I was busy with packing my luggage to leave for my native place. It was not the usual monthly visit. I was leaving that place forever, after completing my short tenure of six months.
That was when Radhamani chechi, my landlady, calling aloud “You have a large team of visitors”
Large team? Who would be coming this morning? I went out eagerly. It was a pleasant surprise! Really it was a large team – My students!
Almost all students of the final year and a few of the second year came to bid goodbye. They walked along with me carrying my luggage to the Vennikulam bus stop 15 minutes away. We shared all sorts of memories and fun while waiting for the bus. And when the bus came, almost all of them climbed aboard the bus and accompanied me to Thiruvalla. From there I had to travel to Thodupuzha, my native place. They helped me to carry my luggage, to find a seat and settle down in the bus. As the bus started moving, they were all standing there waving a loving goodbye.
I slowly leaned back to my seat and closed my eyes against the cool wind seeping from outside. What happened in the last one hour was felt like a dream, charged with intense emotions. It was impressive that my students didn’t have the typical Malayalee shyness to express their love and affection towards me. They were so innocent and open in their talk and behavior. I felt a sense of satisfaction. Memories took me to the beginning of my association with Vennikulam Polytechnic and my dear students.
It was a few months after my graduation. Slowly I was realizing that the B. Tech certificate I carried was not going to help me much to find a job immediately. In those days, a quarter century ago, there was no campus recruitment support in our college. Only one or two companies came for Mechanical branch after our exams, we heard later. There were only a couple of public sector companies in Kerala that could accommodate Electronics graduates. One was meant for a few graduates scoring very high marks at university rank level. So it was not accessible for the vast majority. And the other one was sinking in loss, closing its divisions one by one. It was not entertaining fresh graduates. Private sector was taking its baby steps in Kerala, especially in our technology areas. State service exams were conducted only in long gaps. Thus the job market in the state was not at all attractive to Electronics graduates in those days.
Moreover, my parents being from a lower middle class background, could not afford to send me for job hunting in costly cities like Bangalore and Bombay. I was caught between less opportunities within the state and the need for a job. So the way out was set by myself to prepare for the public sector exams and in parallel try for jobs appeared in the newspapers.
One day, I saw an advertisement in newspaper, for Guest Lecturer post in Government Polytechnic at Vennikulam near Thiruvalla, in Pathanamthitta district. It was the middle of the academic year. I had no idea about the job, still I decided to go for the interview and in a few days I started my first temporary job as a Guest Lecturer in Electronics for the rest of the year.
The institution had very minimal facilities, functioning on the top floor of a rented building adjacent to the main road, surrounded by small shops, completely devoid of silence and environment needed for an academic campus. The Electronics department was in a pathetic condition with insufficient staff and poorly maintained labs. To address the faculty shortage, they appointed a couple of Guest Lecturers, two fresh Electronics graduates including me. The students were naughty, and not serious about their studies under the limited academic facilities.
The micro-sized teacher who taught Micro-processors would soon become Micro-Saina for them! Students of other branches, especially of Automobile, were at the forefront of passing comments on teachers. The challenge was on me to survive in that environment.
I enjoyed teaching them Microprocessors and Digital Electronics, guiding them in Labs, Seminars and Projects. My approach was to focus on the fundamentals so as to generate an interest in students to explore the subjects further. And I was happy to see that it was working well. At one point in time, I even thought that my future profession was going to be teaching for sure. I was involved in their co-curricular activities like Cultural Fest. During the study tour to Kanyakumari, we visited a couple of companies in Trivandrum, which was uncommon during my student days. We mingled without teacher-student barriers and a bond was being developed between this novice teacher and the students.
Fully committed to work, I was sincerely getting involved in addressing the needs of the students, and they were counting on me for all kinds of support. The regular teachers, enjoying the cushion of government jobs, were not very interested in the students and their needs, let alone solving their problems. So these students were left totally unattended, and once we – the Guest Lecturers – joined, we took care of the students’ academic activities in our department.
Things were gradually falling into the right track and the academic year was soon coming to an end. Just then, on a fine morning, panic spread among my familiar circles as ‘Electronics Guest Lecturer of Vennikulam Polytechnic eloped’! It was my colleague, the other Guest Lecturer, who disappeared with the love of her life. Such an idea was not there even in my wildest dreams.Still I had to bear the brunt of its repercussions. I landed in all sorts of troubles and unmanageable workload, along with handling unfamiliar subjects, labs, final year seminars, projects and viva-voce single-handedly. I had sleepless nights for a weeks.
There were a few final year students who did not show any interest in studies, bunked classes and simply wandered outside. The other teachers warned me against running after these “hopeless” students to bring them into classrooms. They advised me to wind up the year-ending activities as a mere formality, as they usually do. Still I kept on trying and in my first round of attempts, I was successful in bringing most of them inside but not all. I was not ready to give up.
I went on with my efforts to make them complete their curriculum. With that goal, I initiated a kind of individual counselling. ‘Counselling’ was neither a popular nor familiar word in those days in the academic community of Kerala. But today I realize that it was the job I did then, in its true spirit. At the young age of 23, it was not easy to deal with the defiant students in their late teens. I focused on preparing myself to handle the situation. I was ready to listen to them – their complaints, grievances, painful experiences from college and in some cases even personal issues. I was receptive to their versions, ignoring the misconceptions of the society. Even though I was a temporary lecturer, I started believing like a permanent one myself, in taking responsibilities and integrating myself into the system. I was rejoiced to see a problem getting resolved by my involvement. In turn, I was developing an attachment towards the institution and the students. And to my great surprise… it worked! The other teachers also started appreciating me for my efforts.
One of my final year students, a slim boy of average height and smart looks, wandered around in a drunkard style, smoking cigarettes during class time. Siju hardly attended any classes and his scores in exams were very poor. Moreover, his internal assessment was pending. I had been waiting for him, after sending reminders through his classmates, but he was so resistant and never turned up.
I noticed him first during the Cultural Fest. I was a judge for Malayalam Recitation competition. He recited a poem so beautifully that everybody in the audience and judges could accept that he was a talented boy. He didn’t appear to have any problems. So I was sure somehow that he had enough capability and talent, but persistent negligence by teachers and the widespread notorious image blocked him from coming back to the main stream.
I decided to complete his internal assessment. For that, I needed his cooperation. But how to get that? I thought of attacking the issue with a different approach. I initiated an investigation of his personal background and history as a student. My colleagues in the department discouraged me and advised to keep away from him for the concern of my safety at that young age. He was so notorious in the institution. Still I was determined and didn’t feel the fear. I was prepared to go to any extent to gather the lost sheep, with the mindset of Jesus Christ…