– Avijit Das Patnaik & Satadal Lahiri, ICSE 1991 batch …. 25 years hence….
A random discussion with my better half (popularly also known as ‘the wife’) took us to ponder over who has been our respective favourite teachers during our growing years.
Thanks to my parent’s determination, I have had the privilege of studying in one of the best schools (Loyola, Jamshedpur) of India, a disciplined Engineering institute and a reputed Management college (Institute of Management Technology – IMT, Ghaziabad).
This gave me two decades of experience, as a student, to choose who has been my favourite teacher. The name which immediately (almost blink of an eye) came to mind was one Mr Paul Mathew. Considering I had to choose from more than two hundred quality teachers, this gentleman has to be someone very special to have stood out immediately.
I asked Satadal Lahiri, my batchmate and close friend, the same question. He reverted with the same answer. So here’s our heartfelt thank you note to Paul Sir.
Paul Mathew Sir officially taught us Geography from around 6th grade to all the way up to the 10th grade. We wish he had taught us more. Here’s seven reasons what made him the best teacher ever:
On the side, before calling him Sir, I want to appeal to the Queen of England to either grant him knighthood or pass him Kate Middleton!!
1. He looked at life beyond
Whenever he entered class there would be an anticipation of fun, education and entertainment. One session of 45mins where the rickety fan running amidst soaring mercury or the heavy eyelids post lunch, wouldn’t take precedence. Paul Sir was and is all fun – We haven’t met him for 25 years though (and shame on us for that!). His knowledge of politics, sports, history, personalities, cinema and off course geography was exemplary. On entering, he would first up dedicate sizable amount of time opening up with the class on various topics to discuss. Geography was meant for second half of the session where he would stress on the basics and the must know. When I tour the world, I do tell my kids the difference between gorge and valley, global warming patterns, soil erosion and lot more. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
2. He got us hooked to newspapers, news and general awareness
The topics he discussed upfront would range from current affairs to headline grabbing news, cricket and tennis updates, political swings, religious myths all the way to societal changes. There is no doubt we learnt civics more in our geography classes than in the civics class (with apologies to the then civics teacher)! Paul Sir, or Polly as we lovingly called him, would more often encourage these discussions to take shape of debate mode in class, while he himself would be acting as the balanced, unbiased moderator. Our interest in politics, in that black and white Doordarshan news (coming out of that 14inch pigeon-hole television), in society, and in life running beyond the four corners of a cocoon called Jamshedpur, increased exponentially.
He had excellent public speaking ability. Coupled with Brobdingnagian gift of verbose and smeared with tongue in cheek humour . Whatever we speak now, however we do, the seeds were definitely sowed by Sir Paul. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
3. He gave a voice to ALL students
Academic laggards like us would mostly ‘sleep sit’ (you can’t ‘sleep walk’ in a classroom) and bore ourselves to death in most classes. My marks were average, my parent’s expectations high and the Jamshedpur quality school system ensured even higher competition around. On top of that, the message relayed to me was ‘get good marks or you are a failure in life’. Naturally my confidence was always beaten low and my voice stayed unheard to most. But Paul Sir’s wide range of discussions always woke the students of my ilk. We found a voice; a platform where we would be heard; where our opinion mattered. Often we would speak on cricket, initiate a headline news related discussion or contribute to a topic. Whatever I spoke in Paul Sir’s classes for those few minutes would at that time constitute 60% of what I spoke the entire day! Paul Sir gave everyone a voice, which is something most teachers wouldn’t care in school. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
4. His innovative punishments.
In an age (1980s) when humiliating or caning a student was the ‘in’ thing, Paul Sir was unique. His punishments would include something like this “Write down 50 times – I won’t talk in class randomly with the Nirupa Roy sob face.” Or “I won’t walk like a fat moron bison while going up to draw a diagram”. An imposition to be written a 100 times – “Damn, damn, damn, damn. What a damn fool I am.” Trust me these are samples from what we vaguely recall; the actual would be lot funnier. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
Paul Sir’s exam papers stuck to the basics and predictable fare. As a student you are expected to know certain things about Geography – his teaching and assessment would stick to that. His marking was fair and reflective of the person he was. The best students would get the best marks but the worst students wouldn’t get the worst marks. So while many teachers would mark between 20/100 to 90/100 range, a typical Paul Sir range would be 40/100 to say 80/100. He wasn’t much a fan of differentiation – some other teachers too were like him in this domain. They were so true. If I reflect 25 years later, today, there is no definite pattern to suggest that the 90/100 student has grown to be five times more successful than the 20/100 student. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
6. Capital knowledge
One of Sir Paul’s favourite games, early in 6th grade then was to ask students names of capital city of each country, names of rivers, deserts, mountains, lakes etc. By early part of that nascent year, all of us knew names of all capital cities of the world, names of lakes, seas and all natural wonders. I must say, today I take minimum six vacations a year. More importantly, each vacation is themed around respecting and admiring such natural bodies and / or any capital city culture. I now strive to explore countries normally unheard or un-touristy; ditto for cultures. So thanks to Sir Paul.
7. He spread smiles, oozed fun
Incidentally Paul Mathew happens to be the only teacher who has walked up to my house. While driving with his family around the Kadma area (where I stayed). I was surprised to see him park his car just outside my gate and walk in, asking for a glass of water. I was young and in shabby state – cleaning my bicycle with dirty rags and blackened palms. At that ‘frozen’ instant I was left wondering how he found my address – but I guess my messing with cycle was enough for him to spot a student while driving his car. Mind you, I wasn’t one of those bright and popular students whom every teacher would remember easily. I was just average, but he remembered me; and stopped his car. My cousin, Arijit Das Mahapatra, was also his student then. I don’t recall much of how that day went but do know he sat in our house for good thirty odd minutes. Am sure he would have spread his laughter and fun around the home too. So thanks to Sir Paul Mathew.
And thanks to all you dear readers for taking time out to ponder over one of the most unusual Gurus we would have ever encountered. This post in no way belittles any of our other teachers – and we had plenty of favourites. Mrs Narielwala, Mrs Mukherjee, Mrs Abedin, Mr Natrajan, Mrs Mathias – just to name a few were a class apart. Maybe one day we should plan a vacation with our Loyola friends to meet all these teachers. And thank them from deep within.