Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You Just Killed John Milton!

Teachers' Day has just been celebrated. A day to remember the teachers who taught us. An English teacher who taught English. A Mathematics teacher who taught Arithmetic or Algebra or Calculus. A music teacher who taught Music.

What about a Science teacher who taught English? That too Involuntarily and unexpectedly.? When he did not know he was actually teaching one of the most important lessons? A lesson that took me several years to realise what it actually meant!

I was studying in Class X. John Milton's sonnet "On His Blindness" was one of the poems prescribed in the English Poetry syllabus. For the School Annual Day celebrations, recitation competitions were held that year and for English Poetry recitation "On His Blindness" was the prescribed poem. There were some twenty students competing and I was one among them. At that age and in the rural background in which I was brought up, the assumption with students was that to obtain a prize one should recite the prescribed piece without mistakes and slipping due to loss of memory. There were three judges to decide the prize winners - The English teacher who taught us this piece, a Sanskrit teacher and a Science teacher.

After six or seven students recited the poem, my name was called. I dutifully recited the piece and came back to my seat. My fellow students told me that my recitation was faultless and I could hope for winning a prize. The competition concluded and after tabulation, results were announced. I got the first prize and was very happy.

Suddenly I realized that the Science teacher was beckoning me to a side. This teacher had set high standards of teaching and conducting himself with dignity, and was respected by all in the school as well as in the society. He liked me as a student and whenever experiments were done in the classroom he used to call me to assist him. He used to call me "Assistant Magician". But this time he was red with rage and I hesitantly went  up to him. As there were others around us he controlled his temper but still told me, "You just killed John Milton. I have not given you the marks and still you have got the prize". I could not say anything in my defense and left disappointed without knowing what my fault was.

Next morning when I went to school I was scared of seeing him. Nanjunda Swamy, Laboratory Assistant, came to me and told me that I should see CSR during lunch recess. The entire morning session was a nightmare for me. But the summons had to be honored. I went sheepishly to the laboratory to meet the teacher.

He was his usual self now. We never sat before the teachers except in the classroom. He asked me to sit in the chair next to him, but I hesitated. He insisted that I should sit and after I reluctantly sat down, he gave me a piece of sweet item he had brought for his lunch. I was not in a position to enjoy the sweet, but dutifully obeyed his instructions. He asked me to recite the poem again which I did. When the following stanza arrived, he asked me to stop and repeat:

"Doth God expect exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need

"You are reciting like ...........But patience to prevent that murmur soon replies. It is not so. It should be  - But patience, (stop), to prevent that murmur, (stop) soon replies. The way you are reciting, it is murmur that is replying to prevent patience. That is not what Milton meant. It is patience that replies and the reply is to prevent the murmur. Can you make out the difference? One should be careful while reading and understanding literature. I do not blame you because you are not taught these things. Otherwise you were good yesterday and you deserve the prize. God bless you.". I was permitted to leave after that.

It took me several years to understand the full import of what he taught in those few minutes. I always remember CSR when I read such content now!


  1. Yes. Sept 5 is celebrated as Teacher's day. But for me everyday is a teacher's day. Teachers,who with their guidance, shape our life must be remembered everyday. This is an article well written. I bow down my head to the science teacher
    who was also a good English teacher.

  2. It is very humbling to have teachers like your science teacher. The article is written very well and shows what an impact can a student have when encountered with such life time experiences.

    I am also very happy to read articles by you now on your own blog. Hearty Congratulations and Wish You All the Best.

  3. It is humbling to have had teachers like your science teacher. A very well written article.

    Congratulations on the blog and Best Wishes for the same.

  4. Fantastic way to drive down the meaning. Hatsoff to the guru and shishya. More and more gurus of this calibre are the need of the hour

  5. Mava! Its wonderful to see you start a blog! One place where we will read all your thoughts!
    Will wait for more!

  6. Thanks for brightening our days with your wonderful anecdotes and thoughts. Please keep up the good work!

  7. sweet and sweetly told!

    i had a similar lesson at six. when my mother would read "happy birthday to you" by dr. seuss to me at night, when she came to a particular passage she would speed up and recite that passage very, very fast. in second grade, i had to deliver an oral reading and i chose that book. as i approached the passage, i took a deep breath and whizzed through it, much to my own delight. the teacher stopped me: "laura, would you please repeat that part so that we can all understand what you're reading?" it took me years to figure out that not everyone was inspired by my mother's and my little act of intimacy. xoxoxo

  8. A great lesson beautifully written!
    I can relate to a similar experience reading Gitanjali except my teacher was a muslim Mr Abdul Quddus.
    This also reminds me of some of the old Bhavageethe sung by Kalinga Rao and others of that generation which totally failed to convey the spirit of the song. Thank goodness it has changed mostly for the better.

  9. WHat a wonderful anecdote! loved it! such teachers always remain etched in our memories no matter how swift the tides of forgetfulness are!

  10. In olden days the teachers were dedicted to their profession. For elementary school Secondary Grade teachers were teaching and for High School L.T., or B.T., teachers were teaching. They know the stndard of the students and taught to their standards and imparted the knowledge. Now a days the teacfhers are highly qualified academically nd they expect high standard from an elelmentary school student and high school students. The result is they could not make the students understand what they teach. They are not properly trined in teaching and many do not know the concept of teaching. During my college days the old time BA graduates were taking classes for B.Sc., and M.Sc., Chemistry and Physics. Whether to-day;s Ph.D's will be able to teach like olden days BAs?

  11. In olden days teachers were dedicated to their profession. For elementary school Secondary Grade terachers(SSLC) wwre teaching and for High Schools L>T., or B.T. terachers were teching. They know the understanding level of the students and they imparted knowledge to the students thoroughly. The teaching in the class room was enough for the students to come out of the school with flying colours. Going for tuition was considered as a shameful act for a student. During my college days olden BA grduates were taking Chemistry nd Physics classes for B.Sc., and M.Sc., clsses. Whether to-days Ph.D's could live up to their teaching capacity? To-day' teachers want all students to go for spceial coaching/tuition. Where is the Standard of teaching in the class room? Olden days teachers were reverred, but to-day they go hugging each other like close friends. Where is the respect? Whether the students respect the teachers with awe?

  12. Teachers of our days were really dedicated to the profession and passionate about their job. And always groomed and helped good and intelligent to reach their true potentials. This article is a great tribute to those noble souls

  13. The CSR Teacher has made a lasting impression on you, Sir ....
    It is our school teachers , who kindle the spirit of learning , and college teachers show more direction than stimulating learning. To share my experience in this blog , my Mathematics teacher , Sri.Annaji Rao , who sometimes took English Classes, stimulated me to read books and expand my vocabulary and understanding.

  14. Mr. Vasudevan refers to Mr. Annaji Rao as his mentor and guide in the learning process. Am eager to know if this is the same person on the staff in the Ramakrishna Mission High School in T.Nagar, Chennai, who tutored me too with similar effects on me way back in 1945-47.

  15. Dear Ramachandran Sir, It is the same Shri. Annaji Rao (of Ramakrsihna Mission Boys High School, T.Nagar, Chennai). I studied in the School 1964-70.Shri. Annaji Rao was a fantastic Teacher. Sporting a big moustache. Tall and Lanky, with a Fatherly look. Stimulating Students, Arousing interest in them. By then he had grown quite old. Shri. Ramanatha Iyer used to take "Non-Detailed" text, Shri Kannan Iyengar took English Classes. Much of my life was shaped by School Teachers. I owe it to them. Great Teachers .... Great Institution(SRKMBHS) ...... I am posting a e-mail to you. Thanks to Shri KeshavMurthy Blog on Teachers' Day, I am getting connected to an alumini of our School..

  16. I remember my IX th Std Algebra and Geometry teacher ( Electives subject) always.

    S Narayanan

  17. You have brought to us all sweet old memories of our teachers their wonderful way of imparting knowledge.