I can never forget that distinct voice with which he told my mother, “Don’t worry. I am going to make sure that he studies.” My mom had very emotionally expressed her worries before Menon Sir that I never study (which obviously was an exaggeration considering I always did exceptionally well in English and History and some other subjects as well) and that I sometimes flunked or barely passed in Mathematics.
My mom had just got me enrolled in ‘The Institute’ which was (I think it still is) the leading coaching institution in the city of Kanpur and well known for its brilliant teachers and its head, Mr. S.V.G. Menon, fondly called Menon Sir by his students. I noticed this man carefully, his radiating skin and compassionate eyes showed a lot of promise.
At that age, I genuinely believed that improving myself in mathematics and getting into a good engineering college, is the only way I would be able to turn my entire life around in a positive way. I was determined to get better and better in maths and my determination lasted for a few months which I still consider to be a huge achievement considering the attention deficiency syndrome, I believe myself to be suffering from and the innate lack of interest I had in anything which was based on numbers and wasn’t imaginative. I developed other interests as well, smoking cigarettes being one of them. I also found some awesome company in the form of some students from ‘The Institute’ who’d join me and we’d waste a lot of time (considering how life threatening it is to not do well in board examinations in our country) everyday after our classes and before going back home.
Menon Sir, I don’t know how, found out about ‘whatever the hell’ (as he described it) we were doing. He called me to his office and gave me a severe reprimand, the kind of like I had probably received only from my father each and every time I did something really stupid. After he had vented out his frustrations, he said, “I am wasting my important time with you because I love you like all my other children and want you to do well in life and not end up being a rickshaw puller.” Thereafter, my motivation came back and I did fairly well (considering my not-so-high standards), not because I feared being a rickshaw puller but because he said that he loved me.
The other students who had joined the Institute from my school had all considerably improved and one kid whose name was Rohan Nigam, who flunked in mathematics in 9th standard became one of the toppers in the subject and surprised everybody in school. The other two students from my school (Eshan Gupta and Priyankesh Nigam) were already good in mathematics besides other subjects and they had further improved (I think both have gone on to do their engineering from top quality colleges, have great jobs and beautiful wives).
Needless to say, I was quite a black sheep among my peers and I think Menon Sir had a fair idea of that, nevertheless, what he continued to do was motivate me and still try to bring certain improvements in me not only in maths, but improvements which would help me become a better person. Never did I feel that Menon Sir gave up on me even when I did that so many times. Never did he think that teaching me mathematics was a lost cause. Apart from being an exceptional teacher, he had this rare ability of engaging a class of 30-50 children and still be able to connect with them at a very individual and personal level. He did that with me and he did that with every other student of him and anybody who has been his student will agree. I think the reason he was able to do that was because he genuinely cared about all his students.
If I am to be completely honest, I did, a lot of times, lose interest whenever he was teaching maths but still remember everything he had said in the classroom about life and people and the goodness of things. I still remember that he told us that the wars in the future will be fought for water and other resources which are easily available and not oil (The U.S.A had attacked Iraq at that time) and that day onwards I have been far better than most others in not wasting water (I shower twice a day). He almost perfected me in algebra and arithmetic (I still did considerably suck in trigonometery geometry and logarithm as for some reason nobody ever could make me learn the formulae and other relevant stuff) which meant I did score decent marks in mathematics, not only in preliminary board examinations but also the board examinations. After my board examinations in the summer of 2004, I was to shift from Kanpur to Lucknow and continue my studies there in a new school. I visited Menon Sir to say goodbye and he wished me luck. He also asked me about what I wanted to do. I, honestly told him that engineering, unlike most of his other students was not my cup of tea and I would either want to be a journalist or a writer (I ended up going to law school and became a lawyer).
For the next 12 years, I’d almost have no contact with Menon Sir, except for the occasional Facebook messages that we would share. I would ask about his health and his life and he would be happy to know that I’d become a lawyer (and that I worked in a big law firm). I never got a chance to tell him that I did so well as an advocate that I got enough corporate clients and business to be able to come back home and start my own individual practice, even when I had always wanted to make him proud because of the influence he’s had in my life and in my personality.
When I got the news of his death on August 15, 2016, I could hardly believe it. I later came to know from Khojika Ma’am on facebook that he had a heart attack on August 14, 2016. It’s been more than 24 hours since I last got that news and I can only think of a few more things he has taught me with his death (he has been a true teacher, guide and mentor till the date of his death and beyond):
- Sometimes, a person is so good with his deeds and so perfect in what he does, every small flaw that he may have (to all his students, Menon Sir was flawless) becomes invisible and he comes across as a very, very beautiful person.
- Sometimes, a person, in his lifetime, is able to do so much for so many people that his identity and philosophy go on to survive him for a long, long time. (I have always thought of Menon Sir as a modern and slightly modified version of Gandhi)
- Love your parents and fulfil all your duties towards them as you never know what may happen tomorrow.
- That to get out of a writer’s block, you sometimes need an overwhelmingly emotional experience.
Nobody knows what happens after death but I will always want to make him proud and want him to have the best of whatever he can as nobody deserves it more I think and whatever he’s taught me in the capacity of being my teacher and a far better human being, I shall remember forever.