Guptan Mash’s city rounds
Guptan Nair sir had said that his ‘Victoria life’ of six years was the most memorable part of his teaching career outside of Thiruvananthapuram. When sir did not have classes, we Malayalam department members along with others like Professor Easwara Pillai sir of History and K. Sreedharan Nair and R. Ramachandran Nair of English departments used to get together in his room. Two or three people would definitely be there. Everybody’s objective was to enjoy sir’s conversation. The topic could be student life experience with Changampuzha during the old Arts College days, personal reminiscences, place legends, a pronunciation that Daniel Jones provides for some English word. Whatever be the topic, it was a delightful experience to listen to that witty conversation. The English teachers too earnestly attended sir’s classes on comparative study of eastern and western literary criticism for M.A. students.
The sight of ‘Guptan Mash,’ clad in juba-mundu, his voice and physical constitution giving the wrong impression of being ailing or weak, playing tennis in the college campus court for hours and emerging without breaking a sweat after it, used to astound students and teachers alike. The city round that a group of us seven or eight young teachers undertook behind sir on meeting-free evenings was an activity noticed by all the local residents. On the way one of us would treat everyone to tea. Many prominent merchants in Palakkad’s Gandhi Bazaar belonged to the ‘Guptan’ community. S. G. Pillai said that many of them came closer to greet sir with a smile upon seeing him caught as they were under the notion that he was their ‘same caste’. He said it in sir’s earshot, albeit in a mock hush tone.
Guptan Nair sir was invited to most of the important meetings in the district including annual day events of libraries. As a ‘companion’ he would make me also a co-speaker. Some old friends would seek out sir wherever he went. Sir would make pointed salutations aided with a clear memory to each of them. It was interesting to bear witness to it. There has not been another southern Kerala writer with these many friends in northern Kerala.
I remember the time some people came to invite sir to a meeting organized by an arts committee. Sir informed them that it was not possible that day. Then one of them said, ‘Sir, we will bring car.’
‘Oho! Will you bring car?’
‘We will sir.’
‘These days I prefer walking when I go for my speeches! OK?’
He confined his entire lack of interest in those words.
The first experience that became the basis of all my memories around the concept of examination was a mistake in my E.S.L.C. exam mark in 1950. Those days we had ‘optional system’ in high school. The first exam took place in 1949. I studied in the first group which included Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. The exam results arrived, followed by certificate book the next week. I had nine marks for the first paper of Mathematics. There were horizontal red lines on either side of the mark to highlight the fact that it was single digit. It was clear to the headmaster, my Mathematics teacher Kochu Thampan sir and other teachers who saw it that it was a mistake. I had told all of them soon after the exam that I would score full for that paper. Anyway I ended up being bedridden with a fever.
A distant uncle of mine named K.P. Shastrikal taught Malayalam there. He went to Thiruvananthapuram and applied for ‘scrutiny’, which is the first step towards revaluating the paper. This meant checking to see if any answer was unaccounted for, if the marks were tallied correctly, etc. As soon as the paper was brought to the Education Directorate in Thiruvananthapuram it was evident to them that ‘anpath’ (fifty) communicated verbally had been mistakenly understood and marked as ‘onpath’ (nine). The mark was tallied and written in the answer paper as fifty. It was a newly appointed Director who signed the certificate book with the correction made with red ink. Therefore the E.S.L.C book that came back after two weeks carried both the Directors’ signatures. My fever subsided in no time.
Needless to say this incident made a deep impression on me. How many examination papers including those of the Universities and Service Commissions have I examined over the years! I have never had another person evaluate a paper for me, however much inconveniences I was put up with. I myself tallied the marks and wrote it in the paper itself after evaluating it. My wife and children attest to the fact that I cannot commit a mistake in rapidly calculating and tallying in the mind. Still I sometimes make them also do the tallying. I used to regularly take their help while preparing mark lists. I would place the exam paper on the left side of the list being prepared and copy the marks from it. After copying from each paper, someone would remove it and separately stack it face down. The sequence number would change if two papers got bunched together. Hence it could be detected then itself.
Several are the diverse experiences concerned with examinations including those that can be revealed and those that cannot be. Only some of them can be penned.
I was evaluating an answer paper of a University exam for the first time. Kerala University was the only University in the state then. The subject was Malayalam for Pre Degree. The Chairman was Manmathan sir. He had under him a Chief Examiner and two or three additional Examiners. I was with Chittoor Government College at the time. Sir obliged my written request to assign me in his team. I could evaluate the papers from my Panmana home as it was vacation time. I could also hand back the papers directly to the Chairman at his home in Thiruvananthapuram. I reached the Mahatma Gandhi College Principal’s quarters in Kesavadasapuram with the bundle of papers which I first evaluated. I remember the scene vividly. Manmathan sir was seated in an easy chair in the middle of the large hall in front, examining papers. On his left was a small spittoon and on a nearby stool was the betel box. Two people sat on the right side in chairs arranged adjacent to the wall. He laughed during the conversation with them and also made them laugh. As soon as he saw me, he asked me to come inside and take a seat, pointing to a chair.
‘This is young poet and critic Panmana Ramachandran Nair’ he told the people sitting there. ‘Meet Bhaskara Pillai sir and Radhakrishnan, teachers in our college.’
We greeted each other. ‘I have heard’, Bhaskara Pillai said.
‘So you have evaluated the papers, haven’t you?’ sir got to the point.
‘I examined one bundle, sir. Two more are pending’ I said and got up. I opened the bundle and unfolded a paper and went to him with it. I placed the paper before him and pointed out a ‘mark’ to him. Sir took the spittoon and emptied his mouth. ‘Thyagamennathey Nettam’ (Sacrifice Alone is the Gain) – Essay – he told himself gently and started reading the answer.
Wonder what sir would say! Chairman can make corrections, can he not? – I consoled myself.
He sat seriously for a minute after he finished reading the answer. Then he let out a long drone in my direction. That could mean many things. He said, ‘Bhaskaran Pillai sir, see what this Ramachandran has done. He is evaluating University paper for the first time.’
I got anxious.
Sir continued, ‘He had given 14 out of 15 for essay for Pre Degree Malayalam paper! What should I do now?’
They remained silent. I said, ‘I haven’t given more than 12 or 13 for other papers sir.’
Then sir struck the 14 with red ink and made it 15. He showed it to me and then to the other teachers.
He said, ‘This essay topic of Thyagamennathey Nettam is a little tough for Pre Degree students. But this answer is written in an excellent standard worthy of a B.A student. See how brilliant it is! Glad you showed it to me. I feel so elated on giving it full 15.’
‘I am very happy sir.’
‘This is exactly how a teacher’s mind should be’ – sir’s words.
It was an unforgettable incident in my life as a teacher.
Manmathan sir’s disciple and biographer Dr. P. Sethunathan has told me many instances of sir upholding the virtues of not only a teacher but also an administrator. I just remembered it while writing this.
My daughter Usha Kumari studied History for her degree. Her marks were very low for a second year paper. She had expected very high marks and so applied for revaluation. She did get the deserved high marks, but after four months. She could not study with concentration during those four months, worried as she was by her dismal marks. She desired to join for M.A. Malayalam. Even though I was supposed to be happy at this, I had to intervene and forbid her. Her marks for Malayalam and History were good. I insisted that she join for History. Though wrong, there was a reason for my insistence. Some years back the son of a teacher of mine passed M.A. Malayalam in first class and with high marks. Envious folks spread the rumour that his father had ensured high marks for him by influencing his friends and disciples. I too had friends in Malayalam. However high marks my daughter might score through her own talent, cannot the same ill-repute befall her? This was my thinking. Anyway, she joined for History. The guilt feeling did not quite leave me until she passed M.A. with good marks and became a college lecturer.
On two occasions I had to summon two teachers to my home and make them revaluate papers as extreme carelessness was clearly evident in the original valuation. I could have spared myself that trouble had I not taken their slip seriously. I am sure those teachers made me a foe in their minds. But my experiences and conscience never allowed me to adopt a lackadaisical stance. Many unforgettable exam experiences were behind my never once shying away from ‘exam duty’ even in the midst of all kinds of inconveniences.
There will be recommendation seekers, even if rare, among all sections of teachers. Malayalam folks are no exception. I will narrate an experience. I was once standing in Kottayam railway station when a reputed Malayalam Professor, a retiree, approached me. I had heard that he is a recommendation seeker. After the initial bonhomie he said, ‘Dear Ramachandran Nair, one of your folks cheated me recently. Isn’t Prof. Anandakkuttan your teacher?’
‘Yes. What is the matter, sir?’
‘We have known each other since Kottayam days. I went to his home and told him about a girl student. I also gave the number. The girl and her father were in the car. Both were summoned inside. I introduced them. But eventually what happened? He did not do anything. The girl failed. But I won’t stoop to that low level. I returned them the money after deducting expenses!’