My Teacher

July 6, 2006 at 4:24 am 10 comments

The last person who taught me at school has passed away. He was 94. His wife had died a couple of years ago and his end falls within the statistical finding that widowed men, if widowed around or above 70, do not last longer than five years after being rendered lonely. My own father had survived my mother only for less than four years. Statistically the average is 3 ½ to 5 years.

His name is M. Varkey. A remarkable man in every respect. He came of aristocratic stock. Deeply religious though somewhat detached from usual churchianity he truly reflected the values he learnt from his father who was one of the forerunners of catechism education in north Travancore.

Varkey Saar as he was known to everybody I know in our area had started off as an undergraduate teacher. By dint of hard work and tenacity of purpose he achieved his vision of becoming a graduate teacher through private studies. Normally those who take that route, arduous as it is, do not get the same benefit a person who has sat in a university class gets. It is like AMIE and B. Tech. The former is far more difficult to pass, but it does not give the exposure an engineering student gets in a reputed college (not every other teaching shop, of course). I hold a Master’s degree from the Madras University and I am told I stood first in the examination, but that did not give me the environmental experience of a post graduate class. Normally such people make up for the lost experience later by teaching. I have taught postgraduate students as a guest teacher, but that is viewing the Promised Land from Nebo. Or by joining some course on a regular basis. Dr. Kurias Kumbalakkuzhy of MG University is a case in point. He was so committed to Malayalm that he pursued the Vidwan-BA-MA route and went to a campus only for his M.Phil. and Ph.D. School teachers who manage a degree privately generally get that experience when they do a few months in a Teachers’ training College. That is hardly adequate to compensate the loss caused by lack of proper university environment. Of course there are exceptions, even in our region in Ernakulam district, of outstanding human beings who went to College for the first time to teach. And Varkey Saar belonged to that exceptional category that despite the absence of regular university studies did not miss out on the sophistication and aptitudes that went with it in his generation. Had he set his mind to it he would easily have done a postgraduate programme and become a Professor. Such was his native skills. The very fact that among all my teachers he stands out as the most outstanding personality in my mind, even after a half century, expresses his personality better than my words can. I began with Thayyal Saar, referred to in these columns earlier and had outstanding teachers in the Primary classes, like Kurien Saar and Embassery Mathai Saar, who are unforgettable. In the Secondary section I remember a few but the best among them would be miles behind Varkey Saar in my mind. This is not because they were not good enough but because Varkey Saar was far better.

Varkey Saar was an outstanding teacher. I can still recall in all detail some of the illustrations he used while teaching English and European History (may be the subject was World History or just History but what I remember are from the lessons on some European wars.) And of course the English language. I remember his teaching Mark Anthony’s oration. I had the habit of preparing for the next day’s classes by going through “Teacher’s Notes” at the end of the lesson. Varkey Saar asked if someone could identify a figure of speech and I raised my hand. And taking a cue from the phonetics of IRON I said AYANI for IRONY . I still recall the paternal understanding hidden in his inimitable smile that blossomed into a grudging laughter, his face revealing his pride in me. And he corrected the pronunciation in the gentlest manner possible, not as a father would correct a son, I realize now, but as a grandfather would correct a grandson. His face and his tone of that morning in the Fall of 1955, more than a half century ago, are deeply etched in my mind as that of affectionate encouragement.

Varkey Saar was MLA during 1948-52. I do not think he would have won the election for long, he was too honest and too irrepressible with his pointed humour to please the Toms, the Dicks and the Harrys.

As one who enjoyed robust health until his wife left him he used to occasionally travel all the way to Trivandrum even as recently as a decade ago. I remember his coming to see me once when I was Member, Board of Revenue, supervising all the 14 District Collectors. He sent in his card and patiently waited until his turn came. I felt very embarrassed and told him that he should have walked in . He said you are diwan peishkar and I should respect that chair, you have no right to compromise the sanctity of your chair because the visitor is your old teacher .Babu Diwan peshkaranu, aa kasearyude vila njan sookshikkanam, atu compromise cheyyan thanikkum illa right ennum vacho. That is greatness personified. I however introduced him to my personal staff and later told them that whenever he came he should be ushered in straightaway. After a few years he came again. This time to see the Additional Chief Secretary. My PA who had followed me to the Secretariat recognized him as I would discover, but he reenacted the same forbidden script, of sending in his card and waiting for his turn. When I asked him whether he was not recognized he said he was, but he refused the concession saying Angane parayendatu ningalude maryada, inngane cheyyendatu ente chumatala, it is your courtesy to say that and it is my duty to do this. I learnt later that when my PA said he had instructions from the Chief Varkey Saar said Angane parayunnatu ayalude gurubhakti ingane wait cheyyunnatu ee guruvinte tripthy. It is his respect for his teacher which makes him say that but as his teacher I derive greater pleasure by waiting like this for my old student.

Numerous jokes, anecdotes and incidents rush through my mind as I type this column tonight. His voice reverberates in my ears. His affectionate look refuses to vanish from the screen of my mind. Varkey Saar lived a full life. He completed his innings after fulfilling his duties as a teacher, a father, and a social activist. I do not know whether his son who is now a District Judge has enough time and seniority to be elevated to the High Court, if he has one may be pardoned for wishing that Varkey Saar had lived on to see that, but then my father did not see me as Chief Secretary or even as Board member: I suppose it does not matter when you are on the other side of Jordan, in the Promised Land.

May the good soul rest in peace.


Entry filed under: Thursdays with Babu Paul.

My first step into Indian Administrative Service 2nd Thursday, July 2006

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sheeba john  |  July 14, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    It was a great experience to read the article you wrote about your favourite teacher.i am also a teacher.after reading that my mind was telling me -this the most valuable tribute to the right teacher………..Your teacher would have been so proud of you and gave his richest blessings to you… was given to you already……but still if had read it ,for sure…i know you are a pandit in almost everything.kindly forgive my language flaws.let me tell you something more about another teacher of your better half-i mean late mrs.nirmala…my mother had taught her in sunday school… mother is no more…..she passed away 10 years back due to cancer…..but i still remember how she used to narrate to me her experiences as asunday school teacher and she used to tell me proudly ,’i have taught mrs.babupaul in sunday school.

  • 2. Shaji John  |  July 18, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Dear Babu Paul,


    Realy very good. I prit it and give to my kids to read it.

    I am working in KSA. I watched you in “On Record ” . It was realy stiking when you quoted ur father not allowed you to sleep in bed – to train you for your future. Similar exp i had in my past. Expecting more life touching notes from you. God bless you.

  • 3. fr. joy kalagramam  |  April 25, 2009 at 10:43 am

    dear Babu sir
    something beautiful to a teacher

  • 4. eldhose k saju  |  July 27, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    really impressed with ur article sir………… really kinda waiting for ur next article…………

  • 5. sam  |  January 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Good evening mam how r u r u nirmala varkey from Indira nagar juniour college u were my chemistry teacher in 1991 to 1993 iam samuel edwin do u rembember if not let it go but i rembember my teachers name is nirmala varkey u can contact me by email

  • 6. Johnson M.K  |  December 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Dear Babu Paul Sir,

    Thank you very much for writing a glorious tribute for your favourite
    teacher. Such type of gems are not found today’s teacher community. You are really a blessed person to learn from him.

    Thanks. write more valuable articles for the posterity.

    Johnson M.K

  • 7. M Asokan  |  September 28, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Priceless tribute to a great teacher ..Hats off Dr..
    M Asokan,UAE.

  • 8. Binu Isaac  |  October 24, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Grand Salute on your 70th year as a big gun in the society blasting away at the evils in the society. May the Lord give you years and years of fruitful service as His artillery man!

    I have not been able to see any social media page in your name and would like to bring to your attention other social teachers like Abdul Kalam found them useful to interact with the youth.

  • 9. Binu Isaac  |  October 24, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Sorry, I just found Dr. Babu Paul I A S Facebook page. Retracting my earlier suggestion.

  • 10. s Kanakasabapathy.IRTS ( R )  |  December 22, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Enriching,ennobling & uplifting.
    Great teacher,great student.

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