The Guiding Star

TP Ramachandran Sir SSKZM
Portrait courtesy : Harsha Pramod

Jet black hair well oiled and brushed onto sides, black leather Cambridge shoes with a shine that matched his turn out, spick and span – TPR Sir exuded flawlessness.

The world is full of miseries“, he would start quoting Buddha,
It’s cause – the desire,
If you can suppress desire you can end all miseries.
And Eight-fold Path puts you on way to suppress desires
So now, class, tell me what is the Eight-fold path?

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Surveying the silent, dazed, helpless faces, he would scream,
“Ninte okke cylinderu njan odikkum!”

His signature reprimand, which often reverberated within the four walls of the class room and sometimes even outside had often left me wondering about a cylinderless existence, you see. A frightening, deeply unsettling vision of a school, full of ‘cylinderless’ students moving about in angst, like the proverbial ‘squirrel who had lost its cylinders, in a manner of speaking, if Sir had his way.

TPR Sir was a man of man of beliefs. No, I am not talking about the profound philosophies that at times become the moral crutch and compass in people’s lives. This went much deeper. It was the essence of  everything that he believed a teacher should be . He always believed in the best in us. He believed that he would not lie to him even while we did. If under any circumstances, we found ourselves wandering in the barrenness of doubt, for we took him to be a stickler, to our rue, he always left a way out for us for redemption.

TP Ramachandran - Master, Sainik School, Kazhakootam
Courtesy : Devi’s Archives

Once when he called for the submission of homework on the golden years of Chandra Gupta Maurya (these gold-loving Emperors, I say), I found myself  rising slowly to own up my ‘non-doing’ under his concerned stare. Gauging  the situation unpleasant, he quickly called out my name and instructed me to rise up, collect every ones’ assignment books and deposit with him at his residence – effectively saving my face, reprimanding me in a way only I understood and not anyone else, and a silent pat on the back admonishing me not to do it again. It all passed within a moment.

So it was in that evening that I reached his residence with my curricular mission accomplished and a similar load of  my buddies’ piled up on my biceps, to own up my dereliction of duties that I first noticed the bicycle parked beside the stairs. Those days it was bounden duty of course mates to to transform themselves into beasts of burden, carrying their ‘movement- challenged’ mates admitted in the MI room around on their daily outings (Black Ops involving coconuts, mangoes and livestock – specifically poultry), at night. Kazhaks with their limbs in cast rejoiced; for all late night movie shows in Vettu Road were theirs to see ! So the next time that I met up with a situation grim where I had to take good care of my hefty pal in cast in the MI room, I had it all figured out ! The bicycle was my way out of my buddy duty as the mail-mule. Hence forth I would ride. By God, I would !

So it went. Past midnight, as the tonsured bandicoots came out to play, “click”, went the top bolt up. Another click, lower bolt went up. In the starlit night, the door at the stairwell opened,beyond lay the night, an exhilarating ride. TPR Sir’s bicycle is claimed, of course, for a one night stand. With the Cinderella time set to 5. am in the morning , ie when the school awakes, we set out on our trip to Vetturoad and yonder. Freewheeling down the freedom-at midnight-alley, with the fear working up the excitement , past the surprised stares of the neighborhood dogs who knew the real owner, past the silent mighty sentinels of the night, past the Parade ground, past worries. I guess, metaphorically, it was my way of defiantly riding into adulthood with my GPS broken.

Our Night Ride

The nights thereafter were fun loaded with this play of  Houdini tricks of claiming the cycle and the joy ride in between. To and fro between the school MI room and  places where the patients would get treated with the latest ‘questionable ‘ liniments the cine world could offer, the cycle carried many, doing us proud. So as usual on a starlit night, we painfully opened the door locks from outside and reached the stairwell alley, ready for the ride. The bicycle (our bicycle) is locked! Sweet Lord in Heaven!

As we frantically gave cardiac-massages to our brains to work a way out, the sudden noise of the door upstairs flung open, unsettling us. Caught unaware by the turn of events so dramatic we flung ourselves beneath the staircase. From there, we could hear someone descending the stairs, step by step, as if he knew. The figure silhouetted in the the star light  that seeped through the ventilator slats – it was of none other than the one who believed us to be gentlemen! On reaching, he  unlocked the cycle, spend some thoughtful moments there, finally cleared his throat and ascended the stairs apparently avoiding to train his stare to the corner where we dumped ourselves hiding in shame. Four brains asked themselves in unison, “How did he know?” “Did somebody squeal? ”

You see,
We knew that he knew that we use the bicycle everyday.
Neither did we own up nor he cared.
He believed us to be gentlemen, hence we were forced to be one, eventually.
Among stars he now rests
The heavenly constellation he now completes.
We knew it for certain even before, me and my fellow night ambulance crew.
We being, solely the souls privileged to experience, the stars sharing secrets with him.

This is my tribute to the Night Ambulance.

16 Responses

  1. Oh God! Just saw this and brought back memories!!
    I don’t remember the question he asked, but the answer should have been “king harshavardhana”. I don’t remember who the poor sod he asked was. But I clearly remember the guys struggling and stammering “harsha… harsha…”,
    To which he replied in his booming voice “ഹർഷ വീട്ടിലുണ്ട് നീ ഉത്തരം പറയടാ”.


  2. Dearest Prince, You never stop amazing me, am so proud and happy to have you close in my life. TPR sir will always be cherished, not for history lessons as I never kind of liked the subject :), but for the values he taught you in life. Blessed to have such people as our teachers!

  3. You KNOO… in India ….Ttooring Tha Ttime of chandra Gupta Maurya…. There were 9 gems in his court…..They were dhanwanthari, kshapataka, amarasinha, shanku, vethalabhatta, khatakarppara, kaalidaaasa… YYaaand VARArucheeee ……

    Still the sound ringing in my ears….
    TPR sir had a lot of confidence in me….. even when I didn’t have any…. in myself.

    1. Hi Prasad,

      TPR sir, though not explicitly expressed, could be in many ways related to old school leftists with their innate love for humanity. His ability to believe in others might have emanated from this social lean-age. This is purely my personal reading (should be differentiated from an opinion) and i would tread safe rather than sound opinionated while making a remark on one of the towering personality of kazhak fraternity.

    1. Hey buddy Jubith,

      Saw clippings of your recent venture with your camera panning kazhak’s soul.
      Nice, enjoyed it.
      Waiting for the final product eagerly.

  4. hi, satheesh,
    nostalgic! your piece,
    D would be thanking you now for the early lessons you gave him on smuggling liquor.
    He is in excise now!! sure will be an asset there…..
    write ups are not entirely mine.
    i amjust a reporter of all ‘thallu kolli tharams’. BB brings in shine.
    i just bring in stars….He makes them share secrets!!!!

  5. Good one Prince ! I still remember the caning session in study hall after those bullying incidents which happened when he went out station for athletic meet. I also remember an incident when he caught myself and Dinesh buying liquor from a bar between Vetturoad and Kazhakkootam. We bought a bottle of rum to conduct some farewell party for some of our folks. Though we succeeded to evade scrutiny during our onward and return trip, we couldn’t escape the eyes of TPR sir who was seemingly somewhere in the vicinity of bar.

    He first spotted Dinesh during dinner and asked him “aa satheesh evideenee ? ningalu randu perum dinner kazhinju enne vannu kaananam. oppam aa kuppiyum koode kondu vayo..”. We thought we’re going to lose the bottle anyway..So we transferred half bottle to another one, replaced with water and took it upstairs. Here he go..”Ninakkokke ithil ethra vellam ozhichu kudikkanam ennariyamo ? Koombu vaadi povum !”.

    Then he opened his refrigerator to show another bottle and told “ithu nchan Rajesh R Nath-inte kayyil ninnum moonnu maasam munpu pidichathanu…ningade ee kuppiyum ivide irikkum”..he placed our bottle in his fridge and asked us to leave.

  6. shiju,
    thanx for sharing your experience with TPR sir.
    and if he has slapped you in your face, I personally see it as an extremely violent way of behaviour from sir’s side and i join the chorus to condemn it with all my heart. I personally dont believe this forum, as a place to boost anybody’s image so we should not have any problem in caliing a spade ‘a spade’.

    The respect you still garner for TPR sir speaks volumes about your personality and we are happy that you and your friend have emerged out of the situation as real heros.

    Kazhakians from now on will remember you guys as the ones who gave TPR sir a chance to redeem.

    Thanx once again.

  7. Being the first person in the 91batch who got slapped in face by TPR sir, I am really proud of it for what I am now. When I was dismissed from the school along with Louie, it was rumored that TPR sir strongly demanded it. I never take it granted and hope Louie does the same since he is a leading surgeon in India. TPR sir always expressed it, in his face and actions. So I still respect him and being a teacher who teaches +2 students he is still one of my role model. To be frank the only one from Sainik School.

  8. One just can’t help choking up when thinking about TPR Sir..Have a lot to talk about, most of them the way he helped and cared about us in ways only we knew and no one else..Later..

  9. Way up in the sky….. A star is smiling…….

    Prince, what do you think TPR Sir would have said today?

    I will say that he will say that, “Gentleman, I am so proud of YOU”

  10. Satchi,
    as we all know TPR Sir, himself was a good cricketer, best with his bowling. Even while firing on two cylinders he was a force to reckon with. But when he is firing on all cylindres even PCN sir.(Who was an ace batsman) found it difficult to stand him.

  11. Felt nice reading this Prince. TPR sir was my house master when I was in 10th. Apart from being a good history teacher, he was also a very good human being which is reflected in what you have written. Once in a cricket match, while I was batting, the ball came and hit my unpadded leg and my knee got hurt, I got out for a zero, adjudged LBW. We lost that match. That evening in the study room, regardless of my performance in the match or result of the match, he came and asked me about my knee, as to how it was feeling. That shows the concern and care he took of his house members.

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