September 5, 2016
As we celebrate Teacher’s Day I began to recall my school days and my teachers specially of the primary school.
My parish was established in 1846 and I believe the school too. It was a higher primary one with boys up to standard 5 and coeducation from 6 to 8. It was the only school up to 8 within a radius of 20 kms. The student population mainly consisted of Catholics and Hindus. I do not remember any other religion there then.
Admission to the school was like a festival. Our parents, usually fathers, took us to school with a plate consisting of a bunch of bananas, a coconut, a piece of jaggery and betel leaves. It was an auspicious occasion in the family. The first day in the school would look like a village festival. In those days there weren’t office assistants and only the headmaster with the help of a few teachers used to carry out the clerical duties.
One of the teachers used to verify the age of the child by asking him to hold his ear roundabout and if the child succeeded in that then he was considered of age for admission. Rural parents, many of them illiterate, my father studied up to 8 standard then, just rattled any date as the birth date of the child. In case you look into our church record, it does not say when you were born but when you were baptized and how many days before you were born. Now it is changed.
My good father, who always insisted that we attended school regularly, used to leave some money with my first standard teacher to get sweets for me in order to entice me in going to school. I remember my first standard teacher Mr Perianayagam, my father’s classmate in school, who was considered the strictest teacher in the school and known for severely beating the children. He regularly used to send me home during interval to bring buttermilk and betel leaves, my home being just a few yards from the school. Because of his friendship with my father this teacher never beat me but I did not take advantage of this relationship. Another teacher Mr Dharmarayar was the sternest person ever to look at and a terror to the students. We used to run away seeing him. A great teacher but hard task master he was. The only sir who wore a pair of spectacles was called Kannady Vatthiyar (teacher with spectacles) and he was our English sir. By the way English was taught only from standard 6. There was a lesson with a picture of a man standing with outstretched arms. The first sentence of the lesson was: this is a picture. The teacher asked us: What is a picture? Without any hesitation a classmate of mine said: pichaikaran (beggar). The reward for this student was: stand up on the bench.
Summer vacation was always looked forward to. Before sending us home there would be a meeting with the headmaster. I remember my headmaster Mr Elias warning us in his terrifying voice: don’t jump into wells for a swim and don’t go deep into the lakes. For my teachers the students were their children too.
There is a vast chasm between my teachers and I, a teacher. There was love and concern; discipline and formation; teaching and correction. Things have changed a lot but I wish the relationship of a teacher with the students remains the same.
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