In memory of Raga

In every child’s life, there are few teachers who make a true, lasting impression. In my life, the person who tops the list is Raga (Mr.G.Raghavan) Raga was one of the few teachers who could make children love a relatively tough subject like Mathematics! Weekly once, 1 half of one class would be dedicated to story-telling. He would take a story, and elongate it over weeks, while having children wait eagerly in pin-drop silence for the next point in the story. He had mastered what took ages for television to figure out. He would stop the story at a critical juncture, and have the class waiting for the remaining part of the story the whole week! What better method to have a child wait for Maths classes? He had such compelling story-telling abilities that entire generations of students were spell-bound with his stories.

It takes special ability to teach children, and most of all make every child feel important and valued. He was gentle, kind and no matter how good or bad you were at the subject, you never felt unwanted in his class. That is what separates a good teacher from a stellar one. At a boarding school, a teacher metamorphs into a surrogate parent, and as housemaster and Prep School head, he was the father figure to hundreds of children as they struggled to settle in to boarding school for the first time.

Raghavan uncle and my father started life at Lawrence School, Lovedale as bachelors sharing a single bedroom apartment. Over the span of three decades, life moved on, they had children, and we all grew up together. Monsoon vacations in the pouring rain, playing board games and listening to the whooshing sound of the rain, and of course my father and him rattling on in the back-ground. Vacations, school years, leaving with a glistening teardrop as they dropped children off in college, marrying them off, and finally both of them retired as grand-parents from the school.

I visited him a few months ago. The image was shocking. I had never known Raga to fall ill – ‘Sunny’ is the word that best describes him. He had survived one bout of cancer, and he looked pale and thin. He started talking, and I could hear the same old Raghavan uncle again. As he carried my toddler daughter, he said – “My god! This is Kutti Saumya, Mr Balasubramanian – I feel like I am in my thirties again carrying her as a toddler.”

I still remember one incident – I was all of seven years old. I had come to write the Entrance exam for Lawrence. There was a column for my father’s name, and I had confidently filled out – “Mr.K.Balasubramanian (Late)“.

Mr. Raghavan was supervising the test. He called me aside, and asked me why I had written “(Late)” near my father’s name. I explained to him that everytime one wrote their father’s name, one must write ‘(Late)’ (Both my maternal and paternal grand-fathers were no more then, and everytime I saw my parents write their father’s name, they had always added ‘(Late)’!) He then laughed heartily, and explained that you append ‘(Late)’ to a person’s name only when they are no more. My father and he had their laughs about this incident for years. Decades later, I still laugh everytime I recollect this incident.

Yesterday, Mr.G.Raghavan lost a battle to cancer. It is with the heaviest of hearts that I append “(Late)” to Mr.G. Raghavan’s name. This time, I am doing it correctly, just as he lovingly explained to me all those years ago – but it doesn’t feel right. He lives on in the hearts of thousands of children, and will never really die.

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Ideal workspot

What are your expectations of an ideal work-spot/ professional environment?
Top criteria for me would include:
Challenging work (Just the right amount too!)
Ownership
Good Team
Good Manager
Flexibility
Proximity to home (The last two for work/life balance)

Business Ventures

When I was growing up, my father harped on three business ventures:

1) Seven Star Saree Center

2) Anand cycle mart

3) Bama tuition center

Seven Star Saree Center: This venture originated in the endless love of Indian women for clothes. His plan was to have sarees from 7 major brands in the store (Garden Vareli, Calico …. I forget the remaining brands) He spent endless hours designing the showroom (the showroom design and his ideal house design somehow merged in the designs, and I am sure had it been put to paper, it would have looked like a five star hotel that doubled up for a shop or a house)

State of project: Somehow the sizzle for this died down, but not without running its course of a decade worth of “planning”.

Anand cycle mart: This venture was planned because of the high expectations set by my brother with respect to his academic ambitions as a boy. He drew far greater pleasure in tinkering with his cycle than in sitting with a textbook. The brother is a gadget-junkie, and used to fiddle around with anything new. I still tease him that he must have started concentrating on the academic front only when he realised that his income as a cycle mechanic was not going to pay for all his fancy gadgets.

State of project: Thankfully, this business venture plan was put to rest in a few years time, when my brother became a chartered accountant.

Bama Tuition Center:

(Creative title origin: first 2 letters from Mother and father’s first name)

State of project: I regret to inform you that this venture even now sporadically raises its head in our home, but by and large the frequency has come down from everyday to every month or so.

I have my share of business ventures too. I wanted to start a potato supply business when I worked at Infosys. The seeds of thought were planted in the fact that almost every dish at the Infy canteen had a generous serving of potatoes. Masala dosa, aloo poori, potato bonda – you name it, and there would be some portion of it containing potatoes.

State of project: Abandoned when I moved away from the Infy Bangalore campus

Tea Stall at BART:This, I know, is a sure shot! You see, 80% of BART commuters in the Fremont line are desis. Please tell me who would hesitate to buy a few bondas/bajjis in the way home after a tiring day and journey.

State of Project: Current, meaning discussions still rampant

I am sure everyone has some crazy escape mechanism to think of when evaluating one’s own life. Let’s hear all your fantasies.