2002. My sister’s wedding date got finalized. I went with her to invite teachers from our school (Mani Higher Secondary School). It was a moment of pride to know that our teachers – those who had still not retired, could remember both of us. We already knew that the one teacher, who I desperately wanted to invite, had retired 13 years before. I had not met him for over 5 years. I was hoping that someone would be able to tell us about his whereabouts. We did find out.
He was dead, a few months before.
How could he? He had always told us that he would live till 90. He would’ve been only 71 then.
YM Joghee. What a man he was, for those of us who cared to know him. The celebrations around Srinivasa Ramanujan’s 125th birth anniversary have brought back memories of him. I am reminded of the small poster of Ramanujan that Joghee master had gifted to me and which is still stuck onto the inner drawers of our steel bureau at my parent’s place.
I can’t think of Math and gifts, without thinking of Joghee master. He had a unique approach to teaching Maths. Something akin to Ramanujan’s. He never bothered about the text-book steps to arrive at a solution. He always encouraged us to find shorter ways of finding a solution. He exposed us to Vedic Mathematics, when it was not yet a fad. We were all made into mini-Shakuntalas, doing complex square-roots and multiplications within our minds in a few seconds.
But he didn’t stop at Maths, though he was only our Maths teacher. He taught English to those of us, who were interested. He sharpened our grammar. Any errors that you may notice in my writing now, would be those I have learnt later on. He introduced us to English literature. While, it was my father who ignited the passion for Tamil literature, it was with Joghee master that I took baby steps into the classics of English literature.
I couldn’t get enough of Joghee master at school. I started visiting him at his single room in a small lodge on a busy market road. He was 56 when he first starting teaching me Maths for my 6th Standard class. He was never married. He didn’t want marriage to interfere with his passion for teaching. That also explained why he was always having lunch at Hotel Vani Vilas, near our school.
For the three years that he taught me (till he retired – in any case, he was officially eligible to teach only till 8th Standard), almost all Sunday mornings were spent with him at his hotel room. He used to talk to me about books that he read and give me math puzzles to solve. It was always a friendly chat. I felt that he treated me like his equal. He rarely taught me during those Sunday meetings. I always returned home with a gift, usually, a book with a distinct YM Joghee signature and seal on the first page. The gifts accumulated and grew into a library. Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, RL Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Conan Doyle are all authors introduced to me by him. Those were three glorious years, when Pip and Ivan Hoe were my heroes; when I was traveling around the world in a day, travelled to the center of the earth and under the seas. I even had the Complete Works of Shakespeare, which I finished reading in my early teens over a single summer vacation. (Now, I think, I did it too early and missed the nuances, and must revisit all those wonderful works of Shakespeare).
After a while, I had company for visiting Joghee master – my sister. Along with books, we now started getting ice-creams too. Arun ice-creams! What a luxury, they were at that time, for us.
Our school had an excellent library. Most of the English classics there too, had the YM Joghee seal and signature.
After I moved to 9th Standard, I had a tough time adapting to the style of the new Maths teacher. Competent though, he was the exact opposite of Joghee master. He was a stickler to the text book and expected us to list down all the steps. No more shouting out the answer in a jiffy. My appetite for Maths went on a slow decline, after that. I am still reasonably good with numbers, thanks to the strong foundation, but am not, relatively, as sharp as I was, for my age then.
I still continued to meet Joghee master. He moved to a distant place (10kms!) , close to a railway track. The number of trips started dwindling – partly due to the distance, partly due to other weekend commitments (I had become a busy inter-school debater!) and partly because I started feeling that I was outgrowing my favourite teacher. I was now grown up enough to develop my own literary tastes, and discover authors on my own. But I always knew, I was standing on his shoulders.
For college, I moved to Chennai. The visits to Joghee master gradually came to a stop. Then I lost track of him. And then, I realized we had lost him.
I did a Google search, before writing this blog. I couldn’t find any entry on YM Joghee. If this is the first entry about him on the internet, I am happy that I am doing it. But he deserves better.