Monday, October 13, 2008


Anantharama Iyer was his name. He entered into our lives - mine and my two older sisters as our tuition master, when we were 8, 10, 12 respectively. Our father came to know about our poor performance in the term exam of the school year. So this person became our tuition master.

He was formidable to look at. Dressed in a 'panchakacham veshti' and an 'angavastram' to cover his bare torso, he had a 'kudumi' (the way the purohits of today have their hair styled and most Brahmins of those bygone days). He had three fingers of 'vibhoothi' (sacred ash) pattern on his forehead, with a sandal paste 'pottu' in the centre - and always a two days growth of beard on his face. He was tall and hefty, with broad shoulders and a broader waist. Just looking at him gave us the shivers.

He was a teacher in the Model School for Boys, teaching Mathematics and Sanskrit. He was good in these two subjects. He soon found out that though we had nothing to do with Sanskrit, that we had no interest in Maths also. He changed all that very soon.

Every evening by the time we came back from school, we found him waiting for us. There would not be enough time for us to change our clothes, or take our coffee and tiffin. Coming home before us, we found out in due course that he would have had his share of coffee and tiffin at our place, for he came here straight from school to teach us. By the time we three sat in front of him with our home work, almost everyday he would start napping, snoring loudly. This noise used to wake him up with a start. Then he would remember where he was and what he was supposed to do. So by turn, he would look into our notebooks, find the mistakes we had made, explain the problem, and make us do the work again, while he went back to sleep. If ever he found out that we were making the same mistake again, well, our thighs would be turning red and blue in colour, because of his hard pinching. It was terrible.

Once our tuition time was over it gave us utmost pain and at the same time pleasure in comparing the marks on our thighs and finding out whose was worse. We never had the guts to complain about this to our parents, for we knew that we wouldn’t get any open sympathy from our mother.

This master of ours had endeared himself to our parents by conversing with them about their favourite topics. My mother’s weakness for pooja, her commitment to certain ideas and beliefs prompted him to suggest to her to conduct 'Bhagavathi Sevai' every month. He added that if this pooja was conducted every month on my father’s star, it would benefit him professionally and personally. My mother who always had my father’s welfare at heart agreed to this. So from that month onwards the 'Bhagavathi Sevai' was conducted for the next so many years with the tuition master turned into the vadhyar (priest) to conduct the pooja. And my mother had the satisfied feeling that the Devi’s blessings were showered on us.

I had nothing against this, but being the youngest , he roped me in to help me with drawing of the design for the base of the padmam, with different coloured powders all made at home, and very organic. It was a very intricate pattern. So every month for many years to follow, I was the one to assist him in this. And he in turn would bless me with a prosperous life with a good husband.

With my father, this master of mine had another trump. Knowing that my father was suffering from back pain, he suggested ‘sooriya namaskaram’. He became my father’s physical instructor and initiated him into it. By 6 am everyday he would be at our place for that purpose, and see that my father did the 'sooriya namaskaram' properly. Well, this did help my father to get rid of his back pain, and at the same time helped the tuition master to get into my father’s good books.

With all his family commitments, he did not ignore his daily tasks as a tuition master. He made us learn the multiplication tables up to 16 by heart. He made us do sums mentally and give him the answer swiftly. So this helped us a lot. He had a way in handling all subjects. I some of the lessons he taught me which made life easier for me in school. When my turn came to help my children with the home work, I automatically followed his method, minus the pinching – not fully minus, a little tap here and a minute pinch there, helped both the teacher and the student.

My tuition master was a great Ayyappan devotee. I imbibed this kind of Ayyappan devotion from him. He used to go to Sabarimala every year for more than 25 years, walking all the way from his home in Trivandrum, all the way to Sabarimalai, a long, long way. And walked back, after offering prayers. It used to take more than a month for this. And the forests were infested with wild elephants and tigers. Every year after his return form Sabari malai he had so many thrilling and frightening stories to tell us. All this only increased my devotion to Swami Ayyappan.

The last time I saw the Master was about 40 years ago. Yet I remember him very well. And today I write this with tears in my eyes and pranams in my mind. He was a great man in his own way. Long live his ilk.



I think this is an excellent character sketch. Your words have made the person come alive, and made him real to us.

Kamini said...

Raji's comment nailed it: you really made him come alive with your words.

lakshmi said...

This memory replay of yours, Chithi, was simply too good.Could just picturise all the details.. . you sisters coming from school, your impressive but def. lovable Sir dozing off, his enjoying our dear Manni's kaapi you three
comparing whose pinch was too pink etc etc. Yes I remember my amma telling about Thatha's Suryanamskarams, and the regular Bhagavathy sevai at Thatha's . Just enjoyed reading the piece.
Chithi why don't you write something about Karamanai Ammai? I have vague memories of her. I was always told Karamanai Amma was a very resourceful lady. And always rose to any occasion as required.

pentatwo said...

Maiji's stare, "MS" as we called it, was more than enough -- no need for pinches!
Interestingly, when we had to learn/memorize multiplication tables, we would skip from multiplied by 12 to multiplied by 16, and not be concerned with X13, X14, and X15. Still do not know why.
Then, there is the story of the parents of a seven year old who got very upset with their son's teacher. Every time little Johnny was asked to study his arithmetic, they heard him uttering foul language. So, they decided to pay a visit to the school and have a talk with the teacher. “Oh!” the teacher said, “Little Johnny would never do that. He is a good boy. I think I know exactly what you mean. Johnny, does have a problem with pronouncing some words, so when he is saying, ‘two plus two, the sum of which is four,’ “it does come across as ‘two plus two, the son of b---- is four.’”

Anonymous said...

Lalitha Chitti
Loved your post and your vivid description of the tutor!
I felt sorry for you girls... but then nothng good comes without a little pain!(pinch?)
Take care

flowergirl said...

Periamme, that master would've been the height of fashion today - 2 day stubble, pony tail, bare chest!!!

He could have also probably been a marketing guru, given his knack for spotting new opportunities!

Indrani said...

Great tribute to a Guru!