Thursday, 4 September 2014

To Awaken, Not to Teach...

“Pa,” said Sowmya the other day, “do tell me about the Gaza problem in detail”

“Right,” I told her, “but to understand what’s happening in Gaza today, we first have to go back to Egypt under the Pharaohs, some 5000 years back”

“There we go!” Sid groaned, rolling his eyes heavenwards.

Reason? “As kids, when we asked you to explain the Pythagoras Theorem, you would say ok, let’s first start with straight lines, angles and triangles!”

“Well, did you just want to mug up the Pythagoras Theorem, or actually understand it?”

My logic that once ones fundamentals (called fundas) were clear, the rest was a mere cakewalk, seemed to cut no ice with them.


Pardon me, but in some respects, I’m still old school. Some debts in life you can never pay back – to the person who puts food on your table, and to the person who fills your mind with knowledge!

And because you can’t pay these debts back, you pay them forward – by feeding and teaching others, thus dispelling hunger and ignorance in the generations that follow you.

My first debt, of course, goes to my father. His decision to move from the sleepy hollow of Shahkot to Poona, the Oxford of the East, has, among other things, made `Mitti Pao!’ a reality.  The decision to enroll his kids at St Anne’s and St Vincent’s was an inspired one.

The next is to my elder sisters Shukla and Prem, elder to me by 12-14 years, who had to work to put us through school.

At St Anne’s, where I did my nursery and First Standard, my first teacher was Miss Williams – a tough as nails Hitler, who brooked no nonsense, and made liberal use of the wooden foot ruler she always brandished as a weapon of class destruction!

The Second Standard at St Vincent’s was a whole different ball game. Miss Rose Fernandes was an absolute angel, and I immediately fell passionately and irrevocably in love with her. She was sweet, pretty as a picture, and the way she pronounced my name with that Anglo Indian lilt had me totally weak in the knees!

As aside. Have learnt from the Vincentians Old Boys Association that Miss Rose, now in her eighties, is still alive and well, settled in Melbourne. When we visit Nisha, meeting Miss Rose will be on top of my agenda – just to hold her hands and say `Thank you!’

As one grew, passion was replaced with admiration, tinged with a hint of fear. The principal at Vincent’s, appropriately called Father Schoch (pronounced `shock’), was an awe inspiring figure as he marched down the corridors of the school building.

But if there was one teacher that I owe everything to, who had by far the greatest influence of my student life, it was the principal and English teacher at SSPMS, Mr N L Khanolkar.

Mr N L Khanolkar
A slim, ramrod straight, austere figure, educated at Oxford, and more English than Mr Walton, the actual Britisher we had on the staff, Mr Khanolkar’s English was out of this world! Quite easily, at least half of my vocabulary and knowledge I owe to that one man.

He made us mug up Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Mark Anthony’s `Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech as the greatest examples of oratory the world had ever known. I still remember them, word for word, almost half a century later. That was Mr Khanolkar!

What teachers we had! They were supermen, they knew everything! Today’s teachers, even with Google and Wikepedia at their disposal, simply pale in comparison.

Knowledge and wisdom, they gave us both. They inspired us. What can one say but assure them that we’ve done our best to pass it on, that the flame still burns bright..

And yes, Thank You, and God Bless!


  1. Great writing Harish!
    Hahaha...'weapons of class destruction' indeed. I just love this humorous twist on an oft used name. I am sure Mr Khanolkar would have reveled in your writing and patted his own back for a job well done more than four decades ago.

  2. Well written tribute to those that sowed the seed of knowledge in you. How come no one thinks on similar lines for our SODE instructors? Is it because we learnt so little from them? Quite likely, when one recalls that a wrestler taught us Electronic Circuits and an alcoholic surd explained the innards of Computer Programming !!!....Happy writing and best wishes to all....Pants

  3. Beautiful tribute. But let me tell you, even with Google and Wikipedia, there is no replacement for a teacher in the classroom. In fact , today a teacher's job is doubly challenging as she/he has to stay ahead , of the information on the net. So the equations may have changed but a teacher's job is still gratifying.

  4. how little i knew of u back then in school... but then we were little too.. now u pen so well, i could give a penny for every thought... u mean every word u say, i could see from your free flowing, fluid portrayal of the thoughts u shared.. good work harish..l mean it. ..... Asad Kazi

  5. how little i knew of u back then in school... but then we were little too.. now u pen so well, i could give a penny for every thought... u mean every word u say, i could see from your free flowing, fluid portrayal of the thoughts u shared.. good work harish..l mean it. ..... Asad Kazi

  6. fragrance of eau de Cologne signalled his arrival..... a great soul .... shaped many a life including mine. Without doubt, I too remain deeply indebted to him in more ways than one.

    All men are born equal but some are born more equal .... an oft-quoted saying used by NLK and interestingly, this applies more aptly to him than anyone else that I could think of.

    Those were the Days to Remember ...... @ SSPMS and one great soul made all the difference .... Prof NL Khanolkar

  7. Can't forget him. A great person. I had come from Marathi medium school in 9th. He made me perfect in the English language with in 8 months. Without his efforts I couldn't have joined NDA.
    Nicely written Harish Sir.

  8. Great memories. I had come from Kerala in 65 into 8th std . He really moulded us .