Teachers play an important role in our lives to become good human beings and valued citizens to society. Teachers are an extremely important part of any school society and at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Thamizh Nadu), it was no different. What Cadets at our school learned from our teachers at a young age has in most cases stayed with us and will continue to do so till our graves.
Here I am writing not about our great front line teachers, but about those lesser mortals, great human beings, who always worked in the background to make learning easier for us Cadets. They are the support staff who assisted with most activities that happened at our school.
The oldest of the lab attendants was Mr. Vittal Das. He was at the Biology lab assisting Mr Paul and Mr George, our zoology and botany teachers. He made sure that we got frogs for our dissection classes, duly anesthetised with a heavy dose of chloroform. He was the most politically active among the support staff, even though they were not unionised. He was in the forefront fighting for their rights. He was a member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) who remained steadfast with the party and was always singing praises for his leader, Late M Karunanidhi. Despite the dismissal of Karunanidhi Government in 1976 and the drubbing DMK received in the 1977 elections, he remained loyal to the party.
Manuel, the Physics Lab Attendant was a man for all seasons, all because he was assistant to Mr. PT Cherian, our Physics teacher. Mr Cherian was an icon and was in the forefront for almost all activities at our school – cultural show, cinema projection, photography club, operating the public address system for all events and so on. Where ever Mr Cherian went, Manuel was there, like his shadow, to assist him.
Then there was Samuel, our Chemistry Lab Attendant who like any typical lab attendants at any school, posed as a ‘Mister Know-All’. Mr KM Koshy, our Chemistry teacher during a class session sent Samuel on a leather hunt. He asked Samuel to fetch dilute H2O from the Chemistry Lab. Samuel returned empty handed after about 15 minutes and dutifully reported “Sir, in our lab there is no dilute H2O, all we have is concentrated.”
Whenever we walked into the library, there was Nazeer, assistant to Mr Stephen, our librarian. He had a smile for everyone and was always on the double in the library – placing books back on the shelves, arranging periodicals and newspapers on the tables, setting the chairs right, etc. He was very particular that the cadets used the library to enhance their knowledge and insisted that we read newspapers, the only source of information in those days in remote Amaravathi Nagar. He used to deliver newspapers to us even on Sundays and Holidays at our dorms so that we never missed the day’s news. He was instrumental in my developing good reading habit, especially the attachment to ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.
Mariya Das, the younger sibling of Manuel had two roles to play. He was the attendant at the Academic Block whose main duty was to ring the bell at appropriate times. In those days Cadets did not wear watches (it was a super luxury item and was not permitted as per school rules) and when we saw Mariya Das rushing, we knew that it was time for the period to end. In the mornings during physical training and the evenings during the games hour he doubled up as a grounds-man.
(Late Mr C Madhavan Nair with his Grounds-men, from the left – Maria Das, Achuthan, Kuppan and I cannot recollect the fourth one)
It was a marvel as to how our Chief Grounds-man, Achuthan ensured that we Cadets were provided with all equipment needed for the morning Physical Training and evening games. He was assistant to our Physical Training Instructor, Late Mr C Madhavan Nair.
With his team of four illiterate grounds-men, they ensured that the gym with the boxing ring was always maintained meticulously well. Every afternoon, it was their duty to ensure that all fields were marked properly and all nets were in place. We had to draw the balls and other sporting kit from Achuthan every evening at 4 PM. He ensured that all kit handed over to us was serviceable and kept a track of them even if we left them on the ground.
The ultimate test of the team work of Mr CM Nair and his grounds-men was the conduct of the Annual Athletic Meet and School Day. How they accurately marked the 400 meters’ track, pits for the jumps and lanes for the throws – all still remains a mystery for me till date. This most important event of the school year culminated with the ‘Massed PT’ for the School Day, involving all Cadets from grade 6 to 12. There too the role of the grounds-men in providing us with various equipment and marking the spots for us to stand during the Massed PT was indeed commendable.
School support staff play an important role in ensuring the students are nurtured in a safe and supportive environment. They foster positive, trusting relationships with students and improve school climate by encouraging students to actively participate in all school activities, especially in a residential military school.
Every Cadet who has graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar had an intimate connect with the school support staff, especially their positive behavior which had a great effect on us the Cadets. In a quiet sort of way, they had touched our lives in ever so many ways with tender care.