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To SIR, with LOVE

Prof. C. S. Jayaram retires from a long and distinguished teaching career this month. His old student, K. PRADEEP, profiles the teacher, the artist and the man in him.

A FEW more hours in the post-graduate classes and he would walk out, a pile of books in his chalk-smeared hands. That would be Prof. C. S. Jayaram's last class: The end of a long, magical journey into the world of English Literature, taking along with him many generations of admiring students.

Classes were not just lecture rooms where he set his students' assignments or dinned into them, all that he had stuffed in from those huge hardbound, age-worn books. His students loved Prof. Jayaram because he created an ambience in which they became conscious of the subject, of himself, where reputations, some of them life-long, were made. He had that uncanny ability to infuse life into any of the streams of Literature and never dreaded venturing outside the safe limits of guaranteed ideas and methods of language teaching. He never got exhausted of teaching.

"I have never felt the need to stick strictly to what is stipulated in the syllabus. Again, there are no rules laid down to the teaching methods that could be adopted. One can innovate and try making some of those disciplines much more interesting. I remember devising a sort of rummy card game to teach grammar for the pre-degree students. I designed a few sets of these cards, which had words and parts of sentences written on them. The class was divided into groups and and they played this game. It not only made grammar much more interesting but I'm sure the students picked up the leads much more effectively."

It is this sustained attempt to pull down the walls, to help breathe more freely within those four walls, and to look around on a vaster horizon that made Prof. Jayaram's classes an unforgettable experience.

Literature is an art, along with painting, theatre, sculpture or even choreography. And yet there are very few who seriously dabble in Literature or any of the other arts. Prof. Jayaram is one of those very rare teachers who took the clue to the universal and all pervading character of Literature. Painting and sculpting were streams that ran, paradoxically, parallel through his study and exposition of Literature. "I used to make pencil sketches while at school. My elder brother took one of them and also managed to put it at an exhibition. My mother gave me my first watercolours and brushes. Painting became a serious passion while at Salem where I got my first teaching job at the Engineering College. Later I was trained at the Kerala Institute of Arts, influenced by Kaladharan and it was at the Kerala Kalapeetom that I really matured. I have found this pursuit immensely enhancing in our classes. It could supplement our lectures, our studies. I used to suggest at most of the meetings where the syllabus used to be discussed, the need to introduce art studies. Unless one understands art, one cannot understand literature."

A perennial hazard that comes with the teaching profession is lack of anonymity. There is a perpetual fear of being watched even in a crowd. This feeling often places restrictions on the teachers. "I have never felt this at all. That sort of inhibition is terrible. I'm an avid moviegoer and some of the best films I have seen were at the Deepa Theatre, a place, which most people would consider scandalous to be seen at. Remember that the students have an uncanny ability to see through a teacher. These things do not come in the way of respecting you in the class."

Prof. Jayaram may be an anachronism in these days when teachers are evaluated by the M.Phil and Ph.D degrees. Though he enjoyed reading and preparing the draft of the thesis he could not come to terms with that disciplinary aspect that the exercise needed. It acted as a restraint on this man who loved to float free. But ask him about this and Prof. Jayaram blames himself squarely. "Fortunately for me it was not a compulsion. And, frankly, I was not fit or efficient for that sort of systematic study." But countless students of his would vouch that it was his spontaneity and inspired thoughts that they valued more.

`Concept of Frames in Literature and Painting,' the subject of his thesis, was something close to his heart. A part of this formed the seed for his book `Samakaleena Soundaryasastram' and, "I can probably think of a book in English on these lines for I have put in so much work into it," reveals Prof. Jayaram.

Is writing then going to be his main pursuit after retirement? "Not exactly. I believe in accidentals. I'm prepared for it. The ground is fertile and ready for anything. Let it come."

As he leaves the college campus he crosses the `Lord of the Universe,' a huge sculpture in cement and concrete, Prof. Jayaram's gift to the college on its Golden Jubilee. "For me working on this was a learning experience. "

This piece of art will confer immortality on this unique teacher-artist. Time and years will roll by. Generations of students will traverse the corridors of this hallowed institution. But this black-and-white sculpture will stand as a testimony to a man who gave his all for this college.

Photo: Mahesh Harilal

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