Successful in their own fields, these students realise that their teachers had more than just notes and marks to offer. They taught life skills, built characters and helped them dream big.
Amrutash Misra | CEO and co-founder, Life Online
This young entrepreneur finds it hard to name one or two teachers/professors who have moulded him and made him the person he is today. He says, “There are too many people who have made a difference. But looking back, there is one Mrs Isaacs who was my English teacher in school (DAV Senior Secondary School-Moggapair, Chennai).” Misra was in Class XI, a very impressionable age, when Mrs Isaacs’ persona and pedagogy influenced him deeply.
After school, Misra had the good fortune of being taught by some great minds at IIT-Madras during his BTech. “At IIT-M, the subjects themselves were so overwhelming that one would get impressed by the subject than the teacher,” he says. He is quick to add that despite the challenges the course posed, there were a couple of professors who stood out. It was their command over the subject and the connections they made with students that differentiated them from the rest. One was the late Prof Dilip V Raghavan. “In our second year we had to take an elective course and Prof Dilip taught me Indian National Movement in 2008. He was excellent at networking, and it is important to mention here that he was blind,” he shares. Misra also happened to be a student of Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthy, director IIT-M. “He taught me in my first year of engineering. Even in 2003 he was a celebrated academician and he completed the course in just six classes. He was a brilliant teacher. It was a short course and he completed it quickly but he was clear at the same time.” Misra adds that years later, he still remembers what each of these teachers taught him.
Sharad Haksar | Advertising photographer
For award-winning advertising photographer, it was Iqbal Mohamed was his favourite teacher. “It was Iqbal who recognised my talent,” he begins. And we all know how important it is for someone to have faith in your work. “I had been on a Himalayan trek and happened to show Iqbal some of the photographs I had clicked. They were very amatuerish, but Iqbal saw beyond that. He said I have an eye for photography,” shares Haksar. Iqbal was also the first person to see Haksar’s work and though Haksar was just in Class XII then, Iqbal urged him to quit school and start work! “And I did. After completing my Class XI, I took to photography,” says the obedient Haksar who had initially intended to become an architect. What Haksar still remembers about Iqbal are his photos, “He had done some amazing work. Twenty years ago, you could not have imagined the kind of photos he created. It just blew my mind. I can still visualise every image I saw with him.”
Adam Sinclair | Hockey player and Olympian
This hockey player who represented India in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and plays for Chennai Cheetahs, Adam Sinclair had some strong support that got him here. Being selected to the Indian hockey team in his second year at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, where he was doing his business management, Sinclair admits that he attended only around five per cent of the classes. With 20 arrear papers, the one person he remembers is the head of his department, Prof Swaminathan. “He supported me, helped me catch up with classes and gave me notes. It was such an encouragement to play well knowing he had my back,” he says.
“He is a good person and teacher. I remember him being practical and expressive in his classes. Without the college and him, I would never have cleared my arrears or received a degree,” he adds. On Teacher’s Day he fondly remembers his coach from Stanes Higher Secondary School, Coimbatore, who is the reason he started to play hockey and is now an Olympian. Another person he looks up to is Diwakar who taught him maths in 11th and 12th standard. Being weak in maths, Sinclair would wake him up early every morning to learn maths before he headed out to practice. Such teachers prove right the expression, ‘what the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.’
Prof Debashis Chatterjee | Director, IIM-Kozhikode
As a Full Bright scholar at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Prof Chatterjee was bowled over by the generosity of his professors. “Peter Senge, a senior lecturer taught me systems dynamics at MIT in 1995. I made a critical review of his book, The Fifth Discipline for a journal and opined that the book didn’t deliver. He was gracious enough to accept the negative review and read it aloud to the whole class. He even offered to write a foreword if I was planning an antidote to his book and address the shortcomings,” he reminisces. “A dedicated teacher will be proud to embrace his students who do better than him/her.”
“During my time at Harvard in 2001, I was left short of money. I approached Prof Ronald Heisetz, senior lecturer in public leadership, for a small increase in the grant. Heisetz wasn’t one for charity and ensured I earned it and didn’t return without accomplishing the purpose for which I was there. He asked me to write a one pager on my times at the prestigious institute and in return awarded me a whopping $7,000 (approx `4 lakh), the biggest stipend I have got till date. During a leadership class, he made a special mention of me to three heads of states of US. Such moments were truly mind-blowing.”
Prof V Balachandran | Founder-director, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai
A teacher is like a ladder, always willing to raise you sky high despite him/her staying put,” begins Prof Bala V Balachandran, founder-director, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai. He was also instrumental in setting up world renowned Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. “Jerold Thompson, my thesis advisor for PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, USA, has nurtured many a nobel laureaute but is yet to get any great recognition himself. He used to always advocate that in the game of knowledge, he was more than happy to be beaten,” says the 75-year-old.
“Though I don’t have a typical teacher-student relationship with my dean at Kellogg School of Management, USA, where I still work, I am what I am because of Donald P Jacobs’s teachings, albeit in a different context. He was the one who taught me that it isn’t your grades that are important, but your ability to inspire others and make a change in their lives. Dwarfed by University of Chicago for a long time, our department couldn’t shine in strategic planning. He instilled in me the confidence to handle the task at hand and made me the chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee. Against spoonfeeding, he never gave us any instructions as to how to go about it. True to his predictions, Business Week ranked us number 1 in 1998.”
Vipin Sachdev | MD, Tuscana Kryptos Restaurants
Aristotle very wisely said, ‘Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach.’ Vipin Sachdev remembers two people from his student days who didn’t just preach. But preached what they practised. In his years at DAV Higher Secondary School, Chennai, the late Ram Kalia had an influence on Sachdev that he did not realise until much later. “I never liked him in school as he was very strict. But years later, I fell in love with this gentleman for his discipline and the high standards he set through practice.” He recalls an incident from school, “We were once summoned to his office for some mischief we did. As he was late, we ran out to the ice gola man and made our hands cold and numb, in preparation for the caning we were sure we would get. But he walked in and didn’t touch the cane. Instead, he gently asked us to not repeat the mistake.”
Later in life, at the Institute of Printing Technology, Chennai, he came across another Ram Kalia in the form of Prof Mohan Rao, principal. “Strict and straight forward, he had a discipline in life and teaching. He didn’t teach me much in terms of a subject. But he taught me about life,” recalls Sachdev.
AV Ilango| Artist and retired professor
Even though nature taught him to paint, AV Ilango was motivated by his own professors to take up teaching as a profession. This artist has also taught mathematics at various government colleges in Tamil Nadu. “We were not inspired by their advice, but rather by their personality and their influence. We see their lives and that acted as a guide for us,” he explains. In school, he was initially poor at mathematics. His maths teacher was Ramaswamy at the Diamond Jubilee High School, Goppichettypalayam, Tamil Nadu. This triggered in him the need to prove himself and he eventually fell in love with maths. Ilango went on to do his Bsc honours and MSc in mathematics from Central College, now known as Bangalore University. He says, “I was transferred to the Madras Medical College, Chennai and I had to teach students who would run away from maths. But I taught them in such a way that they learnt to enjoy their maths classes,” he says. This, he reveals, is because he came across some amazing teachers in his graduation years. MN Nagaraj and Prof Narona, both professor of mathematics at Bangalore University were his role models. Their lessons were filled with examples and were never boring. “Those were different times, we did not have a planned life, neither did anyone inspire us. We learnt from them and grew. Their life was our example,” concludes the 62-year-old.