I’ve always had a tryst of sorts with my English teachers. I think most people do, if movies are anything to go by in – Dangerous Minds and Dead Poets Society (even though that was one really boring movie) for instance. They have this aura of the romantics about them that makes them so appealing, I guess. Or maybe it is the idealism or a general utopian aspiration or at least a hope for a beautiful world as words can paint, that makes them so enigmatic a species.
The farthest back that I can remember is my English teacher at DAV, Ludhiana, a Mr Yogesh Duggal. I was in third grade then, this man doubled as our class teacher as well. Apart from being obviously handsome, in a very Punjabi way, clean shaven, gora and well built, he knew his subject. What he didn’t know was how to treat his students. Most of the girls had a crush (or whatever you can have at age 8 ) of sorts on him initially, and he returned the admiration – he was hugely biased towards us girls, specially the smart ones who got good marks and all. The boys loathed him though, and what made it worse was that he created an achievers club of sorts that had the privilege of lunching with him. About five of us would be summoned to the back benches of the class during lunch, and we’d take our special seats with him. In retrospect, he wasn’t a very good man, since he used horrible physical force against students who did poorly, but that’s another story.
Then, at DPS Bokaro, there was Mr R K Nayak, who belonged to Orissa and was arguably the best teacher I’ve had till date. Needless to say, I did have a crush on him, as did almost every other girl in class. He was funny, vivacious, full of energy – he’d make us enact the plays in our text book, he’d make hilarious speeches at school assemblies about diction in different parts of the country, where others gave long winding moral monologues, which were certainly responsible for the high rate of girls fainting right at the beginning of the day. He’d be there for us when we wanted consultation about anything. He was my first experience of the chilled out fella, since I’d only ever encountered very authoritarian teachers before him. And his coolness made him quite endearing.
And then there was Ms Shubhra Chatterjee in grade 8 in Amity, Noida – beautiful, strict and all-round fantastic. She’d play kho kho with the older students, and we couldn’t wait to grow up to that age, just so we’d get the chance to get informal with her too. She had a high thin voice that was very distinctive, despite the umpteen jokes that cruel teenage boys would make of it. We were always on the lookout to impress our sultry, exotically grey-eyed gorgeous English teacher. And when she did bestow us with a 100 watt Colgate smile (she had really white really even teeth), our day would be made.
Of course, there was Ms Annie at St Josephs, Trichy, who I hardly remember anything about, except that I really loved her and her handwriting and that I’d ape her style of tick marking whenever we played ‘teacher-teacher’. And Mrs Meera Sharma, also at Amity, who was too principled at one level but appreciated my compositions.
And all of the literature faculty at Ramjas. Particularly Mr Debraj Mookerji, Mrs Ahuja, Mrs Chandra and Mrs Bhalla and Mr Hemant Sharma. In their classes, or interactions otherwise, we could feel that love for the subject, and they’d somehow transfer it to us. And so, we spent wondrous winter hours, toasting in the sun in the English lawns, discussing theorists or poets, and feeling generally warm and very pleased with ourselves.
And for all the bad times I had in school for lack of interest in a subject, peer pressure or just plain laziness, English or literature classes always made up. Partly, in all honesty, because it was always one subject I was decent at (and I say this in all modesty), but also because I’ve been lucky to have had awesome gurus. What a good teacher can manage is unbelievable, and the kind of respect they earn for life is something on the same lines.