ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On and Off the Dais

A former teacher reflects on his experience of lecturing and pontificating in the classroom.

Between the ages of 21 and 39 (1957–75), when I was a teacher in Bengaluru, Dharwar and Guwahati, I would hold forth without let or hindrance on whatever I was holding forth on to an audience of mostly pliant and respectful students. The only occasion on which I was challenged was my very first day as a teacher in a Bengaluru college. I was about to “mark attendance” when a small group of raucous students tried to play tricks on the rookie teacher. I squelched the challenge by abusing and intimidating them with my fluent and authentic Kannada intonation of rude Anglo–Saxon words in all their variety and vividness of usage, viewed as “dirty and obscene” in those days, but now found in most dictionaries. The noisy malcontents simply did not know how to counter that. Now in my 80s, I am incapable of either the insolence or the fluency of that rude speech.

I have always felt uncomfortable lecturing, feeling like a bit of a fraud standing alone in the middle of a raised platform, looking down on the students. The only occasions when I did enjoy teaching were during small tutorial classes, where one mostly spoke, not lectured, to one or two students, all of us sitting on chairs at the ground level in close proximity. In 18 years of lecturing, I can recall only one occasion when—while speaking about the emergence of the English novel as a popular form in the late 17th century and the broader social and economic factors that had facilitated the emergence of a novel-reading public with money to spend and time to spare for such diversions as reading novels, without which the novel as a form would not have survived and prospered—I felt I was making an almost epiphanic connection with my rapt audience, in this case a full classroom. Absorbed in my own insights and the connections I was making as I spoke, I was not even fully aware of my audience. Barring this moment of grace that came only once, and without my seeking it, I was as a teacher just adequate: politic, cautious, meticulous.

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Updated On : 7th Apr, 2018
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