Ramanathan commanded respect among his students and colleagues. Though thin and short, his orthodox manners, the dhoti he donned in the old fashioned way, the ‘U’ shaped religious white mark he placed on the forehead, and the long plights of hair groomed with coconut oil and knotted into a bun behind, made him odd but dignified. – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #Fiction #Literature #DrRaghavendraRao #LifeLessons
“Dear students, this is the last class of the year and tomorrow is the final examination. Some of you will pursue higher studies and some, for various reasons, will look for a job, marry and settle down in life. Whatever you do, trust yourself and be sincere. Remember the prayer lines of Tagore from Gitanjali. ‘Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows. Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service. Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.’” Mr. Ramanathan, the high school English teacher concluded, “Good luck to you all.”
Ramanathan commanded respect among his students and colleagues. Though thin and short, his orthodox manners, the dhoti he donned in the old fashioned way, the ‘U’ shaped religious white mark he placed on the forehead, and the long plights of hair groomed with coconut oil and knotted into a bun behind, made him odd but dignified. He never came late to school. The headmaster once commented that he could adjust his watch to the exact minute watching the teacher enter the school.
Ramanathan taught English to 10th and 11th graders at Kindle High School in Kandanur town. He had extensive knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton and Tagore’s literature. When he lectured, the students listened to him spellbound and respectfully addressed him as, “Sir.”
One evening, the teacher got a call. It was the secretary to the politically influential, elected Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA).
“Our district MLA, Mr. Jagdish wishes to convey this message to you.”
“The MLA’s son, Sunil, is taking the statewide public test tomorrow. He is poor in English.
We came to know that you’re supervising at the examination hall. If he has any doubts, help him if you can. If he seeks assistance from his friends, close your eyes and don’t interfere. That’s all. By the way, my boss’s driver will drop off a basketful of choicest ripe mangos at your home this evening. Enjoy.”
“It’s not necessary.”
“Don’t be too modest, Mr. Ramanathan. Remember, this conversation never happened.” She hung up the phone.
Ramanathan and his colleague, Laxman Sharma, were assigned as supervisors at the examination hall the next day. Students were taking the test silently and jotting down the answers fast because of time restriction. Sunil finished answering some and then looked around for help. He whispered to his friends needing answers to several questions. He tapped his shoes and chewed his pencil.
“Sunil, please stop disturbing others. They are taking the test,” Ramanathan told him.
“Ramanathan, don’t meddle with Sunil. He’s trouble,” warned Laxman Sharma in a low tone.
For a minute Sunil was quiet and chewed his nails. Then he surreptitiously pulled a small notebook from his pocket and started to copy the answers.
Ramanathan approached him. “Stop this nonsense, Sunil. I was watching you for some time. I won’t allow you to copy answers or bother others anymore.”
Sunil, six feet tall with rippling muscles that his T-shirt barely hid, stood up. “Hi, teacher, don’t you know who I’m? My father is an MLA. One word from me, you won’t be a teacher anymore. Go and sit in your chair.”
All the students silently watched the unexpected incident.
“Sunil, take your notes, leave your answer paper here and get out. You’re done for the day.” Ramanathan’s voice was dagger sharp.
Sunil clenched his fists. “You’ve committed a big mistake. Come out of the room, I’ll take care of you.” He stomped out.
After the test was over, Ramanathan collected all the answer papers and handed them over to Laxman Sharma, and came out of the examination room. Students in small groups stood outside discussing the day’s questions and how they fared.
Sunil saw the teacher. “Hey, you. Stop,” he shouted and cornered Ramanathan. “Why don’t you behave like other teachers? You think you’re great?”
“Not at all. But I’m different. Think, Sunil. There are rules and you have to respect them.”
“You teach English. Don’t tell me what I can do or can’t.” Sunil grabbed the teacher’s shirt- collar and held him tight like a tiger pins its prey.
A few students surrounded Ramanathan and Sunil. No one dared to interfere knowing Sunil’s hotheadedness, temper and his father’s political connections.
“Don’t behave like a brute, Sunil. Take your hand off my collar.”
Listening to the teacher’s shaken voice, several more boys and girls joined the crowd.
“Brute? You called me a brute? All right, I’ll behave like one.” Sunil held the teacher in one hand, bent and picked up one of his slippers by the other hand and slapped him with it on the cheek. The teacher’s face turned purple.
For a few moments absolute silence prevailed.
From somewhere in the crowd a slipper flew up in the air and landed plump at Sunil’s feet, barely missing him. He turned around and faced the direction of the projectile. Boiling in rage, he shouted, “Who is this imbecile? Come and show your face.”
Again there was silence.
Suddenly, a volley of slippers and shoes, some from girl students, rained on Sunil. He covered his head with his hands for protection but couldn’t escape a few cuts, bruises and a bloody nose.
Unable to bear the shame, Sunil covered his face with his shirt. The students clapped in unison and formed a path to let him out.
Several girls and boys approached the teacher. “Sir, are you all right?”
Anita, the student secretary, wiped off dust and drops of blood from the cut on the teacher’s cheek with her handkerchief. “You’ll be fine, Sir.”
“Thank you. You all helped me. I appreciate it.”
“Not us, Sir. Your courage and teaching have helped you. Didn’t you tell us never to disown the people in need and never to bend our knees before insolent might?”