“What is the difference between A.C. current and D.C. current?” asked the external examiner from Mangalore University at a Viva Voce exam of my Mechanical Lab 1 during my engineering degree.
“What has mechanical Lab got to do with electrical current Sir? “ I cross questioned him.
His face turned red.
“Who are you to ask me I say?” he asked me red faced. “Get Out”.
I got up and walked out!
All through my adolescence, I was a rebel without a clue. I had everything and I still was rebellious and gave people an attitude. As acts of Bravado, I would smoke right in front of my college gate, sit cross-legged in front of lecturers, and walk out of classes. “By pouring their derision upon anything we did, exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids…..I don’t need no education…”, lyrics of Pink Floyd were my greatest words of wisdom.
I hated education. I loved learning. I disliked one-way communication. I loved interaction. To me, school and even college appeared archaic and contrived. I was too impatient for a structured approach to knowledge. I loved to read books (I read dozens of books a year as a youth) and magazines, watch western movies and gaze at spectacular photographs in the National Geographic magazines. Education system made no attempt to engage me or stimulate my interest while reading books and learning from them did. But I realised in my college (thanks to some elderly advice) that education was a necessary experience in life, a societal and cultural validation and a prerequisite for progress. I discovered early how to beat the system by studying only to score well at Exams. In fact I got excellent grades in my engineering and post graduate degrees.
To me Teachers were the epitome of authority that demanded unquestioned obedience and subservience, something that that I despised having been born as the youngest of nine siblings. To me a teacher was a loser.
It is therefore for not surprising that Kismet and Karma decided to team up and create events and situations that would manoeuvre me into taking up a role that I hated and had never imagined me to be in one day.
I became a teacher myself.
As a 24-year old youth, fresh out of my M.B.A. degree, madly in love with MAD magazines and Jedi knights, I left Mysore on 16 April 1982 for Hubli looking for a job where my closest friend Azhar was working. He assured me that jobs were aplenty for M.B.A.’s in Hubli. I left the day I completed my 19 years of formal education and was keen to be independent right away.
Hubli was a dry and dusty city with no scenic beauty, unlike my hometown of Mysore. Most of the men wore white ‘Gandhi Caps’ and spoke in a peculiar Kannada dialect. I stayed at a temporary accommodation at ‘Goan Tower’ at Rs.15/day and started hunting jobs. To my utter shock and horror, there were fewer factories and industries in Hubli than my home town of Mysore.
Just as I was about to return after more than three months of futile job hunting and broke to the hilt, I got a job offer for a position that I had hated most as a youngster, that of a lecturer!. I was offered a lecturer’s job at the local engineering college, B.V. Bomareddy (B.V.B.) Engineering College and was asked to report on 1 June 1982 for a salary of Rs.1050 per month. I kept dodging for a few days, and my friend kept pushing me.
Between returning to Mysore without working or earning and taking up a job for which I had so much disdain as a youth, I chose the latter.
“With such excellent grades and a master’s degree in business administration, why are you seeking a career as a lecturer?” the Professor and Head of Department of Electronics, Dr. Kavalgod asked me. He was showing me the register in which I had to sign at the staff room.
‘I like teaching’ I lied.
“You have to handle ‘Fields and Circuits’ class for fifth-semester students of Electronics and ‘Computer Programming’ class for sixth semester Electrical students” said Dr.Kavalgod.
As I sat in the library and prepared for my first lecture the following day, I realised the amount of work required in preparing for a class. I also learnt quite a few deeper aspects of the subject that I had I had not bothered to learn as a student. Luckily the College library was pretty decent, unlike at the college I had studied where all reference books were either stolen or not available.
My first class was for the sixth semester students of Electronics on Computer programming. The class was at nine in the morning and though I had prepared well, I was nervous. I introduced myself nervously and asked the entire class to introduce themselves one by one so that I would get a respite and time to relax. After the introduction got over, I tossed the attendance register on the table. I decided that that I would position myself as a person with whom the students could connect and learn. I was keen to break down the barrier of ‘us and them’, ‘students and teachers’ and make them treat me as someone the same as them. I announced “everyone will get full attendance irrespective of your presence or absence in my class. I do not want anyone of you to attend my class as an imposition or for compulsory attendance. But let me assure you I will make sure that everyone present will learn. Please tell all those who are absent today”.
By the second week of June I was so broke that I stayed with my friend and went walking to the college that was a good six kilometres. Dr. Kavalgod seeing me missing lunch was so kind as to share his Jowar Roti and curry with me a few times during lunch breaks.
I got my first salary of Rs. 1040 in July 1982. I felt like a Champion.I took a small single room with a kitchen that was the servant’s quarters of a grain merchant. The rent was for Rs.150/- per month. The tiny house (if you could call it that) had one room with an attached pantry. A toilet outside the outhouse was shared by the guests of the landlord and me.
At the beginning of every class, I would spend 5 minutes talking about the latest movies, culture and businesses in the field of electronics and then move on to the subject. I did this intending to make them feel that I was someone from whom they could learn, not just about how electromagnetism worked or filter circuits were designed but about other things too.
My classes were always full. The students wanted to come to my classes to see what exciting things they could learn each day besides just the curriculum. ‘Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away…., I even sang a Beatles song once to the whole class as a change from routine!
There were about forty students in each of my two classes. There was a particular boy in my field and circuits’ class, son of a rich textile mill owner from Maharashtra. He was looking lost with quite a few carried over subjects and kept to himself. He was lagging and was not able to follow the tough subject of circuits. I was very keen to do something to make him catch up and not feel ostracised. I asked him to come to my house in the evenings so that I could teach him the basics and make him catch up. I made it clear that I would not be charging anything. To make him feel comfortable and relaxed, I even smoked with him. He started solving problems very enthusiastically and lived the opportunity to learn what he had missed in class. He picked up the subject pretty well.
I took my students on a half-day educational tour to Dharwar Campus, where an old mainframe computer was available for a practical demonstration. We programmed directly into the machine in Fortran 2 language since there were no operating systems those days. I wrote a program for factorial ‘n’ that was shorter and far more straightforward than the ones used in the reference books. Shorter algorithms were a big thing during those times. I was delighted that not a single student from both my classes failed that year.
I knew that teaching could never be a career option for me. I decided to return to Mysore after the semester got over.
The students gave me a grand farewell party, and I still have the album of photos that they sent me on that occasion. I felt very privileged and humbled. Every student thanked me and wished me well.
I left Hubli in December 1982 feeling like a complete young man. I had earned my own money. I learnt many things about society and life in general. My attitude towards the teaching profession, teachers and education changed completely. I realised that only in the teaching profession does one get a chance to play the role of an actor, coach, mentor, and multi-tasker. You have the privilege of seeing your students’ progress and growth in your classroom. As teachers, we too learn as we teach.
My short but sweet journey as a teacher at B.V.B. College was extremely gratifying, and it created a vital pocket of maturity to my character. During the time that I stayed at my own house and the six months that I worked, I learned to cook, clean, and wash my dishes apart from learning how to keep audiences interested.
I realized how genuinely gratifying the teaching profession is, and my attitude towards teachers changed for good. I realized why in our culture and globally too we hold teachers in such reverence. There is nothing nobler than imparting and sharing knowledge with dedicated pupils.
That being said, times have changed; methods of teaching and learning will have to undergo a transformation. The earlier method of ‘I teach- you learn, I am the master, you are the apprentice’ must be taken over by newer variations where the learner is no longer passive. The students are most of the time at college/university for a large span of time. The monotonous routine of attending classes makes them tired and exhaustive. In order to refresh the brain and to enhance the retaining power, their minds need breaks and this could be well provided through small relevant jokes and incidents. This makes the class lively and students become more attentive and energetic. The teachers do not become any less in the students’ eyes by doing these simple things.
In traditional education, many aspects of a student’s life are decided for them – from what subjects they study to what they wear at school and what schedules they follow. Adults have the autonomy to do as they please, but if teenagers try, it is called rebellion. The growing problem is that students are more stressed than ever. India has one of the highest rates of suicides among people aged between 15 and 29. According to 2015 data, 8934 students are committing suicide every year. That’s one student every hour. The whole education system is geared towards achieving better outcomes rather than getting kids to love learning.
Twenty-five years later, in 2007, one of my brothers narrated an incident that had happened during his recent visit to Hubli on his rotary work. As the District Governor of Rotary, he was sharing the dais at a function in Hubli along with the chief administrative officer of Karnatak University, who as it turned out was my student at B.V.B. Engineering College. He asked my brother, “Sir, how are you related to Mr Mohan of Vasu Agarbathies from Mysore?”
“Mohan is my younger brother; why?” my brother asked him.
“I was his student at B.V.B. Engineering College; he was one of the finest teachers that I have come across.” he said. The day that my brother told me this had been one of the proudest days of my life.
Kismet and Karma must have surely danced together that day!