The little teacher who inspired a village

— G.Vaidyanathan

Can a person who could not even complete his matriculation, go on to do multiple hats concurrently as Headmaster, Post Master and Librarian and become the star and guiding force in his village ? “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them,” says Shakespeare. But my father Ganapathy who did not belong to any of these categories did achieve distinction in a stellar manner.

My father was born and brought up under humble circumstances as the third child of his father who served as a translator in the then Madras High Court and who died very young struck by cholera. My grandmother had to undergo Herculean efforts to bring up her three children besides bearing the cross of widowhood. Her inflexible will and grit saw her children grow up to what they could.

No wonder my father could not complete his matriculation as he had to look for a job. My father was short in stature with a fairly good build and a beautiful tuft. His life took a turn for the better when he got married to my mother. He secured the post of a Trained Teacher under Madurai District Board Schools. As a teacher, he became popular by his dedication and concern for students. He had histrionic talents aplenty of which I came to know when I saw a host of photos featuring him as Yayati, Harischandra, and so on.

He was noted for his sartorial sense and his school group photos sported him with his turban, coat and ‘pancha katcham’. I used to wonder how he managed to dress so well with his meagre salary playing truant like monsoon rains. Though my father had served in many places, I would like to recall his yeomen service to the victims of a major train accident at Vadamadurai when he was working there.

He became a veritable Florence Nightingale and returned home only after a couple of days doing his very best of service.

His last stint at Thuvariman, a village 5 miles (8 kms) away from Madurai saw him rise to great heights. He was the Headmaster of the local school, the Postmaster of the village and the Librarian of Local Authority. He dexterously managed his three pronged duties. He served in the school for more than a decade and a half and saw to it that it was raised as Higher Elementary School allowing children to study there for eight years without going to the town.

All the villagers held him in high respect. In view of his impartiality, he was always invited to the Village meets and Panchayats. He was above caste and creed and was able to bridge the different sects and sections of the village into a community. He had seen the transition of the country from the British rule to its glorious independence. He mustered the people of the village and the students for celebrating the first Independence Day in a befitting manner.

He was mad with grief when a group of his school students were injured by a speeding jeep when the students were returning home after the school. He formed a team and rushed the wounded students to Madurai Government Hospital on carts and cycles and nursed them day and night staying by their side.

Even after his retirement, the villagers wanted him to stay in the village as their moral and spiritual guardian. But he had to leave the village and join me and my brother when we settled in our jobs. But Thuvariman and its people were always dear and near to him. Years later when I grew up, I took my sons and daughters to the village. I was surprised to learn that my father had assumed a larger than life stature. We were accorded royal reception at all quarters of the village and were given special honour at the village Sivan Temple as kith and kin of their dear teacher affectionately called “vathyar anna”.

My father was our preceptor (guru) as my younger brother, youngest sister and I had our primary education under his tutelage. He taught us the values of humility, patience and perseverance. He was small in stature but great in values. He breathed his last on Saraswathi Puja Day—a befitting exit for a great teacher who was true to his calling. All his progenies are proud of this “great little man”.

About the Author
G.Vaidyanathan is a retired Professor of English. He taught English Literature at VOC College, Tuticorin. He has authored several books on English Literature and they are widely used by students and research scholars. He lives in Chennai.

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