June 28, 2015

My teacher - Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir (Part 1)

Last month I heard that my teacher is missing.

Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir. The name warms the heart, brings a feeling of respect and reverence, and a feeling of gratitude that he had been my teacher for almost 4 years, during classes 9 through 12. How fortunate we had been - a few generations of us, to have been taught by him, and to have had his influence in our lives.

Clad always in white shirt and white pant, his hair combed back neatly, Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir was our class teacher in Class 9, teaching us Math, Physical Sciences and English. He was an amazing teacher and a highly principled person. As a batch we were extremely fortunate to have had him as our class teacher. He did not need to shout or scream to 'discipline' children. He was soft spoken, and commanded respect. Students spontaneously listened to him. Mathematics seemed easier, and Physics and Chemistry came alive as he demonstrated concepts with simple experiments that he put together himself. We were the happiest students in school, and everything seemed perfect.

It was too good to last. We moved to Class 10 and a month into the year, we heard that he was going to leave. We were upset and emotional as only school children can be, and asked him why he was leaving. He simply said, "It is a matter of principle. I have had a disagreement with the management of this school. Nothing can make me stay". We were devastated, and trooped into the principal's office with a plea to have him stay on because he had been the best teacher we had ever had. Besides, we were in Class10! It did not help. He left, to be replaced by a caricature we never accepted and gave a hard time to.

The next year, we heard that Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir had begun offering private classes. We all made a beeline to his house. It was called Saraswati Cottage, and it was here that we discovered this Gandhian who influenced and inspired generations of students with his simple living and high thinking. On the first day he told us,  "Rain or shine, thunder or hailstorm, there will be class. Don't have any doubts about this".

Our classroom was a small, neat room with simple wooden benches, white washed walls with framed portraits of great scientists from all over the world. Then there were portraits of Gandhi and Tagore. The periodic table also found a place on one of the walls. There was sincerity and earnestness as lessons were taught in his unique style. There were some deviations once in a while as he spoke about life and living, about integrity and honesty. Each of us had to have a four-ruled handwriting book (even though we were doing science), and every class started with a page of handwriting. It was always Tagore's poem, "Where the mind is without fear". We wrote this poem over and over, and it is quite clearly etched in my mind and heart. This, and his stories about Gandhi, instilled a sense of patriotism in us.

For all his seriousness, sometimes he told us funny stuff, and he laughed till tears streamed down his eyes. Then he would pull himself together and his face went back to its default serious expression.

Even as I write this, my heart feels warm and fuzzy...

***

Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir has been missing since May 2014. More than a year now. He was 88 when he walked out one evening, and would be 89 now. He had been living alone in his Saraswati Cottage in Waddpalli in Warangal. His wife had passed away some years back and his children (a daughter and a son) lived in Hyderabad - he insisted on living by himself, I was told.

I went looking for his house last weekend. Asked around and finally found it. His caretaker was there and told me a number of his students had been helping in the search. One of the posters announced a Rs 5-lakh reward. I asked to see the classroom, and as I stood there looking at the few remaining portraits on the wall, a great sadness enveloped me, and I came back misty eyed, feeling angry and helpless.

My eyes have been searching for my teacher ever since - in the railway station, on the roads. I came back and told a few friends about it. An online search threw up a Facebook page, and words such as these:


A friend posted, "I am blessed that I had him as my teacher. You are in my prayers Sir, please find your way home..." Another said, "I hope he is ok and living with dignity and if anything did happen to him - I hope he did not suffer". I would like to add, "Sir, wherever you are, we would like you to know how much you mean to your students and that life would have been much poorer had you not been in it". 

With reluctance, but with hope that this blogpost just might help trace him, I post the image on the right. There is great restlessness when a person dear to you is missing. I am very concerned, and I, like my friends, would like to hear that there has been a peaceful end to this story. We would all be overjoyed if he is found soon, and in good shape.

***
But then, I think, Jagan Mohan Reddy Sir is the kind of person who lived life totally on his terms, and certainly would want to write his own destiny.

Perhaps that's what he did.

***



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