T.SARAVANAN remembers J.Vasanthan, a remarkable man and a beloved teacher
“Many Tamils speak Tinglish which is a mixture of Tamil and English. A college mate of mine in the American College kept changing his speaking style periodically. If one day you find him mumbling monosyllabic words like "yup" and `nope' you can be sure he has just seen a Gary Cooper film. Sometimes he quoted some lines from the films like, "Tomorrow is another day"(Gone with the Wind) quite out of context and unnecessarily. But when he ran out of such lines and had to speak on his own he slid into Tinglish. One day, he got angry with someone, and shouted "That all won't walk here. I will see one hand." And he couldn't understand why we were laughing. He felt that speaking such `superior' English to us was like casting pearls before swine. Wonder how he wrote his English exams. He passed though.” – From the column Down Memory Lane by Prof. J. Vasanthan published in The Hindu MetroPlus May 20, 2006
Professor J. Vasanthan’s sense of humour ensured there was fun wherever he was. Fondly called JV by his students and friends, English professor’s classes were filled with drama and passion. We would be so enraptured by his narration that even the habitual absentees among us wouldn’t dream of missing his class.
I always made it a point to arrive well in time for his class. He tapped into my interest in drama and always chose me to enact scenes from Shakespeare’s plays for the class. It was to be Hamlet and I was to memorise Ophelia’s lines. But I was late to class that day. When I entered the classroom fearing his admonishment, JV exclaimed: “Here, I introduce my girl Ophelia, a rather ‘substantial’ Ophelia.” The comment on my size evoked instant laughter.
He never taught from the book, but recited every line with passion. Each class was a performance.
JV’s language was always crisp, clear and filled with wit. He had profound knowledge of Shakespeare. A lot of us thought he even resembled the bard.
He also introduced us to Alfred Hitchcock films such as Rope, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. He was an ardent lover of English movies, often taking train rides from Kovilpatti to Madurai just to watch movies in Regal Talkies.
He was very fond of Hollywood heroines like Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn and lavished praise on Savithiri and went on to call her the subtlest actress of her time.
He sensitised us to theatre through his Curtain Club in American College. He staged plays which have stood the test of time. The club emerged as one of the finest English theatre groups of that time in the State.
He was able to translate his thoughts into words and illustrations with equal felicity. His line drawings often conveyed more than words. He also mastered the art of caricature. The Hindu Metro Plus Madurai was privileged to have him as a guest writer from 2004 to 2008. He wrote the ‘Down Memory Lane’ column and often supplemented his words with his eye-catching drawings.
JV philanthropist often spent his birthday and wedding anniversary with orphans and the aged. His last contribution to the world was the donation of his eyes.