There is an advertisement that they keep showing on TV. The principal of a school retires from service and the boys are bidding him good-bye. There is this boy standing with tears running down his cheeks and a placard in his hands which says, “Please don’t go away”. This takes me back to the day our own Raman kutty master was leaving our village post retirement. My younger brother, only 8 or 9 years of age then, who was studying in 4th standard (if I remember correctly) came back sobbing from school. I took him in my arms and asked him, “what happened?” Ramankutty mash (that’s how we addressed him) virinju (he did not know to say, “pirinju” in Malayalam, which means retired) he said still sobbing inconsolably. We some how managed to console him. Later in the evening, our Ramankutty mash came home to take leave of all the family members, before he went away to his native village for good. He was so close to our family. He was like one in the family.
Our grandfather, after retiring from serving a British Engineer, who was the chief engineer during the construction of the Pamban bridge, came to his native village and took up agriculture. His formal education was limited to learning to read and write Malayalam and Tamil. His older sons also did not attend college, though his two youngers sons went to college and studied up to the masters level in their selected fields. So our grandfather, whom we fondly called, “Kalathappa” (kalam means farmhouse in Malayalam, since he went to our farmhouse everyday to attend to our fields we called him “kalathappa”) decided to give good education to all his grandchildren. Luckily for him, by the time his grandchildren arrived our village had a primary as well as high school, within 5 minutes walk from our home. Since all his sons lived in different towns earning their livelihood leaving their families back home under his care, he decided to appoint a teacher who would supervise the studies of his grandchildren outside school hours. That’s how he appointed Ramankutty mash as our “Kulaguru”. When any of his grandchildren attained the age of around 4, our Kalathappa would tell mash “Mashe! Our Venu (or Meenu or Chinu as the case may be) has to be admitted in school”. Mash would most reverently say “yes” and would come the next day to take the little one to school. He would then pick an appropriate date as the birthdate of the child, to ensure that the child was officially old enough to go to school. (That’s how until we were of marriageable age and our horoscopes were brought out we did not know our actual date of birth. Birthdays were always celebrated according to the star.) Mash was the one who taught us starting with our ABC’s for all the children in our family from my oldest cousin, who is 10 is years older than me to my youngest brother who is 17 years younger than me over a span of 24 years. In all these 24 years not a single day went by without Ramankutty mash visiting our house.
He would teach the children in our family until they reached 6th standard, sort of teaching the basics and allow us to learn on our own when we reached the age of about 10. One by one, there would always be 3 or 4 children to be taught. When I was growing up we were three cousins of the same age attending the same class and one or two neighbourhood children. He would come at 6.30 in the morning so that we all would be fresh and receptive. All he did was to make us read our lessons and do the simple arithmetic problems. He would make us recite the multiplication tables every day. We would be promptly woken up at 5.45 in the morning so that we would be ready with our books by the time Ramankutty mash came.
Ramankutty mash belonged to a village some 30 kms away from our own and during those days when public transport was not as good as today he stayed in a lodge in our village having taken up a teacher’s position in the primary school. He would go home to his family only once or twice a month during the weekends. So for all practical purposes our village was his village. Apart from our family, he was the “kulaguru”for one or two more families and in the evenings he used to teach children in his room, after school hours. There were other neighbourhood children who would come to our house to learn from him. He was treated most reverently by all in the family and he was also very respectful towards the whole family. In those very orthodox days, Ramankutty mash was the only non-brahmin who was invited to lunch for all functions in our family. He would be given a special seat and served by the family members. He had come to attend my marriage as well as at the time when my first child was born. It was then that he retired from his services.