We were holidaying in the Kodaikanal hills when my daughter fell ill. She had mild fever with congestion. Being so far away from home, we didn’t want to take any risk. Enquiries at the hotel revealed that there was a good doctor in the vicinity — we went over to his clinic.
The moment I entered the clinic, I was stumped. There, smiling benignly at me was a garlanded photograph of my father’s teacher. A similar photograph hung at my parents’ pooja corner. I had often wondered at what I presumed was my father’s sentimentality. It was beyond me how a teacher’s photograph could occupy pride of place in a corner reserved for the gods.
When he died over 20 years ago, Mani ‘Sir’ was the vice-principal at my father’s high school in Kerala. He was popular with everyone. Even now, the town’s people often referred to his ancestral house as Mani Sir’s house.
On his death, the entire town downed shutters spontaneously and the police had to be called in to control the people who had come from far-off places to pay their respects and attend his funeral. Such was the goodwill he commanded among his students and the local populace.
But how did the photograph come here? Was the doctor Mani Sir’s student or a relative, I wondered? My trail of thoughts was interrupted when my daughter’s name was called out. As the doctor prescribed medicines for her, I could hold back no longer. After introducing myself, the questions rushed out in a torrent.
I didn’t expect the warmth with which the doctor stood up and shook my hand. “I was his student, too. I am here because of him,’’ he said.
The long queue of patients outside prevented a more detailed interaction. But he did manage to tell us that he would have wasted his life in gambling and drinking as he had fallen into wrong company after his father’s death.
“Mani Sir saved me in the nick of time before I fell deeper into the quagmire. He was a father figure, not just to me, but also to thousands of his students. Teachers like him are rare.’’
The eloquent doctor told me what my father, a man of few words, had failed to convey. I now knew why my father paid obeisance to his teacher every day. I couldn’t help but marvel at the way this teacher’s spirit lived on in his students, years after his death. As Henry Brooks Adams said: “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.’’