Posted in Mylapore Musings

My simple stateboard school teachers taught us life lessons.

I have so much time today (as always :D). As my friends brought out the memories of my standard 8 and 9 class teachers who I just adored in my school days, I want to write about them here today.

Teachers are special to me naturally as my mom was one and my aunt too.

In class 8, Mrs. KN Indra was my class teacher. In standard IX it was MA Padmavathy who we called MAP for short. Both were residents of Mylapore.

KN Indra miss lived in the other side of my street. She used to sport a big namam in her forehead. She was widowed young with two children. Her son was my age. Her husband was killed in a scooter accident. I knew as much because she did her teacher training with my aunt before joining my school as teacher. So my mother and my aunt were friends with her.

KN Indra miss used to be very soft. Even if we girls would scream in class, she would get upset and punish herself. Like there would be tears in her eyes. She would never shout at us. Classes 7, 8 and 9 are very hard for teachers to handle. For class 7, I had Santhalakshmi miss as class teacher who taught us both English and Maths. True to her name she was such a ‘shanthaswaroopini.’ Again my mother and aunt were friends with her. My mom knew most of my middle school teachers as they all attended my school, were alumna of my school and they continued to live in Mylapore, with some joining their alma mater as secondary grade teachers. It was only my mother who opted to teach speech and hearing impaired girls. She was handpicked for it by her Mother Superior in a Santhome teachers’ training school. She thought it was her calling.

One of my memories from class 7 is that of my mom coming straight to my school to attend Open day. Our school had class 6 and 7 in an annexe building called ‘Sudharma’ that was opposite my school. That building became the first casualty in commercializing of my school when a CBSE school started functioning there some 20 years ago. My mother struck up an easy conversation with Santhalakshmi miss, my class teacher. She was talking to my AHM Mrs Nagamani, I could see she was popular and well remembered old girl. None of my classmates had a working mom then. I was so proud of her. I did get to meet Mrs Santhalakshmi in school alumni meets in last few years. She keeps flying to the US to be with her son more. She remembers us amazingly individually. Of course, none of my teachers can forget me because of my mother and my tragedy.

KN Indra miss also was a very soft and sweet soul. If we girls would ever make noise, she would close the class doors and windows. She would plead with us to stop.

Class 7 and 8 saw many girls coming of age right in our class. Maximum girls attended puberty in these two years. It needs motherly care and love and affection to deal with the confused and sometimes terrified girls. I remember how our teachers handled these cases. In all girls school, with a class of 45 girls, imagine the state of our class teachers who themselves were then mothers to boys and girls of our age. They were most understanding. They would openly talk to us and tell us they were there for us. We girls needed such a psychological support.

KN Indra miss of course was a personal favourite. I wrote an entrance for class 6 admission in my school. Until 5th, I was with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore. She came to my house then and said, our school was lucky to get me on their roll. I still cannot forget those complements. Although I was extremely shy then, those words meant the world to me. They still matter to me after all these years.

KN Indra miss would have golu for Navrathri. During class 8, I went as family friends to her house. In class she would never show in the presence of other girls that she knew me at personal level. But she was ever so kind. She was such a stickler for proper grammar. I had no problems with grammar even then – my basics were ok I guess, yet I benefited a lot with her. Our stateboard English was very simple. Indra teacher also taught us maths. I used to score centums and very high marks in both her subjects. I and my friend Varalakshmi maintained second and first top positions in general proficiency (GP) from class 6 to 10. Every time my mother met Indra teacher in my presence, she never missed telling my mother what a fine student I was. It made my mom very happy. Now thinking of it after all these years I am happy that my mother got to hear at least those few words about me from one of the most influential characters in my life. Indra teacher’s brother worked for the Hindu so she was dwelling in the top floor of her brother’s house. Later on she moved out and I lost touch with the family. She was shaken, broken when my mother took an untimely exit. She was a personal friend, a family friend, and my mother would give her words of comfort as Indra teacher was widowed young. I was by that time in 9th, yet whenever we met in school or in street, she would melt looking at me. She could never. Indra teacher’s elder sister Rajalakshmi worked with my aunt.

My 9th class teacher was MAP. She had such a great dressing sense in those days. She would never repeat her saris. And for the sari, she would match exactly her kumkum (no sticker bindi in those days). Big big colourful bindis. We girls ofcourse mercilessly poked fun on her. She knew it but took it in right spirit. Once she told us her only child – her son – was in medical college. We all wanted to date him without knowing him!!! MAP taught us English and science. She was full of humour and she was way different from KN Indra who would be very serious. MAP’s closest friend was a teacher we nicknamed ‘backbutton’ Rajeshwari lols. Her blouses all had buttons in the back and she would sport a big bun. Those two would sit crosslegged sprawled down our side stairs to value our papers etc. These two with Mrs. D Kalyani (DK) and Mrs. Kathyaayani (our geography teacher) were a gang. Awesome ladies in those days. That was their favourite spot: turning flat of the stairs that had some room. No fan. No fan in my school anywhere. How did we even live. For thousands of girl students who got their monthly periods, only 20 washrooms, 10 in each floor. Yet we never complained. We drank straight from school taps.

MAP lived in Karpagambal Nagar in Luz. For us its like someone living in white house. We had such a reverence for her style, her charisma. My girls even remember the pranks we played on her and the day-by-day arguments with her. When my mother passed away, my school sent her and one more teacher to lay a wreath on my mother – she was such an illustrious student, my mother. Ms. Satyabhama, our then head mistress, our correspondent Chellammal all were fond of my mother. They remembered her by name. That is the highest respects my school payed for my mother – their alumna who went on to teach the hearing and speech impaired middle school girls. Ms Bhama and Chellammal never married to serve the girls’ school. We mischievous girls waited for Chellammal to die so that we could have a school holiday! But even after I became a mother, I once met our correspondent in Kapaleeshwara temple. She was very old. She lived within our school premises. I sought her blessings. She daily walked to the temple with an attendant. Can we ever come across such souls in our life. I feel blessed to have studied in this simple school. Bhama and Chellammal together took our school to great heights. My mother and aunt studied under both.

Years later I learnt that MAP’s only son who was working as doctor in the UK died of heart attack. MAP herself did not have a good marriage. She was separated I guess. Not sure. She was widowed in my college days. We girls met her once in our school alumni day. I don’t think we spoke to her about her son. She was well aged. She looked tamed by life. I was filled with memories of her lying a wreath on behalf of my school on my mother. Exactly her son was the same age as my mother when he passed away. Her only child. I had no words for consolation. But I still think of the great lady, her class everything that used to be a big influence on us girls. Until class 8 I never paid attention to my physical looks. MAP invoked in us girls a need to present yourself neat and clean. You don’t have to dress up much – at least you must be presentable. The care she took with her grooming in those days. Yet she carried herself with such a dignity. It was n’t cheap. Same colour bangles. Clips everything. That was her trademark. We girls had a game guessing: which colour would she drape for the next day. Imagine her wearing a green sari sporting a big green kumkum dot on her forehead! She draped the rarest of colours and never did she miss her matching kumkum! She was a style statement for her times and age. She was also a stickler for grammar. Her chemistry or biology classes never bored. I guess the responsibility of reviving math-science interest in young girls and boys rests with their 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th standard teachers. A couple of my class girls became extremely close to MAP and do remain so to this date.

DK our history teacher from 8th to 10th came to us from a rowdy Madurai boys school as she told us the very first day. She would never take her seat but perch herself atop the bench. She had late pregnancy in our 10th standard. Until then she was such a tough nut. In the very first class she bellowed, ‘why do they say the sun never sets in the british empire.’ No clue really lolz. We were in 8th but I had a fair idea. I was too scared to spell it out for her. She would break a chalk piece and throw it on girls if she saw someone talking in the class or not listening to her. One angry woman! She was nothing like other teachers who were all softspoken. She was a volcano. But inspite of her rigid demeanour, she always softened towards me. My grades were also a reason. Once during exam supervision, she sat on my bench and was reading every word that I wrote in exam. Not just once, always she did that I don’t know why. I understood that years later. She probably wondered at the motherless girl filling up pages after pages. Me and my friend Varalam went for maximum extra sheets always! DK never spoke to me much but whenever she would come for exam supervision I would wait for her to sit on my bench and read my exam paper. In my class 11, DK had a late delivery. Her son is now a married man. Met her during school alumni meet. Remembers us all invidually.

Bhama teacher our HM and beloved teacher of my mother taught us English poetry. Shakespeare etc., she would take one hour for just one para. I don’t remember the finer details but we girls waited for her class. She taught us only in standard X. As she was also our HM she missed many classes. But I cherish her classes even today. She taught my mother, she taught me. My mother used to speak about her English language classes. Satyabhama was her class teacher.

Kathyayani was our geography teacher. Very good language and very well informed. Teachers had to bun their hair in my school – like in my mom’s school. I remember the big bun of Kathyayani miss and backbutton Rajeshwari. Impressive!

My school is entwined with my mother for me. So many memories. My school is part of my destiny. Now my school is getting commercialized and I don’t like it a bit. I think of my selfless teachers so affectionate toward us girls, as if we were their own daughters. We girls are what we are today because of our teachers.

We had a new HM Mrs Nirmala around our class 12, who we nicknamed ‘chemmy nimmy’ as she taught chemistry. Just a couple of years back I met my miss in front of a Mylapore temple. Before I could wish her, she embraced me recognizing me. She said even if she had trouble remembering names and batches sometimes, she never missed recognizing any of her girls. She asked me about my life and was happy to learn I was doing fine. Such is the love and affection our teachers showered on us.

I have to make a special mention of Mrs Mary Joan who is no more. She was our games teacher. From class 6 to 10 she made us do shortput, long jump, high jump, running, tennikoit, basketball, volleyball everything systematically recording our invididual statistics. I wonder what happened to those notes now! She was so diligent in her duties. She was a terror to us girls. I had a different games miss for my standard 11 & 12 but she was not like Mary Joan miss. Now I understand what that strictness about Mary Joan was all about. I owe my discipline in everything to Mrs Mary Joan-like mindshapers in my life. The girls all remember her for her alarm clock precision.

What fees did we pay ? All of thirty tree rupees in 1979 June for my standard VI annual fee. From then on my school fees rose by 20 to 30 rupees every year. Only by my standard 11 and 12 it became 150 rupees which my family thought was expensive. My books were always borrowed. My aunt reserved my books from a senior girl in her school that we got at half rate. I passed on my books to my sister. My grandfather got us the extra books if any and notebooks. Always he was the one to get us our notebooks every year with his hands. He would take us to Vijaya stores in Mylapore on auspicious day and get us whatever we wanted fresh such as log book, map drawing note, graph note, drawing note etc apart from note books. Notebooks and books and uniforms were not on school account as ours was a simple state board school that was government aided (with salaries for staff provided by govt). For the kind of fees we paid, we girls have harvested a lot really. The quality of our teachers… From my school teachers, I can imagine what kind of teacher my mother could have been. I may be a housewife but my friends are all doctors and engineers and chartered accountants and teachers themselves.

How many quiz programs we attended, how many satsangs in school every year (one whole week), navratri golu in the school, all pujas in school. You have to look at our marble Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom. We recited prayers to Her every morning in our school assembly. The same Saraswathi to who my mother too sang her prayers. This school has produced great personalities who went on to make a mark in our society – from Dr Shantha of Cancer Institute Madras who dedicated her life to cancer treatment for half a century to Vani Jayaram, the playback singer and actor Lakshmi of Julie fame. Many thousands of illustrious girls who are not known to public.

Never felt any less because I attended a stateboard school. My girls are with me from my school. In that state board school library in Sudharma building only, I saw a copy of National Geographic for the first time in my standard 6. My school was subscribing to the journal. I read every issue that came my way and was fascinated by wild life right then. 1979-80: picture National Geographic issue in your hands as a stateboard school girl of 11 years. Stateboard schools have their potential untapped even today. Very underrated. If anything, these budget schools are down to earth and make you street smart. You can survive under any condition. Our orthodox school with ‘Aiyar’ name still did not shy away from distributing milk and eggs and codliver capsules to poorest girls in our school – it was a must for these girls to go to dispensary every single day and take the A & D capsules with eggs and a warm glass of milk and mark their presence. Midday meals were free for lower income family girls – without taking a single paisa from govt. School trust funded. Thinking back I am proud of whatever my school managed, achieved.

Now the same school quadrangle is divided, my school is partitioned, who my X ‘A’ classroom belongs to I don’t know. Its a family dispute among the trustees that is seeing the school hurt and damaged and made a piecemeal of. Last heard, our quadrangle is even leased out to Carnatic concerts. Its no more open to the skies but enclosed like for a stage act. Watching my classroom from the street just a couple of weeks back I couldn’t swallow the lump that was forming in my throat.