Once upon a time, in the classroom of Mr Syed Ibrahim

M.P.V SHENOY writes: Adolescence is a golden period in one’s life. A young awkward individual begins to outgrow parental authority. He attempts to assert his identity, starts relating with the surroundings and begins to think about his own goals in life. He begins to identify role models outside the kinfolk. Some, with whom he comes in contact, evoke awe. He internalizes some impressions they made.

One such person in my life was Mr. Syed Ibrahim (SI), our class teacher from Vth form to VI–th form in Maharaja’s High School, Mysore. A man with stern exterior but soft as cotton inside. Many, like me, who passed through the corridors of that institution when SI was teaching must have also been similarly impressed.

Mr Ibrahim was a tall, well built, fair complexioned, handsome man, perhaps in his midforties. He was not married and stayed alone in a hotel (perhaps Madeena Hotel), which was at the corner opposite the Chamaraja Technical Institute on Sayaji Rao Road. He wore a red fez cap and carried a cane when he was in school. He was unduly reserved, a man of few words but when he smiled which was rare looked charming. He made us go through Wren & Martin as nothing less than holy bible.

When in school, he followed unchanging routine. He left the teacher’s room exactly 5 minutes before time, walked in measured steps, entered the class, climbed the steps of the platform, pulled the chair and the table together, placed his fez cap and cane on the table and sat down.

We did not see him get up from the chair until the class was over, when he again collected the cane, put on the fez, climbed down the steps and exit.

Unmoved from chair he would teach grammar and more grammar. Even prose and poetry classes would turn into lessons in grammar. When ever some teacher was absent, happily he would step in and take our class. Even if it was a Biology class, he wouldn’t care less, he taught us grammar.

“Learn, Learn, you will write well, speak well in future. No one is going to teach you all this in collage. I am killing two birds in one shot. One SSLC, another the intermediate,” he would say raising his hand towards First Grade Collage which was not far away from the school. I am not sure how many of us understood the profundity of the statement but all of us did nod our heads.

In keeping with his simple living he was for putting all his thoughts across in simple sentences. He would read out a lengthy passage from our prose text book and ask one of us “Enadru artha aytha?” He would chuckle.

Then without waiting for an answer, would say “Bombastic”. He would ask from one of us the meaning of the word bombastic. “Bada bada mathu namge beda. Yarige artha aagbeku? Englishu namdu bhashe alla. Navu simple agii helidre ellargu artha agbeku.” He would then cast that passage in to simple sentences and then ask ” Ega samajge buntha?” This proved a boon to me in my later life to put my thoughts across in simple sentences.

Long hours of grammar tend to be boring however interestingly the lessons were taught. But none of us dared to make any sound of dissent. If some one from a back bench yawned, he would make him stand and give him such a dressing down that he would never make that mistake again. He disliked any disturbance in the class and would lose his temper at the slightest noise.

Most of us, except a few, lived in houses of mud and tiles, and suffered from poor nutrition. Illness visited us with regular frequency, especially cold and cough. Cutting his classes was out of question. We would make great effort to suppress a cough. But sometimes the very effort made it burst into loud blast.

He would immediately point his finger towards the hapless boy and shout, “Stop, bombada, gala gala namge beda. Don’t disturb, hogu, horrgehogu.” Through out my stay in the school I do not remember any one having gone out. The son of a rich oil mill owner was an exception.

His favourite student in the class was T.S. Nagarajan, who later became a world renowned photo-journalist. He wrote good English even in those days as a school boy. But he used to sit in a middle row much to SI’s dislike. SI wanted him in the front row, as near him as possible. He would sometimes summon him to front row which TS would immediately obey. But next day TS would be again in his usual place. TS could not resist the peer pressure of his Saraswatipuram gang.

Collection of school fees in those days was a monthly ritual and was the responsibility of the class teacher. It was a complex job. Some students had full fee exemption. Some had half fee exemption. Even though the monthly fee was only Rupees one and a half, it was a large amount in those days and some failed to bring the amount on the designated day.

SI detested this work but could not escape it. So he had devised an ingenious and effective way so that the duty is performed and he could continue with teaching uninterrupted.

At the beginning of the year it, he would choose two boys who had no love for the subject and hand over the work to them. Both would be from back benches, little older and well built so that the boys would obey their command. Occasionally there would be a complaint that a particular boy is short of the requisite amount. SI would only cast a glance at that boy, hear his explanation and in some cases allow him to deposit the balance amount later and other cases warn the boy to bring the amount next day. It was rumoured that some boys did not fulfill their promise and SI made up the difference from his own pocket.

Exactly when the bell went off, SI would get up from his chair walk through the corridor to the teacher’s room sit in a particular chair in a corner, which no other person dared occupy. He would remove his fez cap and place it on the table, take out a kerchief, wipe his face, hands and pate, call the peon and order a masala dosa or a khara bath form Cosmopolitan Club Canteen. The peon was entitled to one anna tip. Thereafter he would take his forty winks. He had very few friends among the teachers and he rarely spoke with his colleagues.

One passion SI had was watching football match. We could never bring ourselves to ask him whether he played football during his youth. In Mysore those days there were two tournaments held every year, one of them just before Dasara.

Ananda Rao, a migrant from South Kanara and now a flourishing printer located in Srirampet would acquire on lease a piece of field in Dodda kere, erect Bamboo mat enclosure to hold the matches. In that tournament invariably there would be two or three teams from Bangalore and a few from outside the state, Nagpur, Delhi etc. The teams from Bangalore would either be Bangalore Blues, Sullivan police or/and 515 command workshop.

SI would be at the field 15 minutes before, retire to a grassy patch near the goal post and sit down there. After some time he would call the Peanut vendor and ask him to put half a seer of peanuts on the kerchief he had spread. A friend of mine and I also loved to watch football. We would slip through the opening in the mat at one of the corners; slowly move towards the place where the action was. SI would observe us, or we would contrive to be observed, call us and make us sit near him and invite us to share the nuts. He would then give running commentary on the match peppered with his opinion.

“This fool should have passed ball to center forward, that son of widow holds the ball too long and dribbles too much, this Brahmin boy is too frail to play foot ball,” etc. In those days umpiring for the quarter final onwards was invariably done by one Mr S. Iyengar who was a teacher in Hardwicke High School but had a passion for football. He was a good referee but these matches would be drawn once or twice.

SI would say, “this son of a—-, draw madisthane. nodu, noodthairu” After some time he would say, half in murmur, ” avnu enu madthane? Anandaraynige paisa aagbedva? Collekshun agbeku. Loss madthre tournamentoo nadithaitha?” Our response never went beyond monosyllabic grunts. Also as the peanut heap shrunk to nothing our thought would be directed towards how to sulk away. SI would also know about it. He would himself tell, “Innu nanu aata nodbeku, Bhago, oodu, oodu.” It was there that I learnt any match can be fixed.

At the end of the term there would be Sharada Pooja. SI was always keen that pooja performed by our section should be the best. Two months before the event he would choose three boys in whom he would have found leadership and organizing ability, to form a committee. All arrangements, viz., collection of contributions, arranging the function, keeping the accounts would be their responsibility. He would hold a meeting during lunch hour once a week to review the progress. He knew where the best laddus were available, which supplier gave fresh flowers, etc. He would only give lead to the boys but they had to deliver. Both the years B section pooja was adjudged as the best.

Years later, I met SI on a few occasions; once when I passed Intermediate. He would always welcome his old students with open arms, all reserve gone, enquire about their well-being and ask whether what he had taught had helped.

After I graduated from engineering collage, I went far away from the city into the wide world. Once, when I visited Mysore after several years, I felt like seeing my English Teacher. I learnt that SI had retired and passed away shortly afterwards.

What did I learn from him? Of course, I learnt English grammar. But more than that one should put one’s heart to work. The efficacy of effective delegation—one should pick up right person for a job and by delegating responsibility and with few controls one can get the work done better. One can speak less and still can be effective.