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.