From the Heart, Not the Book

We asked our readers to tell us about their most unforgettable teachers. Here's what they had to say ...

By RD Readers  

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My earliest memory of my first class teacher, Mrs Violet Boniface, is from the early '70s when I started kindergarten at the age of four. A tall lady, she had a personality to match.

My education began with our frequent after-school walks together. I learnt the importance of money: how a penny saved was a penny earned. I discovered empathy as my favourite teacher moved large stones, that cropped up along the way, to the side of the road, saying: "So that the next pedestrian may not trip and fall." I learnt to multitask and concentrate from her. I also learnt to be inclusive and respect diversity.

Our walks came to an end when my family moved in 1981, but the mark that Mrs Boniface has left in my life is indelible, rich and manifold. I feel it when I stop to remove a stone from the middle of the road. Her teachings reflect in me while respecting people, observing discipline, practising tolerance, being frugal and valuing silence. But I feel it most of all in loving what she had taught me so well---the three Rs and a love for the languages!

From Dr Vinita Ashit Jain, Jaipur


A 10th-grader in a small town in Gujarat, I was preparing for my board examination. While my classmates had made up their minds, I was yet to decide my stream. I wanted to take up humanities, but, unfortunately, not a single school in the entire district offered it.

A few weeks before the mock exams, I was beside myself with worry. When Vijaya ma'am, our Hindi-language teacher, found me sobbing, she looked concerned and said, "Let's go  for a walk." I shared my fears, hopes and the obstacles I saw in my path during our chat. She listened with patience and empathy. By the end of it, she convinced me that choosing the liberal arts would not mean the end of my career, as I had been conditioned to believe. She asked to speak with my parents, to convince them to send me to a bigger city so I could pursue humanities. She managed to persuade my parents and soon after my class 10 boards, we moved to Ahmedabad. I graduated with good grades, and this month I will be starting my master's in clinical psychology at a top-ranking university in the UK. This was possible only because a teacher took time to listen to me and guided me to work towards my dream.

Megha Gurnani, Ahmedabad  


Back in the '90s, I used to accompany my daughters to their music class in Bangalore. I had always been fond of music but feared it was too late for me to start learning (I was 37 then). Yet, with much hesitation, I asked if I could join my kids for the music class. An enthusiastic "adunal ennama" in Tamil (loosely translated as 'why not') from my children's guru, Padma Natesan, was most unexpected. I still recall the look on the other students' faces when, on the very next day, I started class sitting next to my kids. All the other students, about 14 of them, were children. One girl, Sudha, giggled and whispered conspiratorially to her partner, "Auntie is also going to sing with us!" Regularity, punctuality, humility were among the things I learnt from our guru, along with the mathematics and magic of music.

A generous teacher, she did not belittle me on the occasions I was unable to sing well. By accepting me, she taught me how to accept others with their imperfections. At 58, I am still learning music thanks to her blessings.   

Jyothy Ramachandran, Thane


My husband was posted in Bangalore in 2006-2008, when I was a young, inexperienced teacher. I got a break in an elite school as an English-language teacher when we moved there. Oblivious to the innumerable flaws in my spoken language and that I had a long way to go, I got a rude shock, on day two, when I found out the children had been complaining about me. I was demoted from high school to middle school. This was the nadir of my professional life.

Mrs Balakrishnan* was the head of the middle school then. She assumed the responsibility to help me grow as a teacher, and took me under her wing. I was a nervous wreck who couldn't muster the courage to face a class. Under her guidance, I learnt the nuances of this profession. She taught me the importance of going well prepared to a class. She also went the extra mile to ensure my personal well-being. Mrs Balakrishnan was a unique amalgam of professional competence and benevolence. Had it not been for her, I would have completely collapsed under those circumstances. She was my guardian angel.         

Anoushka Sharma*, Panchkula, Haryana

(*Names changed on request)


I am gripped by nostalgia every time I return to my alma mater. Visits to Bishop's School bring back fond memories of my geography teacher and housemaster Mr Rodney Barrow. Being specially abled did not deter him from driving to school on his old Vijay Super scooter every day.  An uncompromising disciplinarian, he would ensure every student was in proper school uniform before entering the premises. I owe my love for geography to Mr Barrow and his engaging and interactive classes. Once, on a gloomy day, he caught me staring blankly at the blackboard. Instead of chiding me, he encouraged me to take interest by explaining the importance of the subject.

Mr Barrow was an institution. Long after he retired, he kept in touch with his students. Sir died after a brief illness two years ago but he continues to live on in the heart of every student whose life he touched.

Sunil Suryawanshi, Pune


When I joined the psychiatry department at a medical college for my post-graduation, the first person I met was Dr P. John Mathai. The white-haired and bearded professor with the big square-rimmed glasses would be the first one to enter class and last to leave the department in the evening. We learnt the basics as well as the most recent developments in the discipline from him. He taught us how to be efficient in patient care and empathize. But the most important lesson that would last me a lifetime was on resilience. Sir had a paralytic stroke in his late 40s that affected the right side of his body. But that did not stop him. He relearnt how to drive, walk and write with his disability. He started teaching soon afterwards, even practising medicine again, as if the disability never existed. There was neither any decline in his patient care nor his working hours. I learnt from him that no matter the lemons life throws at you, you just go ahead and do your best.

Dr Preethi Rebello, Mangaluru


I am a fourth-generation teacher, blessed with wonderful mentors, including my mother. However, the educator who touched my life and filled it with light was the wonderful Mrs Bernice Kabiru, my first-grade teacher in Kenya.

My family and I were new in the country. As a little girl I was a loner and very shy. But Mrs Kabiru was more than a teacher and managed to draw me out. She was my hope when I felt lost.

I knew her only for a year, but it was enough to fuel the friendship of a lifetime. Every Christmas, even today, I write to her, and we've stayed in touch through letters, emails and phone calls for the past 32 years. She is my proof that the world is a beautiful place interwoven with love, learning and friendship.

So, what makes her special? She wrote back in response to my first letter, written at the age of seven. She sent love, care and kindness wrapped in an envelope. A few written words that shaped my life and offered me new perspective on learning and empathy.

Sunanda Satwah, Mumbai


Neelakanda Iyer, a tall man dressed in dhoti and kurta, with a shock of hair tied in a knot at the back of his head, taught us English in school. He never scolded or punished anyone, yet all of us revered him. His way to discipline and make us apply ourselves was sharp and ... unique. Once in class, he caught two students talking. He stopped teaching and whispered, "Shh, don't disturb them, they are discussing something very important."

On the last day of school, just before the preparation leave, he instructed us on how to get ready for and write the exams, and then to our utter surprise we heard him say with tears in his eyes "Today, we are parting; but children, always remember that knowledge, fire and love can never be exhausted by sharing. The more people you love the greater will be your capacity to love." That day we realized how much he cared for us. Years later, when I have caught myself feeling uncharitable, my teacher's simple yet profound advice has helped me be more generous.

Grace George, via email


The year was 1947. I had joined my new school in eighth grade. Maulvi Mohd Ali, our class teacher, taught us every subject except English. But after school, he would often ask us to stay back and read to us the poetry of Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Ghalib, Altaf Hussain Hali and Dr Mohd Iqbal. Sadly, this was short-lived. The school broke for summer vacation, then Partition followed, and Maulvi sahib left for Pakistan. But my initiation into Urdu poetry had been done. This interest motivated me to transliterate the complete works of Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Daman De Moti, poetry by Ustad Chiragh Din 'Daman', from the Persian Shahmukhi to the Gurumukhi script.                                

Mohinder Singh, Chandigarh


I couldn't quite believe he flew when I first saw him. I was a cadet in the 1 Rajasthan Air Squadron, Jaipur, of the National Cadet Corps, being trained for an all-India gliding competition scheduled for the October of 1986. He was our commanding officer, nearly six feet tall and rather heavy---a man called Wing Commander R. C. Sharma. I was summoned to his office one day and asked about my prospects. "I am looking to win this," I said. He smiled.

He sometimes came to Sanganer airport to supervise our training. Wing Commander Sharma would heave himself into the left seat of the open cockpit of the Sedbergh glider. Someone would hand him a cup of tea, and he'd expect me to take off and land without spilling it. That was how he helped me train---without saying a word. I did go on to win the championship for Rajasthan. Even today, when my cup runs over, I think of him and send up a little greeting. I have never forgotten the thrill of that bullseye landing that got me the gold.

Sangita P. Menon Malhan, Delhi