Friday, September 3, 2010

Remembering my teacher

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

A friend, who also is a teacher, recently sent an sms: satinder singh passed away this morning.

Satinder Singh introduced me to the art of reading literature. He taught us to read patiently, to wait like birds even as reading hatched taking its own time. And he taught us to navigate literary works like wayfarers exploring the labyrinthine patterns of some Persian carpets.

I remember the day -it must have been in 1980- I first went up to Satinder Singh. As always, he was there outside the classroom well before the class began. I had been reading a poem by Tennyson and had some questions. He heard me out and asked me to see him again the following day.

'Read this book over the weekend and come back to me,' he said, handing me The Complete Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I looked apprehensively at the forbidding tome but he reassured me, 'You'll read it through, I know.' And he smiled, patted my shoulder and walked into the class.

I was in the first year of my Bachelor's course and full of doubts, including those about my ability. But he seemed to know his students better than we knew ourselves. He believed in us and made us believe in ourselves as if by magic. He was the only one who used Goethe, Kierkegaard, TS Eliot, e e cummings, Stephen Spender, Milton and Voltaire in composition and translation classes. He would often stay with a word or line for a whole hour, mining and polishing its gold. At times, he would spend days on a short passage. He taught, and taught us to read, unhurriedly.

It so happened once that he had to share a course with another teacher. He taught Julius Caesar, while she did poetry. She sliced her way through poems at such a pace that she often ended up finishing off three poems in forty minutes. 'A teacher's test is how long his cupped hands can hold water,' he had once remarked. He was so right, I realized.

After one of his brightest students did his Master's with a gold medal, he said, 'I want you to be a teacher. Because you are one of the best.'

His house overflowed with books just as he did with kindness, affection and modesty. Such men are lonely seekers of wisdom. Several among his colleagues secretly envied him, often letting the envy show itself, in unguarded moments, as scorn. They bought shares and land and enlarged their houses, while he quietly laboured to enlarge his library and mind.

When I went to Panjab University to continue my Master's, he was probably the happiest among my teachers at Government College, Hoshiarpur. 'We've given you whatever we could. Now you need more. Learn and grow.'

I last met him some fifteen years ago. He asked me, 'Do you still read books? Or have you stopped reading?'



10 comments:

Surbhi Goel said...

your words : " to navigate literary works like wayfarers exploring the labyrinthine patterns of some Persian carpets." are the best tribute and acknowledgment that a teacher could ever want....i wish i could write similarly about the brilliant teachers in my life.

i will borrow your words and quote you.

gurdev chauhan said...

The piece is very touching. We owe a lot to such teachers.
I remember Dr Jagjit Singh Ranjha( people called him Ranjha I don't know for what reason... maybe it was because someone told us he had written on his house name plate " Saleti" ( Heer was called Saleti). He taught maths and had written many text books on aljebra and trignometry etc but he took permission of Principal Harbhajan Singh ( I studied at Khalsa College Mahilpur) to teach poetry to our class.So he taught us two poems in six ,months... such were those teachers and those times, the two poems were Ode to Nigtengale by Keats and Ode to Skylark by Shelley. I still remember many lines of these poems and the beautiful words about them Rajha had said. Rajha said that he had written the name "Ruth" on his almirah of choice books in his house after the name of the girl in the Keats poem. As Ruth stood in alien corns... the poem says. Our another such teacher was Karamjit Singh of Jullandhar. He came daily on pubic bus to teach at Mahilpur spending more than he earnded on bus fares and books he bought and brought for us, his students.
Such teachers are more and more needed... maybe they still are around though not in good number.

Navtej Bharati said...

A well written tribute; eloquently says what you have withheld from its words. I imagine Satinder Singh sitting "outside" the class, mining gold in the words you left unsaid.

Paramjit Ramana said...

'A teacher's test is how long his cupped hands can hold water,' he had once remarked. He was so right, I then realized.'

very well said. your obituary shows how food he was and how successful he was in producing students like you. i have almost met hin through your words. Such teachers never die: their light is passed on to next generations.

ML Raina said...

lucky you! You had Satinder Singh.Was he the man who came to our board meetings in Chandigarh.I think I know him as a well-spoken teacher.

T S Anand said...

Your piece coming about a time when Teachers' day is fast approaching, is befitting tribute to the memory of ur teacher who shaped your life and in his inimitable style made u aware of the art of teaching and learning. Such teachers are rare to be found, and lucky are those who have learnt by sitting at their feet, so to say.

Vinod Mittal said...

"I was in the first year of my Bachelor's course and full of doubts, including those about my ability. But he seemed to know his students better than we knew ourselves. He believed in us and made us believe in ourselves as if by magic."

You also speak in me somewhere.

Harbir Singh said...

How true Rajesh. Wish could go back to GCH and attend those classes once again.

navdeep said...

Satinder Singh may have passed away physically but he still breathes through your way of teaching. You were luckier than me to get such a teacher in first year of your bachelor's course whereas I met you in first year of my master's course.Thanks for introducing me to the world of books and literature.
Happy teachers day.

Aman said...

Heart touching eulogy....... hats offto you and your worthy teacher Satinder Pal Singh Ji.......you are as revered by ur pupils as he was by you............