An ode to a great teacher

The passing of teacher Saradha, who taught me in primary classes, was too agonising to brush aside


Suresh Pattali

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Students raising their hands with a teacher on white background illustration
Students raising their hands with a teacher on white background illustration

Published: Fri 14 Jul 2023, 6:02 PM

I admit I’m an emotional creature. Pretty sure it isn’t a pithy pronouncement. Philosophers have already taught us that “by nature humans are first and foremost emotional creatures”. Every member of this race — men or women, heroes or villains, friends or enemies, good or bad, bold or coward, communists or capitalists — is enslaved by emotions. So, how am I different from the fellow humans when it comes to managing emotions?

I don’t care a damn when I want to vent my feelings to feel light. I break down in public. I cry a monsoon in my dense solitude. Watching television, both good and bad news moves me to tears in equal intensity. Bidding goodbyes at airports or train stations makes me delirious. I choke on a powerful movie or words comprehended in my sweet seclusion. Cogent black-and-white images melt me down at crowded galleries. Liquefied emotions roll down my cheeks watching fellow countrymen take the podium at the Olympics. Maybe you, you and you feel the same, but how do my feelings stand out in an ocean of emotions?

“You make a big deal about your emotions. Maybe mine run so deep they ain’t as visible as yours like an exhibit.” A good friend said it to my face some time ago as bluntly as possible.

“Did you mean I put up my emotions on public display to garner attention? In fact, I’m at the risk of inviting lots of embarrassment and shame,” I argued.

“It’s not that I don’t feel sad when I read about a little girl stuck inside a borewell. I suffocate along with the ill-fated child. I weep inside and I pray to God to bless her parents with the strength to pass the agony. While I hold back my tears and suffer silently, you pour out your emotions I don’t know for what.” At that moment, I was boiling with such anger I wanted to barbecue her on a charcoal rotor.

“I don’t deep-freeze my intense feelings to ruminate in my private space. I open the floodgate and let the emotions flow spontaneously, washing my conscience clean of all agonies. It’s all about that particular moment. Nothing can replace the sudden swell that swashes your heart.” I was in a mood to fight back.

“Your problem is you always look for a reason to be sad. You want to celebrate and indulge in tragedies. There’s this trait of melancholy embedded in your genes. You seem to be happy warming under a blanket of memories inside your self-made cocoon of misery. That’s the difference, my dear chum. Your emotions are acquired whereas mine are natural.”

I lost my cool at that moment. “Only cowards would suffer silently. I don’t care a damn about societal appropriateness and professional etiquettes. I’m an emotional warrior who treads the expressive path.” With that, we put our swords back in the scabbards of civility, agreeing reluctantly that emotions have no class or creed.

But I knew a ceasefire with my friend would fly in the face of logic and she would lie low to strike back at the right time. And that’s what happened when my eldest sister’s weekly call updated me on all the deaths back home. One suicide, one homicide and one natural death — the last one being the demise of one of my favourite teachers at the age of 94. The first two deaths failed to cross my threshold of mundanity, but the passing of teacher Saradha, who taught me in primary classes, was too agonising to brush aside. She was not just a guru, but a guide who lectured to me about life’s responsibilities and values during our long walks to the bus stop.

The news of her demise tugged at my heartstrings, triggering a tsunami of nostalgia. Besides my mum, teacher Saradha was the other woman in the neighbourhood who walked with the speed of a wayward meteorite. She had a quiet and serious demeanour but was friendly and compassionate to the core. While her husband was my doctor in my formative days, her children paid frequent visits to exchange books and magazines.

I called my friend to pass the information. “Why do I feel so sad about the passing of my teachers? I’m touched more than when other acquaintances leave the stage.”

“You are what you are because of them. They laid the foundation for you to grow wings and chase your dreams. Mind you, this is not yet another occasion to celebrate your melancholy, rather be proud that you were one of her loving students. You owe her, buddy,” my friend hit back at me.

This time I wasn’t loath to admit my mistake. I stopped and listened. I realised every death is not to mourn and wail about. Some passings are meant to celebrate lives well spent and meaningfully. I did not tear for my teacher, but rather thanked her for being there when we needed her love and guidance. A silent tribute this time, thanks to my friend.

RIP my darling teacher.

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