Some Thoughts on Teachers' Day in India

With apologies for a late post!

Posted by Manjil Saikia on September 07, 2018

September 5th is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India, in honour of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the first vice-president of India and the second President of India. He was, according to many an exemplary teacher; but this post is not about him. I cannot claim to have much knowledge about the philoshophy of Dr. Radhakrishnan to justify myself. This post is about my teachers.

I have had several great teachers, about whom I wish to speak in this post. I have long since given up wishing them over phone calls on teachers’ day. This is not because of some innate feeling to become aloof, but because I feel that a teacher does not expect such a wish. Some may, but not all. I do not, also, give updates on social media eulogizing my teachers on this day. Perhaps, I am a bit cynical and non-social in not doing this, but I thought I would write a blog post about the teachers I have had so far.

The very first teacher who made a mark in me was my father. It was not intentional on his part. When I was about 12 yeaes old, my father read to me the story of Archimedes, which was published in an Assamese language daily. Archimedes was a mathematician of antiquity, whose claim to fame, among other things was Archimedes’ principle which roughly states that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displacesand acts in the upward direction at the center of mass of the displaced fluid. However, this was not what caught my attention. The fact that (probably an apocypha) Archimedes used mathematics to destroy enemy battle ships was something that my young mind latched onto. That was the first time I could feel that mathematics was something that had applications, and a master mathematician could overdo even an enemy warship. For this story, I will be ever thankful to my father. He does not yet realize, how much this meant to me. I must also mention, my monther and my grandmother who took a special interest in my learning. I no longer believe in their methods, but I think they did help me in becoming who I am today.

The second great teacher I have had, was an unknown colleague of my father, who was visiting our home in a party. He asked me, what I wanted to become when I grew up; this was a very normal question in India of that time, probably even today. I replied that I wanted to be a doctor. The unknown man, patiently exlplained to me what a scientist was, and suggested that I might try to become a scientist, instead of a doctor; I have never looked back. He gave me a gift, and said that inside there was something which might help me in achieveing that feat. When he left, and I opened the gift and saw that among other things there was a book called ‘Tell Me Why?’, which was a collection of articles written in the style of questions and answers. It was a great gift and I spent so many hours immersed in that book, learning so many new things. That was my first experience in knowing something that my peers didn’t. Unfortunately, I do not know who that person was, neither can my parensts remember him. But, to him, I owe a debt which I cannot describe here.

The third great teacher that I had was Baruah Sir. He was a friend of my father’s and he used to come to our house when I was 15 years old and teach me science and mathematics. he might not have realized it at that point, but I was in awe of him. He could answer every question in science that I had, and even went beyond my syllabus. In three months (by the end of April) he finished my whole syllabus of mathematics and science. He did not force anything on me. I was happy to complete the syllabus, and that habit stayed with me until I went to the university. I no longer cared what my syllabus was, and was only focused on learning more. That gave me an impetus to read more and I was not afraid to look into university textbooks when I was in school. I would really like to meet him again and say thanks, which the 15 year old in me could not muster up.

There comes a time in your life, when you are completely dazed by a teacher. For me it was Professor Mangesh B. Rege. I first met him, when I was finishing my class 8. Ever since then, I have had no doubt that he is a great teacher. He coaxed me, and tried to instill some discipline in a wayward student. He did not do this to me alone, he has done this several times over, in his long and distinguished career. It would take a complete blog post to mention what he means to me, but he was the first person who showed me the true beauty of mathematics, by means of several books which were not available to me. I gave my first mathematical talk on his invitation, to an outstanding audience. I first had my experience of teaching mathematics at his invitation. The list will no doubt go on. I cannot express in words my gratitude to this great man. In my subsequent dealings, I have tried to keep in mind the several lessons that I learnt from him.

All of the teachers that I have mentioned by name, should be complimented by several others. In school, Mufty Sir told me things which seemed too good to be true. I went back home and tried to make sense of what he said. Now, I realize that he was talking about the mathematical concepts of fields to me when I was in Class 9; I am grateful to him for that. Dr. Alok Goswami is a role model for me; he never once asked me what I have done in the two years that I studied with him. He belived in me, and I now know what that means. Abul Hussain taught me many things during the two years in school I studied with him. The most important thing he taught me was that a good teacher can go to several degrees of lengths to motivate a good student. For that, I am always grateful.

I have had several teachers whom I had not met when I learnt from them. The foremost was Dr. Dilip Kumar Sharma of Cotton College. He wrote several outstanding articles in popular mathematics (in Assamese) and I was lucky to read those. He also patiently answered several phonecalls from an unknown school student enquiring where he might buy the books that he wrote. Such selfless attitude and help, I have rarely seen. I met him later and my respect for him grew many folds after that. In my college and university life, I have had several great teachers. I would be remiss if I do not mention some of them. Professor Nayandeep Deka Baruah, gave me so much of his time when I was in school, and so patiently encouraged me. I will always remain in debt to his gratitude. Professor Sujatha Ramdorai took a special interest and gave me so much of her time, that I feel I do not deserve it. During my PhD, I have had the great pleasure of working under Professor Ilse Fischer, who has taught me many things without mentioning them in reality. A better description of that would be forthcoming in a year or so.

When I was at the university, I understood what good peers meant. I did not have peers in school who could understand what I wanted to do or whose interests aligned with me. At the university, I met Madhurrya P. Talukdar, and we have been friends ever since. He has taught me many things, but the one thing that I won’t even forget is that one must always follow one’s dream no matter how hard it seems. I spent so many happy days with him during my five years in the university, that it seems to be a lifetime. I am glad to call him my friend and teacher.

To all of the people mentioned above; and everyone else who taught me, I wish them a happy teachers’ day; not just on the 5th of September, but everyday. I have in my mind so many other people, but I leave it for the next year. Thank you so much for teaching me.