Our neighbours invited us over recently to a gathering in honour of their much respected teacher who was on a short visit to Dubai. When she arrived it was instantly clear why this elegant lady had created a lasting impression on the minds of so many students over the years.
The room was filled with the charisma and respect commanded by her presence. With ease, she had our rapt attention, regaling us with her experiences in teaching and an obvious pride in her student community now spread across the globe. I observed how her former students — now successful entrepreneurs and professionals hung on to her every word with collective admiration. Looking at them I was able to picture them as girls and boys in their school uniforms listening to her with the same reverence in their eyes. They all echoed the same feelings about how they remembered her as a ‘strict disciplinarian’ but were grateful for her teachings and values that had greatly influenced them over the years.
The gathering reminded me of some of the teachers in my life who stood out through their influence and the unforgettable lessons they had imparted. And I could not help realise how remarkably different their approaches were. Of course, everyone remembers those kind teachers whose gentle words and praise had boosted their morale and then there were some others who had an entirely different approach. My driving instructor undoubtedly belongs to the latter group. Her harsh criticism and strict, scowling face had forced me out of an inherent fear of driving and I cannot help feeling grateful to her for helping me master a skill that was not easy for me.
Then there are some teachers who are unforgettable due to the pranks we played on them or the funny incidents that happened during that time. I am reminded of one of our professors who is always associated with his raised eyebrows as we tried hard to suppress our giggles at his emphasis on proper etiquette at all times.
Making a decision
Much beyond the lessons and the knowledge they imparted what stays with us is the example set by a teacher we admired, the encouragement that helped us discover something about ourself or the advice that helped shape an important decision in our life.
I am reminded of the sprightly man with kind eyes and a ready smile who would come home in the evenings to give guitar lessons when I was a teenager. He must have been over 70 at that time. I remember him as always impeccably dressed and a true gentleman. With words of encouragement and endless patience he would correct the notes I played, help me learn the chords and teach me some wonderful songs.
One day he pulled out a photograph from an inner pocket of his clothes. It was the picture of a young man in white clothes posing with a cricket bat in his hand.
As I looked at him in a questioning manner, he said simply, “That’s an old photograph of me. I used to play cricket”. I remember being quite surprised because the man in the photograph bore no resemblance to the old, slightly bent and the much thinner man sitting in front of me. It was only in the recent past that I stumbled upon the details of this man who was in fact, a premier cricketer, pioneering photographer and was also known for his great musical talent.
Astonished at the discovery, I searched for more details. And sure enough there was the same photograph he had shown me that day so many years ago, not once giving me an inkling about how well known he was in his younger days.
However, what has stayed with me is the unforgettable lesson of humility he left behind and I am frequently reminded of it especially in this digital age when we are vying with each other to announce to the world through social media about the slightest accomplishment of our children, the places we visit or the smallest event in our life.
Fyna Ashwath is a journalist based in Dubai.