Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Anecdotes from an undistinguished diary
For over twenty six years now, I have been keeping a journal of what I consider to be interesting happenings. A good number of the journal entries are about my own personal experiences, but there are sundry other items as well about different other people. Sometime ago, while glancing through the entries, I was struck by four of them which were about persons who had two things in common: all the four were college teachers, and all of them were recipients of the best teacher award of different state governments. If the award gave a common flavour to all these acclaimed teachers, the entries added a distinctive flavour to each of them.
The earliest of the four entries was about Rao, a professor of library science. Jagan, a fellow professional and a master of the art of facetiousness brought us the news that Rao had been selected for the best teacher award. "Rao has four MAs", he added with a malicious chuckle. "Four MAs! What a pursuit of knowledge!" exclaimed another friend. "Pursuit of fifty per cent", Jagan corrected him. There was a blank look on everyone's face. Jagan explained with gleeful laughter that Rao was originally a third-class postgraduate and that he needed a second class to become eligible for a particular pay scale. After a few attempts at MA History and English Literature, which only confirmed his original third-class status, he finally turned to Sociology which yielded the required fifty per cent.
The next anecdote, recorded three years later, was about another Rao and a "best" teacher. At a function which he presided over and I emceed, he asked me to present him as a Fellow of Harvard, and I did so. Later, when I mentioned it to two of his colleagues, they were amused. One of them explained how Rao would possibly have become a "fellow": "Rao did go to the US once, and perhaps he visited Harvard, too. A chain smoker, he must have been smoking even in smoke-free zones on the campus. A security guard would have said to him, 'My dear fellow, you are not supposed to smoke here.' It was quite a conferment, wasn't it?"
I got the third anecdote about two years later, while taking shelter from the rain during my walk on the campus of Andhra Loyola College in Vijayawada. A fellow-walker, a retired lecturer, told us about a colleague of his who had gained the best teacher award. As proof of his social commitment, the lecturer had mentioned in his application for the best teacher award that he, a Dalit, had married a Brahmin lady. "What a novel demonstration of social commitment!" I exclaimed. "He climbed to the topmost rung of the caste ladder to find a wife!"
In the fourth anecdote, which I got from the Chennai edition of an English language newspaper, the "best" teacher was a woman. The lady attended a function at which a famous surgeon was felicitated. When the surgeon was introduced to her, she gushed, "Oh, I've known him a long time. He knows me inside out." As though this were not enough, she blurted out, "He was responsible for my children." All that the acclaimed teacher wanted to communicate was that the surgeon had removed some reproduction-impeding fibroids from her uterus.