C. Shanmugamani on teaching mathematics using stories, discussing movies with students and a young boy who dreamt of making it big in cinema
I hailed from Udumalpet, and Coimbatore was my hangout during the summer holidays. I stayed with my paati in Oppanakaara Veedhi and spent many afternoons walking about the streets, eyes wide open to take in the sights. Horse-drawn carts were the chief mode of transport back then; they were parked in rows in front of the Railway Station. People came from far off places in bullock carts to watch movies in the city. When historic movies such as Marmayogi and those of M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar were screened, there were hundreds of bullock carts parked at the entrance.
I took up the job of a teacher in the city in 1963. I introduced mathematics to my students using stories. This is how I would start a new chapter in mathematics: Pascal went to a party one evening. He looked at a door and noticed its geometrical patterns. Suddenly, a theory about right-angled triangles struck him. Shall we discuss it in class today? Students would never forget the story or the theorem.
As a teacher, I got to deal with all kinds of students. There was a boy genius called Villavan Kothai in my class. He would arrive at solutions to math problems even before I taught them. As I worked out a sum on the board, I would glance back and ask, “What is the answer Villavan Kothai?” He would instantly call out the correct answer!
As class teacher, I once made the most unruly student the class leader. He was known for his boisterous ways and I never saw him study in class. By the end of the year, he was one of our best students.
I was very strict when it came to studies, and would give students a lot of homework and handwriting assignments. Outside the classroom, things were different. Students would freely ask “Sir, do you want to watch From Russia With Love with us?” And we sometimes met in Rainbow Theatre after classes. The next day, we would discuss the movie in school.
If you came to our school at 9.15 a.m., you could hear the entire school chorus ‘Vaazhiya Senthamizh’ during the assembly.
Our national flag was hoisted on the last day of every week. On Friday mornings, the first thing we did was look up to see if the flag was up. It meant we were having the weekend off!
Dignitaries who came to Coimbatore almost always stopped for a visit to our school. Once, R.K.Karanjia, the editor of the magazine Blitz, visited us and later wrote an article about his stay in Coimbatore. He even mentioned about his visit to our school.
Once, during my last class for the year, I asked my students to talk about their ambition in life. Doctor, engineer…each one stood up and told me what they wanted to become. One voice said: “I want to become an actor like MGR and Sivaji.” The entire class laughed. Chiding them to stop, I walked up to him and said, “Be yourself. Do not copy anybody.” That kid was Bhagyaraj! He even named the teacher’s character in Pudhiya Vaarpugal and Sundaragandam after me.
C. Shanmugamani: Born in July 1942, he taught Math at Mani Higher Secondary School from 1963 to 1982. He currently divides his time between the U.S. and Coimbatore. He is an active member of the Tamil Sangam in Oklahoma. His hobbies include stamp collection — he was part of the Coimbatore Philately Club.