One more story about teachers, a subject close to my heart, from my favourite author, Thi Janakiraman.
Crown of Thorns
முள்முடி – தி. ஜானகிராமன்
“So can we take leave sir?” as soon as Kannusamy said this, the crowd which was sitting close to him stood up as well.
“I will take leave sir.”
“I will take leave sir.”
One of the students came forward and touched his feet. Anugulasamy pulled his feet away and said, “Hey what’s this?”
“Let them sir. They don’t have anyone else to pay respect like this. Please bless them.” Kannusamy said. Students came forward in a line and touched his feet with respect.
Anugulasamy was embarrassed.
“What’s all this…” before he could complete, Kannusamy interjected, “Sir you are a true Christian. For thirty six years, you have taught, without touching the rod even once, without uttering one harsh word. So what’s wrong if the students prostrate before such a God.”
“Don’t talk like this.”
“It’s just not me. The entire village is talking in praise of you. When I am sitting in the Bazaar, I hear comments from everyone. “Parents will cane their own children at least once. But with sir it never happened. He never uttered a harsh word.”
As Kannusamy was speaking, the student still continued paying respects. Anugulasamy could not speak. His eyes were moist and his throat heavy. He felt his voice would break and tongue would slip.
“So can we take leave sir?”
“OK” Anugulasamy wanted to say something, but tried hard not to say anything.
The leader of the band who led the procession came forward and asked, “Can we take leave?”
Anugulasamy could only nod a yes.
It took almost two minutes for the crowd to disperse. The students were murmuring something; one of them came back and said, “Sir let the lights be here. We will take it in the morning.”
When he retuned to the hall, after bidding goodbye to everyone he stared at an empty hall. This emptiness and the heartbreaking longing happened once before. When they took Louisa to her in law’s place.
‘Pssss’ the from the Petromax lights were filling up the void.
They have left him alone. Tomorrow is Wednesday. For him, every day from tomorrow is a Saturday or Sunday. He has turned Sixty and the school has retired him.
Slowly he sat on the swing. Framed letters from students and teachers were lying on the swing. A silver plate. A pen which costs about four rupees in the market. But there is no price you can put on the pen. If you say it’s worth four hundred thousand rupees then both will be equal. You can’t put a price for this. Rose garlands were lying around.
Magimai, his wife was standing near him holding the chains of the swing. She was looking intently at him. She felt very proud as if all the praise and wishes were given to her. She moved away, locked the door and came to him. One by one she put the garland over his shoulders and held on to him.
“You never beat me; never spoke a harsh word.” She leaned on to his chest.
“We come to this world for a very short time. Like the spammers that born and die in monsoon rains. Should we waste that time in beating each other or speak ill about others? Can we correct anyone by just beating them?”
“But as a man, should you not get angry at least once?”
“Of course. I would get angry.”
“But you should show it.”
“Why? you have the maid servant and the milkman to show your anger. Why should I get angry with you?”
“But how could you not show anger at school?
“I could and I did.”
Magimai looked at him proudly, pulled his moustache and said, “You want coffee?”
As she moved away, Anugulasamy felt an acute stiffness at his back. He looked at a picture on the wall. With a crown of thorns, the face was showering kindness all over the place. In another picture, he was hugging an infant goat.
Kannusamy has spoken the truth. In thirty six years, he did not cane any student. Nor did ever speak harshly with anyone.
He had this naturally. When Louisa was six, she did something mischievous at school the teacher beat her with a scale. It landed on a prickly and caused tremendous pain. She was crying non-stop. Anugulasamy took a vow. He remembered the one who paid with his life for the sins committed by all. And he gave his life for people of generations to come.
That vow survived without an itch for thirty six years. Has any teacher been given a send-off like this with a band leading the procession.
As if the sendoff arranged by the school was not enough, his students arranged their own celebration. They sang praises, garlanded him repeatedly and arrange a band. when Anugulasamy objected, the leader of the class, Arumugam said, “Sir who else are we going to respect like this. Arumugam was almost 23 years old, failed in every class and looked more like a man of the world than a student. He was worldly wise as well. Anugulasamy knew if he objected seriously, Arumugam would start talking ill about other teachers. He said a few words already.
“Sir don’t we know? You did not ask us to collect fund as you are retiring. You did not borrow money pledging guild gold. You did not show a letter and borrow money from everyone.”
He had to divert the topic to keep Arumugam’s mouth shut. He was speaking the truth though. He has not earned the wrath of the villagers by lying to them. He has not troubled anyone.
Naryanappayyar was like him. He had a small family. Just a daughter and son. But he owed money to everyone from the vegetable vendor to the textile shop in the bazaar. Even then he did not keep quiet. One of his relatives had sent him a letter that he was chosen as an examiner. He showed that letter to about twenty people and borrowed fifty and seventy five rupees from each one. The examination duty would have fetched him only two hundred odd rupees. At last the job also did not come through and one of the lenders came and took possession of his bicycle. ‘Naryanappayar you are shame to this noble profession.’ he thought.
Bank Agent Iyengar is a very smart fellow. Saminathan teacher thought he could dupe him easily. First time when he went and pledged his gold, the Bank Agent just took it without checking if it was genuine as he respected the teacher. But Saminathan did not keep quiet. Within a week a went to the bank with another heavy chain. This time the agent had a doubt. He asked the teacher to wait, went outside and came with gold tester and a policeman. When the gold was found to be brass with a coating, the agent opened the safe and found the previous chain was also not gold. He made the teacher sign away his land without making a ruckus. The policeman was also not in uniform, so he escaped from being laughed at by the village people.
He remembered few more teachers of this type. One teacher, Ramalingam urged the students to collect retirement funds for him.
“What are you thinking about? Drink this coffee.” Magimai gave the coffee cup to him and started reading those testimonials and farewell letters. In between she looked at him with lot of pride.
“Don’t think what they have written is true. It’s just to make me feel special.”
“No they have spoken the truth. You never raised to your hands to beat someone.”
“Ah they have found the truth!” Anugulasamy was not convinced.
“But they are saying you were a good, efficient and very capable. It’s very difficult to earn such good name from everyone.”
Anugulasamy thought for a moment. He thought this was true. He felt he had a right to feel proud.
He said, “It is not that difficult. Anyone can live like this, without speaking ill about others and without getting angry.”
“Not possible for everyone.”
“Somehow I have managed.”
“Sir” someone knocked the door.
“Who is that?”
“It is me sir.”
Magimai opened the door.
“Is sir there?”
“Oh Arumugam. Come in.” Arumugam did not come alone. Another student was with him. There was a lady about forty years of age standing behind. She was not wearing any jewellery. Anugulasamy stood up.
“What is the matter Chinayya?”
“Sir this is Chinayya’s mother.” Arumugam introduced her.
If Arumugam is bringing someone, it must be for some recommendation. Though he has failed in all classes and at twenty three, still in School, he had the status of a leader. Why has he come. There are no exams scheduled.
“What’s it Arumugam?”
“Sir Chinayyan wanted to meet you.”
“What is the matter Chinayya?”
Chinayya did not speak. He was looking at the floor. A minute passed. He did not look up, but started crying.
“Tell him” his mother urged him.
Anugulasamy looked at him intensely.
The boy’s face was turning red. His lips trembled.
“Hey speak up.”
“Sir he has been crying for a year now.”
“Yes sir. Please tell us we can talk to him.”
“Tell me clearly. I don’t understand.”
“Sir has forgotten.” Arumugam said looking at the lady and Magimai.
“What have I forgotten?” Anugulasamy thought for a couple of minutes. But could not remember anything.
“Sir last year he has stolen Suyaroganam’s English book and sold it in the bazaar. I found it out and brought him to face you.”
The boy started crying loudly, his mother was trying to console him.
“You looked at him seriously. We have never seen you looking at anyone like that. You asked us not to take to him. Ever since not one of has spoken to him. We have just boycotted him.
The boy continued to cry.
“For this party today, we collected one rupee, two rupees from everyone. He came forward with one rupee. We did not accept it. We told him not to come to the party as well. He went back without speaking a word. When I went from here, he was standing in front of my house crying. His mother was with him. She asked me to take him to your house.” Arumugam was stammering as he spoke those words.
Anugulasamy now remembered the incident. But he could not recall that he gave him such a harsh punishment. Even then should the boys have followed what he told them?
“Chinaiya don’t cry. Stop it!” the teacher said.
“Sir please tell us that we can speak to him.”
His mother spoke now, “Sir he has been like this for the past one year. He was always bubbly before. He would just say a word and leave. But I knew he was suffering. He does not speak to his sisters also. Only today he told me what happened when his sisters were not at home. He did not stop crying. He said he would come home only after meeting you. Sir please forgive him and accept him.”
Anugulasamy now suffered as an earthworm caught in fire. He was caught redhanded.
“Sir please accept him and also take the contribution he has save for this function. When all the others are participating how can he keep quiet?”
The crescendo of the boy’s crying went up. He extended his hand to give the one rupee which was wet from his sweat.
Arumugam was pleading with him now. “Sir please accept.”
Anugulasamy took the one rupee from the boy.
“He is a very good boy sir. That day he lost his mind and did something like. After this there is not even a single complaint about him. When others don’t talk to him, he feels the pain. They are small children.” said the boy’s mother.
“I did not realise the students would do like this.”
“They did what you asked them to do!” his wife said.
“That’s correct.” he tried to laugh. His eyes were welling with tears. ‘The crown of thorns’ from the picture on the wall, pressed his head hard.
He was born in a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family of Madras Presidency in 1921. He worked as a civil servant. His writing included accounts of his travels in Japan and the Crimea.The writing style of Thi Jaa is simple and narrative. His best-known novels are Mogamul, Sembaruthi, and Amma Vandhaal. All these novels have feminine feelings embedded in their subject. Though the story is spun around delicate feelings, the author’s narration is flawless and spontaneous. His short stories such as Langdadevi (a lame horse) and Mulmudi (Crown of Thorns) also follow the same style of writing. – Wikipedia