in the late seventies, for old times sake, you can stand me a kulfi at Sreeraj Lassi Bar the next time I visit home!

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4 comments on “The Guru

  1. Kaiwan N Billimoria

    Beautiful Rajesh! So well penned… I’d really love to meet you and Ravi…
    Ha, Sreeraj Lassi Bar’s kulfi’s ! The memories come flooding back … 🙂

    1. Average Joe

      Thanks, Kaiwan! I think you stay very close to his college. Will meet up with you the next time I’m home!

  2. Vijayanand V Gaitonde

    (Y) <3 Elegant indeed…so very lovely, meaningful & affectionate write.. Liked immensely.. Hearty Kudos to both of you.brothers…! 🙂

    1. Average Joe

      Thank you for the kind words, Vijayanandmaam!

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