Aamir Khan is quite conscious about the problems faced by our system of Education. He played Ram Shankar Nikumbh in the much acclaimed ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and Phunsukh Wangdu a.k.a. Rancho in “3 Idiots”. Both these characters advocate a ‘New’ approach to education.
I have always endorsed this line of thinking. But I became acutely aware of the necessity of a change in approach when I saw my own daughter coming up with pathetic grades in Mathematics. Maths has been my favorite subject and I have told her many a times to take it as a game and not as a problem. But unfortunately I rarely get time to supervise her studies.
My daughter can pick up the lyrics of film songs in no time. She gets her dance steps correct straight away. She educates my wife on the ways to work on the internet. She also teaches me how to play games on my N-Series phone. But when I saw a PowerPoint presentation she had prepared about herself, my heart went out for her. She says, “Samskruthy is 11 years old, studying in Class 6”. She writes about her school, her teachers and her subjects. And at the end of it all, she writes, ‘Maths is her tough subject’.
This is not unique to my daughter. A huge number of the children are like this. Why are our children scared of Maths? Why? I know a lot of people from my native place Karkala LOVE Maths. My close friends and many from my generation are Engineers, Economists, Scientists and also Doctors and are doing great in life. And almost all are unanimous about our love for Maths.
I recently had a chat with a young Engineering student from my place and he too is absolutely ‘cool’ about Maths. And it didn’t take us long to understand the reason for our ‘Love’ for this ‘Dreaded’ subject. The chat with Raghavendra Kamath, the above mentioned youngster reminded me ‘Why Maths is NOT TOUGH for us’! The common thread is a ‘Fantastic’ Maths Teacher we had in High-School and his name was Mr. Panduranga Rao.
Mr. Rao was way ahead of his times. He definitely was an awe inspiring personality. A short, clean shaven gentleman with tightly combed hair without even one strand out of place. He was very fair and had a booming baritone of a voice. He commanded enormous respect from entire student fraternity. Even his colleagues were in awe of him simply because of his popularity. He was never seen in anything less than immaculately pressed shirts and trousers. So much so, one of my classmates used to joke, “You don’t need a knife to cut things when Panduranga Rao is around. The creases of his shirt or trousers are sharp enough to cut raw mangoes and cucumbers!”
The trademark of his teaching was his ultra-quick wit and supreme confidence. Not a boring moment through the entire class, not even once! How could he manage this? I would be lying if I say I wasn’t scared of the Disciplinarian in him. But we adored the wisecracking jovial guy who made Maths easy! So easy, that I still can ‘Teach Maths’ even though I had to give up Maths in 1988, the year I joined Medical College.
Mr. Rao never called a single student by his first name, but mostly by their last names. No singular ‘You’ in Kannada for him. He always called students ‘Neevu’; that is the way you address people with respect. As it was a small town, he knew even the pedigree of most of the students. Once he knew a student well enough, he invariably came up with a nick name for him or her and then it stuck like the ‘Mustache in the Fevicol Ad’.
One chap in my class had a habit of cutting and crossing really bad when he made some mistakes while writing. He did it so ferociously, our man nick-named him ‘Bison’! He used to say, “Just like a Bison, you rush and demolish anything in the vicinity”.
I was a left-hander to start with, forcibly converted to right-handedness by my Grand-father, because left-handedness was a taboo for our people. Due to this ‘Forced Conversion’, I perhaps had a bit of Dyslexia. I used to, and still write letters and numbers from the wrong end, that is from right to left! Since I had a decent handwriting, nobody ever noticed this and I was completely unaware.
I had done a lot of writing on the black-board in the classroom, but not a single teacher had found out this anomaly. But Mr. Rao found this out the first ever time he asked me to solve a problem on the black-board. Since he knew there was an Urdu School on my way to school; he asked me, “My Dear Shenoy, did you go to Urdu school for Primary education?” Henceforth I was called, ‘The Boy from the Urdu School’.
In those days, it was fun. Today I realize it was a thing he and only he had noticed! Fortunately or unfortunately, he had no solution to this problem. This particular problem meant I was and am still a partially ambidextrous person. I used to write both handed. I still can do mirror writing. All thanks to my Grand-father!
I have a million stories to write in Eulogy of my most favorite teacher ever. But this is a Blog-post and not a novel. So I have to restrict myself to the best of the stories.
Cutting the Diamond simplified:
We all knew how to derive the area of a square, a rectangle, a triangle and a circle thanks to Mr. Rao’s unique ways of teaching. But how he taught us to calculate the area of a Diamond shaped quadrilateral is still etched in my memory simply because he literally converted it into a play-field, rather a ‘Ball Park’.
He asked us, “How many of you play cricket?” All of us boys raised hands. He said, ‘We all know Cricket is played with a bat and a ball with 11 players a side and it is played in side an oval shaped boundary. Well now, how many of you know what baseball is?” Naturally not a single pupil knew! How could you expect kids in a small South Karnataka town to know about Baseball in the mid-80s?
Mr. Rao proceeded to the black-board; he drew a diagram of a baseball field or a diamond and then dusted off the chalk from his hands. Then he turned to us and told, “Baseball is a game played in America and is more popular than our own Cricket. They too use a stick like our bat and they too have a ball. They have a batter in place of our batsman and a pitcher in place of a bowler. And they play inside a quadrilateral area that is called ‘Ball-park’ by common people and Baseball Diamond by the elite.” He then explained how the game is played and finally about the diagonals of the quadrilateral. At the end of it all, we all knew how to calculate the area of a Diamond shaped quadrilateral.
An ordinary teacher would have just told us the answer [½ × Diagonal 1 × Diagonal 2] and most of us would have forgotten it very soon. But yours truly still remembers simply because it was taught the ‘Right Way’.
I fondly hope my daughter will find a teacher like him, so that Maths becomes a ‘Pleasure’ and not ‘Pressure’ subject for her! In the meantime, I am trying my best to use some of 'His' techniques to drive away her 'Maths-Phobia'. Hope things work out nicely for us and I can say... "Every Child is Special, Mine too... So All is Well !"
I stated at the beginning, Mr. Panduranga Rao was a man much ahead of his times. I believe those of you reading this will agree with me now. This post is dedicated to my most beloved teacher ever and perhaps the favorite teacher of a several thousand pupils who have imbibed knowledge from him!