When I was studying BA English in PSG College of Arts and Science, Bharathiyar University in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India from 2002-2005, I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the most wise and highly qualified lecturers of the College. One such lecturer was Madam Jayanti Balakrishnan (JB) who was my class tutor for three years. I have been truly inspired by her wisdom and the way she taught us. She had a very good command over English and her skills to play with words were amazing. In fact, it was she who showed me the real beauty of English language. It was beyond doubt that she was one of my best lecturers during my undergrad studies. So today I am going to share with you some of the extra knowledge I have learned from her.
First of all, her natural ability to play with words in a beautiful and powerful manner was what impressed me a lot during her classes. For instance, after taking attendance, she would often say “I think some of you are regularly irregular to the class”. The words appear simple and funny but they make a lot of sense. Whenever she gave us assignments, she would tell us “Please remember to remember first and then remember to do your assignment”. What a beautiful and powerful sentence! At one occasion, she was advising the girls in the class. She said “There’s absolutely no problem when you are beautiful, but it often becomes a problem when you know that you are beautiful”. I thought this is very relevant and true for some girls. Then during another class, she was asking us the occupation of our parents and when a girl said her mother was a housewife, she got disappointed. She said that ‘housewife’ is a very rude term to refer to mothers. She advised us that our mothers must be called a homemaker or home executive since it’s they who turn a house into a home. Only then I realized the real difference between a house and a home. She told us that a house is only a physical structure and that it’s our mother who turns it into a comfortable and peaceful home. I share these ideas with my friends even to this day.
She also had a good sense of humour and knew exactly how to engage us with enthusiasm. She would often share inspirational and interesting stories to keep us active in the class. I still remember a story shared by her in one of her classes. It was about a sculptor and a wealthy man. When the wealthy man and the sculptor were walking together, they found a huge rock. The wealthy man asked the sculptor if he could carve the statue of Lord Krishna on that particular rock. The sculptor said that if he can get the rock to his place, he can carve the statue in a week’s time. The wealthy man mobilized some men to carry the rock to the sculptor’s place. Then when the wealthy man returned to the sculptor’s house after a week, he was amazed to see the perfect statue of Lord Krishna in place of the huge rock. The wealthy man asked the sculptor “How did you do it?” The sculptor smiled and replied, “I removed all that was not Krishna from the rock and Krishna came out”. It became one of my favourite stories mainly because of the beauty of its language. Not only that but whenever exams were round the corner, she would share a story of two Zen Buddhist monks, who while walking through a dense forest, were chased by a tiger. One of the monks removed his shoes and began running on barefoot, and the other asked him “Do you think you can run faster than the tiger on barefoot?” The first monk replied “It will be good enough if I can run at least faster than you!” She advised us that such should be our attitude while preparing for our exams. The story inspired me to become competitive in the class and made me work harder.
I think she was also a quick thinker. During the course of her lectures, she would often deviate from the topic of discussion to give us a broader perspective on the subject by relating it to different contexts. Sometimes I would lose the thread of what she was talking about, but most of the time, I used to enjoy her classes. Then once I met her outside the academic building and she asked me “How do you find my class?” I answered “I find it very interesting because I am getting a lot of extra knowledge as well…….” And even before I could complete my sentence, she tapped on my shoulder and said, “No no, Amrith, that’s the most polite way of saying ‘You are nowhere closer to the book’” and she left laughing.
She was also taking English classes in other departments and she was equally popular there. Two of my Bhutanese friends studying in the Economics Department had her class one afternoon but they had wanted to go to hospital that particular afternoon. They decided to go to inform her that they needed to go to hospital and that they won’t be able to attend her class. Actually we were allowed to miss 22 classes in a semester but they had expected her to give them attendance so that they could save their quota at least by half day. But when they went to inform her about it, it seems she told them “It’s absolutely fine with me but please don’t expect me to give you attendance because I can’t say you are in the class when you are somewhere else”. My friends lost their words to respond. It seems one of them just said “Madam, technically you are right” and left her room smiling and giggling. What she said was very true but my friends felt that if they were to lose the attendance, it was better to go without informing the lecturer since they were allowed to miss 22 days in a semester.
To conclude, I must say that she was one of the most intelligent, wise and knowledgeable lecturers I have ever met during my entire academic journey. I still miss her and her classes. I have heard that even years after I graduated from the College, she was talking about me in her classes. She was one of those lecturers who made me work hard and excel in my studies. I am very thankful to her and other lecturers for being the main forces behind the gold medal I won for academic excellence during the graduation ceremony in May 2005.
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