Sunday, June 26, 2005

The final call

I was fortunate to have studied in a wonderful school in Madras called PSBB. Though it liked to pride itself on the academic performances, our school also freely encouraged extra-curricular activities. We had one of the best music choirs in the country, a lot of good quizzers, chess players, a consistent cricket team. And, most importantly, great teachers.

I have fond memories of a lot of them - friendly, encouraging, and caring. One such being Mrs Rani Chandran, who taught me Shakespeare (Julius Caesar and Macbeth). And was she good! She kept us spell-bound and made us look forward to what we all had till then a uniform distate for. The idealistic Brutus (who would murder his closest friend for public good), the shrewd Cassius (if his suggestion, that Mark Antony be finished along with Caesar, had been heeded, the Conspirators would have never had to flee and later die), the mob whose passion could be easily swayed (now applauding Brutus -- the ironical "let him be Caesar" -- and now baying for his blood) and the clever Mark Antony ("Yea, they were all honourable men"), Mrs Chandran brought them all alive.

But competence in teaching was not all. She knew when to be stern, when sympathetic. As a senior member of the staff, she commanded the respect of all students, including those she had never taught. She was also a sharp wit, and would regale us with a quick-fire exchange of repartee with whoever dared. She would spot and encourage talent, especially in English, and draft them into the editorial board or the content team of the school's newsletter.

Some years later, I came to know that Mrs Chandran had left our school. Some said she had moved on to head another institution, some said she had moved to the US. None of my friends knew for sure.

A few months back, I did it -- I tracked her down to a school in Cupertino, CA, thanks to the Internet and Google. I got the email address from the site and sent a message trying to find out if it was indeed my old teacher. I had also given my phone number in case she was not comfortable typing on a keyboard. There was no reply for a month; I came to the conclusion that it was probably a namesake.

Then suddenly on the eve of my graduation she called. We had a long chat and I updated myself on her story. She had come down with a major illness and then needing a lot of rest, had quit my school. Bored being idle, she came to the US to spend some time with her son. While here, on her son's suggestion, she applied for a masters programme at Stanford. She gave the GRE and the TOEFL and was soon in. She described how she enjoyed her time, spending hours in the wonderful library working on things of her interest. After her masters, she joined the Cupertino school as a teacher.

I passed on her email address to all my classmates, and she must have been flooded with mails. Before I left for India, I was planning to visit my relatives in California, and now I looked forward to meeting her as well.

On the morning of Friday, 24th June, 2005, my friend studying in Detroit called me up. He called me up to deliver the shocking news that Mrs Chandran was no more - killed in a gruesome road accident, along with her mother as well as son.

Post-script: Mrs Chandran's son Vikram has created a blog for people who knew her to post their thoughts. Please do!


BK said...


A fantastic faculty. Her sessions were such an amazing and unmatched experience. She opened me and many many more to the world of Shakespeare and in a wider perspective, to the wonders of English, the language.

My heart-felt condolences to the family.

Praying for the souls to rest in peace,

maheshbalaji said...

Srikanth, u r so true about how she brought sessions alive! i can still hear her voice when she emotes The Three Witches in Macbeth 'Hail thee, King of Spain'!! Man! and the lesson on Michelangelo, she wud tell us about the Pieta she had seen then and could be named as one reason the liking for English got kicked up in so many of us! it did in me!

Felt real bad when i heard the news!

Vikram A. said...

Hi Srikanth,

I went to Miller Middle School many years ago, for sixth class. Mrs. Chandran was not there then, but it sounds like she was a great teacher. Sorry to hear about her passing.


Srikanth said...

bk, Mahesh, Sad indeed.

Vikram, she came over to the US only around 5 years back. Before that, she used to teach at my school (PSBB) in Madras.

Ponnambalam Sundram, MD said...

Thank you for the wonderful writeup and all the kind comments that this has generated. We have but these sweet memories to console us, like shining seashells on the beach when the tide recedes.I wanted to write earlier, but we are only now trying to emerge from under the weight of this terrible loss. The greatest tribute Rani would wish was that her innocence, honesty and the ability to see good in almost anything be reflected in the lives and thoughts of her beloved students.She loved you all every minute that she lived...

Her brother and youngest sibling
Dr. Ponnambalam Sundram, MD
Chicago, Illinois

Srikanth said...

Dr Sundram,

Thanks a lot for visiting and putting down your thoughts.

All of us, her students, miss her a lot. Her death is an unfortunate loss to the entire student community.

To ask with the bard whose works she brought to life, "When comes such another?"

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Srikanth said...

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