Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My Maths Teacher

He retired in the mid nineties. He wasn't too traditional a teacher to create pallid faces in the class. He wasn't too modern either to enthuse dullards and make them come out of their stupor. Neither was he staid and pedantic. But then he would non-challantly admit, a teacher's job was not just in being sincere and honest, but in being rigorous enough to dodge complacency and contentment among the learning elites. He would go the whole hog and say, mathematics is one unfathomable discipline making one feel its hegemonical importance. Having sat in his class for five long years, I could discover, here was a teacher not very genius though, human and amiable, trying to communicate intricacies of a subject as also intriguing poise necessary to learn it which most would hate and not even dream of learning.

Known among his students and colleagues alike as HLS, he would take it as a joke and heartily laugh if anybody insisted saying he was LHS meaning he stood on the left hand side of the class as his left eye was slightly squinted. He too would crack jokes and joke cracks as he had many up his sleeve!

HLS went on to become a Professor hardly a few years before he retired. He would not blame it on the system which saw him languish just as a lecturer for more than two decades. He didn't hanker after power or position. It was enough he thought, if he was a minion among his students.

Teaching mathematics was not one linear process, he always believed. His lectures were not boring for one thing that he tempered them with tales of life of his own which made a telling effect on us. Born and brought up in a poor Brahmin family, he could convert his colossal disadvantage into an equally daring feat of having to leave his life with only courage and conviction. He could not make both ends meet most of the time. He learnt to persevere and was successful in the end.

His maths classes were one long anecdotal journey through his past and the pastness of it alongside his usual and sometimes casual discursive analyses of theorems and equations. He didn't have examination as an end in view, nor did he use to deliver very perceptive lectures. But then HLS would teach mathematics as he would teach himself life and its myriad sudden twists and turns. To immaculately prepare and come to the class was not his forte. He would read mathematical texts as story books asking us to think there and then on plausible derivations and proofs. He did not spoon feed us with readymade texts of proof and illustrations. He half taught us mathematics and the other half had to be discovered by us. Of many anecdotes he narrated in the class, one is strikingly rich in irony and satire as also condescendingly self - critical.

He was working for some time for a Kannada monthly published from Hubli. A post graduate in maths working for a magazine would raise many eyebrows. On finishing his masters HLS joined the magazine to earn his livelihood. He did not think it menial having to do all sorts of job such as even assisting in the printing work. The person in charge of ' this month for you ' had suddenly left. The editor couldn't find a replacement. The circulation went down. For many even today as was then read a particular magazine to know their immediate future.

It was here that HLS found himself offering to write that feature on astrology. He knew numbers, mathematical though. He never knew anything about the Zodiac signs. But working out permutations and combinations was his resourceful repertoire. He went through the back numbers to have a feel of the kind of stuff written under this feature. He would try out every month a camouflage of different versions and interpolate them before putting them down under different zodiac signs. This went on for a few months till he resigned from there to take up teaching.

HLS would always claim, this boosted the circulation of the magazine. He used to recount wryly how he wrote on others' stars without being aware of his own.

Behind a serious countenance were hidden painful moments of a past that HLS would never want to forget. Narrating them was not to extract an empathetic glance. On the face of it he would eventually try not to get whittled away by his upbringing. But the pain though subdued it was persisted beneath all his acts of life. He would like to puff off life as it presented itself as he would cigarettes one after another.

He wasn't in his life a grandiose performer planning everything meticulously like any other middle class man would do. He did not squander money either. But he was always short of it. He kept himself busy away from the college. Not strictly a professional at teaching, HLS was an amateur acting in drama whenever an opportunity presented itself.

It's already a decade since he retired. A legacy, he didn't leave behind. But an aura of the kind of man he was, he certainly did. His was not a hallowed presence for he didn't represent a typical maths teacher who everyone would want today to help score. A romantic at methods of teaching as also in his attitude to life, HLS would discover to us a need to treat everyday not as a segment of months and years, but as single and unique. He taught us to be occupied in different ways even as maths itself kept us busy. HLS had a pathological hatred for anything lethargic or languorous. He believed in doing one thing or another, never expecting returns.

When asked what he would do after retirement, a portly diminutive creature that HLS was, had quipped with a philosophic grin, "Life has not scripted me anything in particular. It's like a class room for me where I would sit at the other end this time like you waiting for my 'teacher' to instruct".
I still feel he is somewhere around.


Anonymous said...

As I know Sri. H.L. Suryanarayana Rao (HLS) was a journalist before he did his Master's. He was also a telephone operator at secundera bad. Also his father was a District Educational Officer which was a very powerful district officers' post. As such his was a middle class family and not a very poor family.
I know the entire family and it is really commendable that against all expectations from among the family he rose to be a very well known figure at sagar and around.
I am really happy that Suri as is called by all of us has earned a such a good reputation as detailed in 'My Maths Teacher' by one of his old students. I too have heard directly from a few other old students of his about his dedication and commitment to the teaching profession and his desire to serve in a rural area.


HLS is great, a amazing teacher.
A teacher who can teach mathematics without writing a single word on board! (commented by his student)
He stressed on concepts of understanding mathematics. We are very greatful for him.

Anonymous said...

Never ever seen a person with such a commanding,humorous and humble attitude. Proud to be his student