Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

What separates an average teacher from a ‘good’ teacher? And what special attribute elevates a ‘good’ teacher to a ‘great’ teacher? A teacher who teaches well is obviously a ‘good’ teacher. But a ‘good’ teacher does not become a ‘great’ teacher if he just teaches well. The truly great teachers, in this columnist’s view, are those who bring out the best in their students – apart, of course, from teaching well. And Dr Pedapudi Ganga (PG) Rama Rao, who taught me English literature while I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at Kendrapara College, belongs to that rare breed.

He was, of course, a wonderful teacher. No one missed his class even when somewhat unwell. As he started speaking, everyone listened in rapt attention – notwithstanding his immaculate, impeccable diction and pronunciation, which was difficult to understand for most of us who had studied in the Odia medium in the initial stages. No one looked elsewhere. No one whispered into the ears of the fellow student next to him/her. No one allowed his/her attention to waver even for a moment. And no, it was not the fear of being pulled up by Dr Rao, but the mesmerising spell he cast on everyone while he taught. The genteel, kind and soft-spoken professor was the last person to punish anyone, no matter what his/her ‘crime’ was.

I remember one class where he was dwelling on a particularly poignant scene in Shakespeare's 'Othello'. It was the last period of the day. But no one was in a hurry to rush out of the classroom and go home. It was the heart-breaking scene where Othello, having killed Desdemona, is delivering a long monologue, lasting something like four full pages in the book. We were so engrossed in listening to him that none of us realised that the class duration was long over and it was pitch dark outside. Everyone was listening to him spell-bound and no one remembered to switch the lights on! It was only when the fairly long scene was over that we returned to our senses!!

But Dr Rao would always remain special for me personally not just because he was a great teacher, but because of what he did to me. Even in my final year BA (English Honours), I couldn't speak a sentence of English. I started perspiring heavily on the rare occasion when I had to speak in English. While in under-graduate class, I remember once making a fool of myself before friends and teachers. Unknown to me, a mischievous friend had proposed my name for the English debate competition. And I was unfortunate enough to be in the audience when the teacher called out my name. I tried hiding beneath the desk. But the teacher had seen me and there was no way I could sneak out of it. I went to the dais and suddenly felt my feet were trembling and my heart beating like a steam engine! I mumbled the customary address with great difficulty, but could not utter a word after that. Red in the face, I returned to my seat, feeling utterly dejected, humiliated and embarrassed!

But Dr Rao insisted I spoke in English. And I kept excusing myself politely every time, saying apologetically in Odia "Habani, Sir!" But he would have none of it. I kept speaking to him in Odia (which he understood well). Exasperated at my stubborn refusal to speak in English, he served me an ultimatum one day; "I shall not speak to you again if you don't speak in English." I was in a fix and mumbled my stock excuse again. What he said next changed me - and my life - for good. "I have absolutely no doubt you can speak in English. How is it possible that someone can write such beautiful English, but can't speak the language? It's just your inhibition that's holding you back, Sandeep. Just start speaking in English. Let there be mistakes. But after a while, you will speak English confidently."

And I did. Just as my dear teacher had said I would. Today, the man who once couldn't speak a word of English is confident enough to speak in the language in any gathering - whether Indian or foreign. In Indian accent, of course!

On Teacher's Day, I express my deepest gratitude to this wonderful man, teacher and mentor who keeps writing poetry even in his 80s!! After his retirement, he has settled down in Hyderabad, but keeps in close touch with his students and fans ‘back home’ even now.

Thank you for shaping and changing the course of my life, Sir! Here is praying to God that you stay healthy and keep writing poetry. And keep inspiring others to write. And, of course, speak!!!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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