Of all my schoolteachers Mr. Shanmugham of the Abu Dhabi Indian School is, without a doubt, the most loved (by me, I mean). “Shammu” was quite the character, with his Tamilian accent (Hara-appah!), errant spectacles that kept going away on wanton little trips down his nose, and his arcane dressing style (tight shirts with top buttons always undone and painted-on trousers).
U-turn: Go back home for your classes.
Yet, his history classes were pure delight. Shanmugham sir spent roughly two-thirds of the academic year pacing up and down the front of the class painting vivid images of the French revolution, the English feudal system and such like. With his unique delivery style, Shammu gave near tangible life to the intrigues, treachery and triumphs of history. “Yand thyen Kying Jaan saayned thee Mainyaah Karthaah…”
When he punctuated a monologue on the Battle of Plassey with a stabbing fist to his own back to show Mir Jafar’s treachery, we sat spellbound.
And then, in the final third term of the academic year, he did what was expected of a proper CBSE syllabus teacher: Shanmugham gave us a list of questions and answers that we were to use prudently: “Study any seven from these, any four from these and at least three from the long essay questions.”
And, by “study” he meant commit to memory in exact order of phrase. Stray from the order, he warned us with waggling thumb and little finger, and abandon ye all hope of high grades.
Much of my fascination for history can be traced back to Mr. Shanmugham’s histrionics. This despite all the efforts of the syllabus to reduce anything we were taught to exercises in memory retention. Our textbooks were, presumably, made by the same gentlemen who make nail-biting thrillers such as Taxmann’s Unabridged Guide to Customs and Excise Duties 2008.
Things have improved over the years, no doubt. The latest set of NCERT textbooks are better. They have a little Shanmugham in them, if you will.
But schools need more than students and good, engaging textbooks. They need teachers who can do justice to the subjects and an environment that is conducive to learning. And, because both of these are precious commodities, parents such as Anand Bariya and Jogesh Motwani have decided to instil both at home. Catch up on their travails with home schooling in “Mother Knows Best” in our parenting section.
For “Children? Later!” people like me, Sumana Mukherjee’s story has unsettling undertones. What world will I bring my children into? What will happen to them now that even the schooling system, panacea of generations past, is circumspect?
And, if all this education business is putting you off, then do turn to staff writer Samanth Subramanian’s new fortnightly music column, Raagtime, on Page L21. Samanth kicks off things with a delightfully warm tale of a love late in coming.
Priya Ramani is away until August. Catch up on her travels at Blogs.livemint.com.
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