Posted by: gdevi | July 30, 2009


A beautiful evening. I went to visit one of my teachers, Vinayan Sir and his wife Shanti and their daughter Aparna. Vinayan sir taught us modern poetry when we did our BA at Women’s College. He is a marvelous teacher, one of the best teachers with whom I have studied. (The others are Profs. Hridaya Kumari,  Ayyappa Paniker, Michael Beard, Bob Lewis Sharon Carson and Sherry O’Donnell–one of the most blessed things in life is the chance you get to study with great teachers to be sure. I have been so lucky in that respect. I want to write a book about teachers some day. I have the title already — Stagefright. Teaching is a performance art. All those faces looking at you with closed faces impassive — entertain me, come on, let me see you try.) Aparna whom I saw last as a teenager is now employed! Shanti has retired. And Vinayan sir will retire later next year. We mostly ended up talking about Paniker sir who taught us both and who passed away two years now. What stories. Paniker sir actually taught my mother, all my aunts and uncles, and I became his student with the sterling record of my entire family preceding me. I remember the very first exchange I had with him. I had taken my mark list and other records over to the Institute and Paniker sir was in the office and he took all that stuff from me. He looked at my BA mark list and then asked me, out of nowhere, it seemed to me, “what does “idaneem” mean?” I was stupified. My mind went completely blank. I stared at him. Then I said, “I don’t know.” It was horrid. Of course, “idaneem” means “now” in Sanskrit and I have known it for years–I had studied Sanskrit for ten years by that time. Paniker sir looked at me and looked at my mark list–hundred percent for Sanskrit, you see–and said, “it means “now” in Sanskrit.” I thought I would die right then and there. But we got along famously since then. He was incredibly witty, razor sharp mind, and all languages bowed down to him. My aunt in Montreal who was one of his most devoted students told me this funny story once — apparently she went to him once and told him, ‘Paniker sir, I am depressed.” Paniker sir didn’t bat an eye and responded, “Depression or oppression, make sure there is expression and no suppression.” (I say this all the time to my students now.)  Another student once asked him in great consternation, “Paniker sir, why do you make such puns?” Paniker sir said, “I can’t help it–that is my name — Pun-ikker.” I was doing my PhD with him when I went to North Dakota. He told me to read Gary Snyder and John Muir. He was a great teacher–taught us Modern Poetry and Shakespeare–a great reader of literature, poet and critic. You could spend five minutes with him and you would walk away having learned something you did not know before. Just a wonderful wonderful teacher. We all miss him.

Vinayan sir has asked me to go to his college and teach a class for his MA students. What an honor. I only have a week left–Daya and I are coming back to Lock Haven on August 9th. So I will go teach this class on thursday I think. I have not decided what yet–something to do with poetry, I want to. I wish I had all my books here. Time to google!


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