THE sanskrit word Guru or teacher denotes far more than an individual who imparts knowledge and wisdom to his students.
Next to the universal concepts of ‘Mother’, ‘Father’ and ‘God’, the Guru is held in reverence as his teachings would guide his students to obtain not only material knowledge but also the ability to cultivate virtues which are essential for the betterment of society.
Likewise, any teacher who assumes this journey must be able to devote his entire self not only to the teaching cause but also to building character in his students.
My father, M.P.Rangganathan is the epitome of that teacher devoted to the ultimate teaching cause.
Papa was born in 1939 in a kampung in Alor Gajah, Malacca to migrants from India determined to live a more prosperous life in Malaya then.
It was a family steeped in poverty as my grandparents struggled to make ends meet by selling kacang putih and rearing cattle to provide for a family of six children.
As the oldest son, Papa learnt from a very young age of the suffering and hardship that came with being poor. . It was during these formative years that Papa would learn of the value of education as the only means to rise above poverty and to achieve a more meaningful future.
In spite of his lack of education, my grandfather was informed enough to provide Papa with an education in an English-medium school and it was a decision that would change his life forever.
Papa obtained his primary education at the Tranquerah English School and it was during these few years that he realised the importance of language in achieving academic excellence.
Papa’s determination to overcome all odds met with continued success as he gained entry into the country’s second oldest institution, the Malacca High School (MHS) for his secondary education.
Papa decided to pursue his passion for teaching upon sitting for the Overseas School Certificate, after completing secondary school.
He served as a young trainee teacher in a rural school in his hometown in the late 1950s. Despite having to make daily arduous journeys on his bicycle to the dilapidated school, Papa was fuelled by his passion to impart his knowledge and lessons in life to the kampung children.
Perhaps it was in those rare moments of truth, that he would develop his passion to teach the national language of our country, Bahasa Malaysia. Unlike his peers, Papa’s journey to obtain his tertiary education was not smooth-sailing. Between teaching, honing his teaching skills at a teaching college and juggling family affairs, he persevered and completed his HSC but due to financial woes, it would be only years later that he achieved his long-time dream to major in Malay studies at the presitigious Universiti Malaya.
It was well worth the effort. Papa emerged as one of only six non-Malays to major in Malay studies and the only Indian at that. In a time where he had been questioned for his ability to teach the Malay language simply because of his race, it was a moment of victory.
Papa went on to achieve one of his most memorable moments as a teacher when he was given the golden opportunity to return to his alma mater, the MHS in 1972. For the next 22 years, Papa carved a niche for himself as a superior teacher who produced the best results among his students in Bahasa Malaysia year after year.
Papa’s unique brand of teaching was not limited to teaching the rudiments of the subjects but more importantly, the rudiments of life as a Malaysian and as a human being.
Every sajak, pantun or syair (Malay sonnets, poems, poetries) was drummed into the minds of his students in ways which they could relate to in their every day lives as a child, a student and as a citizen of the country.
At the height of Papa’s teaching career, thousands of his students from MHS and students from other schools attending his tuition classes would always remember him as a strict and unyielding man with a rare display of emotions. But his eyes lit up with passion as he imparted his prowess in the Malay language.
More importantly, his lessons in life encouraged nationality, solidarity and ways to contribute to the betterment of our society as true Malaysians. Many of Papa’s students, whether they loved him or feared him, have made him very proud and are now successful in both national and international arenas.
As a peer, Papa continues to command respect and admiration from his fellow teachers as a true educator. In 2003, four years after his retirement, Papa was duly bestowed the coveted Tokoh Guru Kebangsaan award purely for his dedicated classroom teaching towards academic excellence.
For Papa, it was a humbling experience more than a celebration as it was a due recognition of all of his childhood dreams to rise above poverty, to realise his passion for teaching and importantly, to give back to society.
For his family, it was finally a recognition for a beloved man who had committed his whole life towards his teaching cause while still balancing his love and filial duties as a son, a husband and the patriarch of a family.
For his students and peers, it was a celebration of the man who inspired a myriad of students to realise their dreams of success and continues to inspire students, still.
At almost 76 years of age, Papa has no intentions to stop teaching. Through the years, Papa continues to keep abreast with the many changes made to the Bahasa Malaysia syllabus and accepts these changes as a challenge not only to himself but also to his students.
It is telling of Papa’s love not only for teaching but also for the Malay language.
In a time where administrators and educators are arguing about the importance of Bahasa Malaysia versus English versus Bahasa Malaysia in our multi-cultural society, he remains a staunch believer of the importance of both languages to Malaysians.
While it is a struggle to instil the love for languages and the importance of education among the younger generation today, Papa’s resolve remains enduring.
Teaching aside, Papa continues to feed his voracious appetite for reading and spends late nights poring over his collection of books on philosophy, literary criticisms and other reads as his one and only personal indulgence.
Other times, he spends actively providing guidance and presence in religious welfare activities as a means of giving back to the community.
Papa also savours yearly reunions organised by his former students and values new memories made with them decades later.
More than half a century later, Papa’s love for teaching remains a sacred endeavour. It is a vow he has taken as a true ‘Guru’ to continue enlightening his students to greater wisdom and self-realisation and one that is timeless.
Did you find this article insightful?