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Lessons that are a class apart

In these times of deteriorating values, ethics, and morals, even among the academic community, I am reminded of a happenstance that I witnessed 56 years ago while I was pursuing my Master’s degree at Karnatak University. To give a brief background, I graduated from Government Arts and Science College, Gulbarga (now Kalaburgi), in the year 1967. The college had many eminent, inspiring, and highly committed teachers in those days. Here, I narrate my experience with one such teacher, Prof N Gurunathan who taught zoology. He was a great teacher and gladly lent me excellent books borrowed from the college library and cajoled me to read them. Undoubtedly, this kindled my interest in biology, which I cherish even now. During my higher studies, I was in touch with my teacher through letters.

Prof Gurunathan once happened to visit Dharwad for some official work. That is when he made a surprise visit (no telephone facilities then!) to my room in ‘Shalmala’ Hostel. Even today, I shudder to think what if I was not in the room after he had walked a kilometre from the bus stop to the hostel just to meet a past graduate student! Further, what amazed me was his keen interest in knowing what new things we were learning (both theory and practical), the books we read, the field studies we undertake, and so on. The meeting was a stunning experience and a revealing one. I still cherish it.

When we were done with the parleys, I took him to the canteen situated close to the bus stop; from there, he could easily return to the city. We continued talking while savouring the evening snacks and tea. Soon the waiter brought the bill, and I tried to pick it up hastily to make the payment. However, he held my wrist firmly and prevented me from picking up the bill. A brief sermon followed on why he would not allow me to pay the bill. He said, “You are a student and are not yet earning. It is insulting for me to allow you to pay the bill”.

Frankly, I was unaware of the nuances. Yet I grasped the situation, said sorry, and yielded to his command. The significant point is that on that day I learned a precious lesson that has remained with me forever as the guiding principle. As luck would have it, I too became a teacher, guided many doctoral students, and followed in the footsteps of Prof Gurunathan with pride and gratitude.

Evidently, good teachers not only inspire the academic pursuits of students but also impart lessons for life, often outside the classrooms. Heartbreakingly, I never got a chance to repay my revered Guru despite reaching high positions in life. This has strengthened my belief that no one can really repay a selfless Guru for sculpting the carrier of his or her/his pupil.

(Published 12 November 2023, 18:19 IST)

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