Sunday, 17 August 2014

Remembering Kinathukadavu's Great Elementary School Teacher

Teacher Meenakshi Sundaram

It's me, a little boy, held by my mother

It is true that not all ‘Meenakshi Sundarams’ are as great as ‘Mahavidhwan’ Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, a renowned Tamil scholar in the Thiruvavaduthurai mutt and the teacher of eminent Tamil scholar ‘Thamizh Thatha’ U.V. Swaminatha Iyer. Though the erudition of the Mahavidhwan lay in his skills of composing hundreds of conventional Tamil poems everyday, his student Swaminatha Iyer’s reverence for him is known from the fact that he had never referred his teacher by name on any occasion.

However, there lived another ideal elementary school teacher by name Meenakshi Sundaram at Kinathukadavu, whose name is still pronounced by many of his students for his effective teaching skills and concern for pupils.

One such student of Meenakshi Sundaram is Dr. P. Kuppusamy, an 82 year old eminent lawyer, writer and president of the city’s literary organization Nanneri Kazhagam.

Recalling his student days under the teacher at the Kinathukadavu government middle school, Kuppusamy writes in one of his books that Meenakshi Sundaram was a great teacher, whose effective handling of lessons  helped him understand the nuances in  the classical pieces of Tamil literature.  

My mother M.Saraswathy

“Unlike most teachers of these days, Meenakshi Sundaram had concern for each of his students. Whenever he taught an interesting lesson in the class, he would also ensure whether his pupils had comprehended the lesson well” says Kuppusamy.

Meenakshi Sundaram also helped a brilliant, but an economically poor student Saraswathy by buying her new clothes. The student, who also became a teacher, later expressed her gratitude to Meenakshi Sundaram by christening her son after him.   

Eminent Lawyer Kuppusamy

In contrast to most present day government school teachers, who leave the campus as soon as the bell rings in the evening,  Kuppusamy notes that Meenakshi Sundaram would collect the enthusiastic students and conduct regular free classes in pieces of Tamil literature like Naladiyar, Thevaram and Thiruvasakam even after school hours.

“The 12th song in Naladiyar, taught by Meenakshi Sundaram during one of the evening classes in 1943, has got registered in my mind and I can say it by heart even today” avers Kuppusamy.

The song, which glorifies agriculture being superior to all other occupations, reads thus:

The trees on the river bank
And the people's  prosperous life under a king’s rule
Will perish any day
But, a life earned by ploughing the land
Will persist on the planet forever

With agriculture being  perfect
All other trades are defective in one way or the other

Meenakshi Sundaram’s interpretation of this song from the Tamil classic Naladiyar, is also relevant to the lives of the people in Kinathukadavu, who were all agriculturists those days. Interestingly, With Kinathukadavu being rich in rainfall in the bygone era, the place too got its name after channels (Kadavu) seen connected to the overflowing wells (Kinaru) for discharging

Sources: Maanpamai Neethipathi Avarkale – By Dr. P. Kuppusamy

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

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