American novelist Henry Brooks Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops". It's true, there's always an unforgettable teacher in our life.
In my case, it has to be Mr Swaran Singh Dhaliwal, who we affectionately called Shanni sir. He taught Punjabi at The Punjab Public School, Nabha. Soon after we passed out of school, we learnt of his death. As we came to terms with reality, we realised he was no ordinary teacher.
He was a simple man with a smile. Whether in or out of class, he wore a smile. And, if he spotted anyone of us without one, he would ask, "Where is your smile?" If we still couldn't muster one, he'd crack a joke till we ended up laughing. In other words, he spread cheer all around.
He carried himself with grace and was immaculately dressed. He could be mistaken for a smartly turned out defence officer.
I still remember his lively Punjabi classes. Before starting the lesson, he would share a joke and literally wake us up from our slumber. His loud and clear voice rings in the ear even today.
He would tell us, "When you weep, you weep alone but when you laugh, the world laughs with you." We would await his hour-long class for it would take us away from our worries and sadness.
Our Punjabi syllabus had stories and poems based on values, which we imbibed simply because our teacher narrated them with so much enthusiasm. He would sing the poems and enact the stories. He would offer loads of example. There was no way we could forget what we learnt in class, thanks to the manner in which Shanni sir taught and guided us.
The best was he saw something special in each student. You didn't have to be a topper to get noticed by him. He spotted talent easily and would inspire each of us to polish our skills. He had encouraging words for each. For instance, I was good at debates and whenever I participated in any contest, his feedback would give me a high irrespective of whether I won or lost.
Once I gifted my grandmother's first book on culture and folk songs to him. He read it within days and shared his feedback with the class. When I told this to my grandmother, she was elated and motivated to continue writing.
He won many awards and accolades, including being declared the best teacher at almost every founder's day function. They say our teacher's talent lay in compering and singing, but I believe it was his empathy. He touched our hearts and left us smiling.