3 December, 2014
Elsie Teacher passed away early this morning. Rest in peace, teacher. You ARE so missed.
Today, 14 April, 2014, is yet another special day! The birthday of a very very special friend, mentor, guide, soul-sister. Mrs. Elsie Abraham, of the Social Science Department in our school, who has just retired after twenty-three years of dedicated service in her vocation. I had written this piece for the School Magazine, ‘Bhavana Jyoti’, but I know that there are a lot of her former students who would want to share in this, who might not have the opportunity to share in celebrating her, and her birthday, collectively, otherwise. I do wish that each of you, who read this, and have some memory of her to share, will do so in the comment section at the end! I know for certain, that it would be one of the best gifts she would receive this day!
Sometimes when you meet a person, for the first time, you wonder how it could be that it was the first time! A déjà vu strikes. Haven’t we met, sometime, some place, before this? That feeling is so real, but rather rare – for that is when you meet a kindred soul; someone who instantly gels with your thoughts, and meshes into your world.
How glad I am, this day, to tell you, that Elsie Teacher has been one such person in my life. Mrs. Elsie Abraham. Our beloved Elsie Teacher, to all of us. Also, how poignant a moment this is when I realize why I am writing this. After 23 years of exceptional service to Bhavan’s, Poochatty, Elsie Teacher has bid farewell, as she retires; only from her work, at school, as I see it! She never could leave our school really, for we would talk of her, sometimes even to her, knowing her presence would still stay, vigilant as ever, in our Staff Room!
I must tell you more – which of course, you would probably already know, and if not, you would nod your head in agreement, for sure!
If popularity polls on a favourite teacher were conducted in school, it is certain, that Elsie Teacher’s name would be right up there in the top few. Her knowledge of the ‘subject’ she taught, her manner of ‘teaching’, as it were, the ubiquitous thread of humour, kindliness and firmness, strung together with her ever present warm smile, which was never far even from her eyes, always, is part of what made her a beloved and unforgettable teacher. I know this personally, for even though I was not fortunate enough to be a student in her class, the kids in my family, sons, nephews, nieces, have always considered her to be a firm favourite. So also the innumerable ex students I have had the good fortune to interact with on a regular basis. Elsie Teacher rocks, is, I’m sure, a firm tagline for her! That in itself, speaks volumes for me.
On Teachers’ Day, when Elsie Teacher’s name is announced, the spontaneous burst of loud applause offered with such uninhibited joy is something I look forward to, each year. I’ll miss that the next occasion we do that!
She inspires. For ever so many reasons. Her skills, obviously, in class. Her diction and language – unerring in its use as well. Her warmth and non-judgemental nature – something so rare these day, everywhere! Her indomitable spirit in managing problems in health. That has to be perhaps the greatest inspiration from her. Her never-say-die-spirit! A lesser person would have buckled under the overwhelming pressure to just throw the towel in, and taken the easy way out. Not Elsie teacher. Her Devotion to Duty (there are awards, in this category given to the Defence Services, announced on the Eve of The Republic Day – Elsie Teacher would certainly qualify for this! ) and the integrity with which she sustains are exceptional. With all the vagaries of humanness – the spirit within her has fought and won the day!
Each one of us has something special about us, don’t we? Something that sets us apart from our fellow beings. Elsie Teacher’s, apart from her indefatigable spirit, is her infallible memory! Her gift for remembering things is legendary – parts of a conversation, of an aeon ago, Birthdays and Anniversaries of friends, colleagues, their families, extended families – gosh! It’s a constant source of wonder to all of us who know her. We’ve warned her that the awesome ability of her will definitely be called upon, and she should prepare to be constantly bombarded by phone calls from us, to know, and be reminded of all kinds of things! Many a time when we were stumped for words, dates, we’d turn to her unanimously, to supply all the missing bits. And, to our relief, and collective laughter, that would ring out from the staff room, she would oblige.
For those who do not know, Elsie Teacher grew up in Madras (now Chennai), having studied in Good Shepherd Convent, and Stella Maris College. Her fondness for Tamil is just as legendary here – and many a time we’d witness lively conversations and songs between her and other teachers like Meera Teacher (who is now in the Pottore Bhavan’s) and Lakshmi Teacher.
Perhaps the feeling of empathy, of being on the same wavelength with Elsie Teacher, that I had was due to the fact that both she and I (and others in school) had grown up outside Kerala, and so we came with what the natives of Thrissur called an accented Malayalam. All of us in this rather exceptional state of being NRKs for a major part of our own youth have this instant empathy, and sorority – the hapless Malayalee in us needs the support of the other.
My own association with Elsie Teacher is from 1996, when I first joined this school. I do remember meeting her, and she (but, of course) remembers the first thing I asked her, after the introductions were made! I did not, when she mentioned it to me recently! So amazing is her recollection of facts, dates and happenings! 18 years is a long time, is it not, to remember first words spoken to each other! Hats off to you, Elsie Teacher. I know I am blessed for the good fortune of having been in her company for the years I’ve spent in school, and more so, for I do enjoy it, a feeling shared by all who know her! I hold her amongst my closest and trusted friends. Just talking to her, unburdening sometimes, is calming – in fact, life looks up. Her interest too, in our well-being, be it a student, a support staff or a teacher-colleague has been consistent and heart-warming.
I’m tempted to take liberties with Shakespeare’s words, right out of Mark Antony’s speech from ‘Julius Caesar’ and say this of Elsie Teacher –
“Here was a Teacher!
When comes such another?”
And, I’d respond too, just like that citizen in the mob:
Elsie Teacher, you’re one in a zillion. Each time we miss you in school you’re going to sneeze and cough, for sure. Just so, you know, we’re going to be a mighty (dis)comfort to you, even when you retire! God Bless! (for each time you sneeze thus, too!)
Khalil Gibran says it best, and I know these words are for Elsie Teacher too –
“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
Written in February :), perfect for 14 April, 2014, Elsie Teacher’s brithday!