My grandmother opened the dusty trunk and made sure I held the kerchief to my nose before precariously unpacking the neatly folded clothes there.
Out came a faded old valedictorian gown and cap, a scroll of a degree and a picture. My grandfather, square-jawed and resolutely looking at the camera, lips set but not unsmiling, a moustache cropped beneath his nostrils.
Grandma lovingly dusted them all, and wiped the photograph as she handed them over to me with unconcealed pride. “He was the most well-educated in our clan.” She smiled in remembrance, wrinkles deepening as she grinned at her youthful partner in black and white.
He was a schoolmaster, and his impact was large. His impact was that of a teacher.
When I was a wee little child, I was travelling to my aunt’s place with my mother. This was when we had not availed our own means of transport yet. We had to rely on the vast number of public and private buses and on our own feet sometimes. I remember clambering onto that bus and thanking the heavens for their mercy as we found an empty seat.
The conductor manoeuvred through the crowd, his people-skills saving him from brawls and nasty passengers. He came to us and asked for our stop.
My mother named it, and he informed us that we would be dropped off a little further than that, no bargaining or requesting. He said it rather politely though, not in the usual rough way that was characteristic of his colleagues. My mother, miffed as she was, let it go and decreed that I’d have to walk a little.
However, the conductor was soon back. Getting a little chatty with me (I was apparently a very talkative child) , he was delighted to know that I came from Kakotuparambu.
“Why then, you must know Mevada Ganapathy?” He asked.
I stared at the man in puzzlement. Knew him? Why, I lived with him! He was my grandfather!
My mother’s face beamed as she replied in the affirmative. “Yes, I am his daughter- in - law.”
“Ore nimisha - one moment-” He went up to the driver, whispered a few things and motioned with his hands, a big smile on his face.
He was back, and he laughed at our curious gazes. “He was my teacher once. I have not forgotten him. He taught me to be gracious to everyone and to be polite. To be a good person, however I can. Please, how is he? Is he still as fit? Does he still live in that simple way?”
My mother answered all his questions while I tired of the conversation. I dozed off, lulled to sleep by my mother’s familiar arms and the chatter around me. A while later, I was nudged awake and herded down the bus. In a haze, I waved at the conductor as the bus revved and rattled around the bend, the conductor’s smile visible from a mile away.
Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I looked up at my mother. She was smiling, nay, she was beaming with gratitude and pride. I looked around. I was right outside my aunt’s place.
Grandpa died on the 26th of June, when I was only ten or so. I remember suppressing the fear and confusion and sorrow, holding my grandmother’s arm, wiping my aunt’s cheek, hugging my inconsolable father’s leg. I remember looking at all the teary-eyed crowd and running to my room, laughing with my cousins and trying to forget the fact that I’d never get a response to my calls of ‘Thaatha!’ again. I’d never see that smile, never smell the old-spice aftershave and never hear the rattle of the payasam container with sweets in it. I’d never be able to sit there in that little open room/study of his and ask him questions that varied from mythology to political science.
Much later, after the 11th day ceremony, I overheard my relatives talk. They were talking about the funeral, about my grandpa.
“Did you see the muslim man who touched his feet? He came even though it was Ramadan…”
“Yes yes, I did see him! He had tears in his eyes, just like us. He said he was an old student, and he wanted to see his teacher for the last time.”
I returned to my book as my relatives continued their chatter, my tears blotting the ink and my smile stretching across my face. One teacher was what it took to bind two communities together. To let them coexist despite the many differences they had.
I’ve brought my grandad along in all my stories, I’ve dragged him into these adventures and discussions just as I did as a child. I can almost feel his hand in mine, the colour of soil and furrowed with wrinkles and with bones like mounds of earth. He smiles at me, my first teacher. He taught me to love the earth and its creatures, to try and treat everyone with respect and to have pride in myself, self respect that does not explode into arrogance. He taught me many things, of which I am trying to emulate. Not every teacher needs a book and a syllabus to expound knowledge from. Lessons can be imparted by the most unlikely people at the most unlikely places. Life has taught me that much.
My family taught me to look at teachers with respect. To be polite to them and treat them with courtesy. From when I was a hyper-active Montessori kid at Sapling, trading lunches and coming up with imaginative games, to the time I was an enthusiastic child at KALS, my teachers have been my support. Tracing my hand through the A’s and B’s to naming the states of our country, my basics were strong and true because of my teachers.
It was my teacher who advocated for the talent she recognised in me, way before I realised it myself. It was my teacher who threw me out of my bird’s nest and forced me to acknowledge that there was a world beyond school magazines and bulletin boards - a world of newspapers and online blogs and unlimited possibilities.
And even here, at Bethany High, it is my teachers who are critiquing and improving my writing. They’re digging out the potential I never knew I had, peering into every crevice and keeping me motivated.
To every teacher I have ever met, to every teacher who taught me regardless of a classroom. To you, I dedicate these words. May the light in you guide me so I may, in turn, guide others.
Wishing you a very warm teachers’ day, dear gurus!