The student I will never forget

My Student : My Teacher


Often I am asked why I have ‘swasth’ as my e-mail Id. And therein hangs a tale.

Our school, Sri Atmananda Memorial, Malakkara, Chengannur, Kerala, is an international school with a unique teaching approach which helps children develop at their own pace. It is based on teacher-student relationship. Students teach us how to teach them.

Once, close to the 10th standard board exams, we found that one boy Swaroop S Nath had very little chance of clearing the exam. He was quite an artist and I was teaching him English. Just for the sake of the school’s reputation I decided to take up his case. After my groundwork on him I found that nothing conventional would work. One evening I took him for a walk and made him ask me a question, any question.

“Sir, isn’t water an element?” he asked.

“Well, it is not. But why do you think so?”

“Because in Shakespeare it is.”

I explained why it is like that. A great change was about to happen in him and me. We were walking through a paddy field and we saw the various ways of irrigation. Looking up at the red sky, I told him what I thought Doppler effect was all about. We talked about birds, Hitler, girls and photons. I showed him why heat and temperature are different. He showed it to his friends.

The very next day six of them wanted to come for the walk. I borrowed their textbooks and got ready to chat with all of them, on all subjects. Swaroop had taught me the way children think or better love to think.

For the next three months, Swaroop and I worked together till 11 o’clock every night and redid it in the class for the others.

Once in Tennyson we came across the line:

“To follow knowledge like a sinking star

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought”

I asked the class what is beyond human thought. They “thought” and “thought” and gave up. I asked them why they thought ‘thinking’ would take them there. A heavy silence followed. Then it was spirituality all the way. Dr. Ramani’s rendering of “Darbari Kanada” on the flute told us about space, a full-wave rectifier about God and a fertilized ovum about beauty.

Swaroop was racing ahead, pulling the whole class and me with him. True, he couldn’t comprehend his texts properly and often I had to read to him. I had to listen to all the Mr. Bean stories he had to say. He frequented my home so much that my 4-year-old daughter Lekshmi thought he is my other child and he said, “In a way it is true”! However, he brought out the teacher in me as no other course had done.

He cleared the 10th with a high second class and pushed his classmates even further. A girl scored 83% and said she is indebted to Swaroop. For 12th he got 70% in humanities. He became a voracious reader. Today my inbox overflows with his very long mails. He has also written a longer flip version of this article. A US based company has his painting on their T-shirt. He became my partner for a part-time job I took up.

‘swasth’ is short for Swaroop and his teacher.

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