Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Lanterns

My Lanterns

 A good book  according to me is one:

-  That makes me forget the milk boiling over ( and over !)  which converts an ordinary salem steel vessel into an anodised black beauty.

-  that which surprisingly stops me from sprinting to pick up the phone.

-  that which saves the many trips to the pantry for snack refills.

-  That which makes life seem pointless and empty when you reach the last page, final word. Full stop.

That was just a  suggestive list of what a good book can make you do or not -do.

One may add - the avoidance of the customary chore of  making the bed.

 ( waste of precious labour and time considering, in a matter of few hours we are going to open up all the folded sheets. Two of my friends and one of my sisters ' concur with me on  this logic  Love them.)

The ultimate blue litmus test of a good book is, when it takes you down memory lane with a smile,  makes you relate to it in more ways than one or draw parallels from your life and times.

A brief about one such book- Lantern -Memoirs of Mentors By Marian Wright Edelman.

The author has been at the centre of civil rights and Child advocacy struggles at the heart of this Century. In this poignant, lucid, straight from the heart narrative, she pays tribute to all the mentors who lit her way. She includes her parents, her children, and people like  Martin  Luther King Jr., Robert F Kennedy and the many teachers who inspired her.

A stirring and transcendent memoir. The narrative feels like a cozy conversation with an affectionate family elder.

This book not only passed the litmus test but inspired me to write about the lanterns that lit up my path.


My lanterns:

Leelavati teacher: My 6th-grade class teacher and Asst Head Mistress.

The teacher who first taught me to believe in myself, who used to assure me saying "You are very different from others. But Be yourself always!No matter what ."

That 'No matter what ' - needs a separate post. But here is a fairly representative list of what it meant.

- Being an 'outstanding ' student. ( in the literal sense of the term!)
- developing the ability to catch Map-drawing /Math note book thrown at me from any angle!
- writing poetry during math class and getting caught for spelling errors in it!
- Straightening out a safety pin to give the effect of a needle and take it in and out of a handkerchief during Needlework class sitting at the last bench! This trick was passed over by my elder sister and her classmates.
Reminded of a  classmate who was good with needlework and kind too, who would lend us her work -which would be used by all of us for the sake of marks. God bless that generous girl and the innocent teacher. The synergy of kindness and naivety, going hand in hand. Rather hand to hand in this case.

Add to this my trauma due to constant comparisons made by all teachers, ayahs and peons at school with the smart cookie siblings who scored first rank and 100% in maths always.

Any wonder that I still get nightmares about calculus and wake up sweating? The realisation that it was just a  dream is PURE BLISS.

Back to Leelavati teacher - I am ever so thankful to her for assuring me that it was perfectly okay to be a non-conformist and have diverse views and interests which very often landed me in trouble.

Thanks to Leelavati Teacher I am comfortable handling both - being a non-conformist and getting into trouble.

Never give up hopes on anyone - is my takeaway from this lantern - Leelavathi teacher!



Shantha -Head Mistress

A real front runner, an outlier of her times. She had such futuristic views in running a school way back in 1978. The best school  I  would say by any standards. Lady Mct.M Girls High School in Purasaiwalkam.A nondescript state board school. But I see most of them from my class, seniors in public life. Yes, this was one thing she encouraged. Public speaking. So many opportunities to showcase innate talents were available in the school. There would always be three consolation prizes for every competition! (With overt sensitivity seeping into our language these days, we call it Encouragement prizes !)

Still amazed at the School parliament system she introduced.Which would have all the class representatives, class teachers and the various Arts and literary club secretaries ..that would meet every first Monday. It used to be run just like a real parliament with a speaker, question hour, except that we didn't pull any one's pallu or throw chairs at each other or use vernacular expletives.

Administrative skills and teamwork are what I learnt from her and this school. We never had this one-upmanship race which is being fuelled by the present generation schools and their activities in the name of teamwork. Team those days meant a circle.Never a pyramidal structure.

Harshad Mehta:

Now, what can I say about this man ? ..While I am consciously and deliberately avoiding the legal battles he had to fight.He was a role model to many of us in personal and work life.
A model employer, a  real taskmaster whom, we, as employees feared .when it came to work and deadlines, who otherwise was like jelly, most pliable when it came to personal relations. One could learn many lessons from his management style. And to think that he was a school drop-out makes me repent having completed schooling.

Can't help remembering this adage, " Schooling comes in the way of education ."

His favorite words of advice to all of us "Don't be inactive. Do something " It keeps ringing in my ears .. till date.

It also sums up his personality ..Restless , dynamic. Thinking out of the box, learning all the time. Add humility to this. A great combination indeed.

This lantern continues to enlighten me, who taught us to have the courage of conviction.  Confidence was just a by-product of that innate conviction. Remembering one's  roots is yet another trait I imbibed from him.

Ashwin Bhai:

The man who taught us what hand-shakes were all about! I still remember the feel of his 'handshake." Very few people can let the warmth and genuine goodness come through a handshake.
The firm, warm, genuine handshake and held for precisely the right amount of time.

Many years after their empire's downfall when I met him at Mumbai( much against everyone's  advice ..Well Went by Leelavati Teachers' advice here !)  Oh yes! The handshake felt the same after all that crisis in their personal and professional lives.  Firm, warm and genuine.

Truly touching moments etched in memory.
A man of quiet leadership, unshakable calm and firm handshakes. 

Sanikavadi Swaminatha Iyer!

My paternal grandfather, who was meticulous in keeping accounts of the household - a Joint family then. Remember seeing him with a  long ledger where he would write the days' expenses before the end of the day. Each single day till he breathed his last. Towards his last days, I was his accountant. That habit has stuck on to me forever. And I am not complaining.

My takeaway from this lantern - spartan, minimalistic lifestyle and believing in " what gets measured gets done ."

Rajalakshmi Swaminathan.

My paternal grandmom fondly called Pattu paati. Her  love for life despite all odds is what continues to amaze me
Here is an ode to her,  which I penned the day she left this earth for a better life.Pattu paati and purple pottu !

Pudhupaadi Venkateswara Iyer.

My maternal thatha who died when I was still very young. Whenever I think of him an image of love, cheer, humour comes to my mind.

I have inherited his Jaw structure. His permanent wide grin came free with it I guess.

His sunny disposition, irrespective of life's drudgeries is something I would like to emulate.

Heard from my mom that he used to say " Penn kuzhandaigalai potri valarka vendum " .. roughly translated, it means "praise and positive reinforcement are the key ingredients in bringing up girl children."

Alamelu ammal.

My favorite Alamelu paati , my maternal grandma. She too died when I was still in middle school.An amazing personality who broke out of society's boxes. A  non-conformist in those days ..( does that explain something about me ?) who used to rush to the Church for Sunday prayer meets after completing her chores and rituals as a Hindu, homemaker.

She taught me the first star kolam and the song " Enai aalum Mary matha,thunai neeye Mary maatha !"

A very brave woman and far too independent for those times.

This lantern gave out rays of courage and religious tolerance which continue to guide me. 


These are the lanterns that have lighted up my journey so far. More lanterns light up my way even now.

You may be one of them.So watch this space for the "Living Legend" series!!!

This is my tribute to all teachers on this day September 5th, 2014.


4 comments:

Chandini Santosh said...

that was a good read Viji

Viji Ganesh said...

Thankyou Chandni for dropping by . And your kind words.

Vibha Srinivasan said...

Viji interesting anecdotes and useful takeaways!

Viji Ganesh said...

Thank you Vibha for reading and taking the time to comment