Our Beloved English Teacher and Guru Mr T N Punjaksharam……
Of all the teachers I have studied under, Punjaksharam master stands out tall in my mind, although my time as a student with him was only a very short period in my school life. It was in 1971 that I joined the tuition class for English by Punjaksharam master which he conducted in the front hall of Mr Sampanthar’s house Neervely Centre. This was my first experience of this great English teacher. I never had the opportunity to study under him before. I remember he had published his own English grammar book which was very popular and used by everyone. Thanks to him, I remember receiving really high marks for this subject and attaining a Distinction pass. The following year he taught the five of us English Literature.The classes were on Sunday Evenings conducted at Attiar Hindu College in the class rooms facing the sports grounds. There were two books that we were tested on. One was Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the other was Jane Austen’s Emma. Great books by two great authors. Not only were we successful in the exams but we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He would act out Shakespeare’s drama and we saw how enthusiastic he was about the subject and in imparting knowledge. I have never ever come across a great teacher like him. He is one in a million in teaching, encouraging and setting an example. As students we respected him and would dare not question him. What a style of teaching!!!!! Enjoyable yet challenging!!!!
He was not just a teacher was also a guru in the true sense. Guru is a Sanskrit term that connotes someone who is a “Teacher, guide, expert or master” of certain knowledge or field. In Indian traditions, guru is someone more than a teacher. He is a traditionally revered figure to the student, serving as a ” counselor”, who helps mound values, share in-depth knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and helps in the spiritual evolution of a student. He was all of that and more for students like us who were fortunate to have studied under him.
He continued to conduct tuition classes in Neervely and in Jaffna town. However, all Neervely students received free of charge tuition from him. That was one of his great contributions to our children from our village for so many decades. He was a generous gentleman who wanted our whole village to benefit from his knowledge and did not expect anything in return – except the advancement of our children.
I left for Colombo thereafter and to the UK in 1979. In between these years I would see him briefly whenever I went on holidays to Neervely. He would eagerly inquire about how I was doing in my life and was very interested in my progress in higher professional education. He always showed genuine interest in the well being of his students and wanted everyone to do well in life. The students too admired his knowledge, his teaching skills and his simple approach to life. He always looked smart wearing white national and veshti also veeputhi and pottu on his forehead. One of the smartest looking gentlemen in Neervely!!! He would always conduct his prayers at his small temple situated in his house before leaving for work as a teacher . He commanded enormous respect not only from his students but also from every one who knew him. This is because of his conduct as a decent citizen and a great English teacher.His motto in life was – do well your part!!!!
I had the pleasure of visiting him whenever I went on holidays to srilanka specially after 2001.In these visits I learned a lot about him as he would freely discuss about his past experiences. Whenever I visited I would spend between two to three hours discussing topics such as current affairs in the country/world, schools and education in Neervely, temples in Neervely and a lot of stories about my grand uncle Attiar, grand mother Thangam and grand father Kanapathipillai. Punjaksharam master is one of the two people who knew Attiar very closely. (The other great Teacher who knew a lot about Attiar was Rajaratnam master who is now based in Colombo.)
Punjaksharam master would narrate stories about how Attiar envisaged his great institution of a school Attiar Hindu College – to serve our society in education and personal development. He admired Attiar’s genuine service motives and his goals and ambitions for the school, for our community and for the wider society. Learning about my grand uncle Attiar through someone like Punjaksharam master made me think more about Attiar’s inner plans to persevere and pursue a goal greater than anyone could imagine which would last in serving and developing our people and community for years and years to come. I do not think that many people understood what Punjaksharam master experienced and learned directly from Attiar.
. This also made me realize that Attiar’s legacy is for everyone in the community to understand the need for advancing education and personal development on a continuous basis for generations; to build this development idea as our own unique culture and to use it as a tool or a weapon for the advancement of our society and it’s people beyond religion, and any other divisive impediments. I would like to recall what Nelson Mandela said about education as a weapon that can change and transform our world or society and how relevant it is in this context. I still desperately feel this message has not really reached our community effectively and therefore it would be our responsibility to pass this knowledge to future generations. I am ever so grateful to our guru Punjaksharam master for sharing it with me in his usual passionate way. His passion for promoting the ideals of Attiar knew no end.
Punjaksharam master was a student at Attiar English School as it was known then and was one of the first students to pass the Matriculation exam from there. He was a teacher there for a few years before serving as a teacher all over Jaffna peninsular.
I have met many of his old students who studied under him at Velanai central college and many other schools around jaffna. These students are now spread all over the world ,ever so grateful to Punjaksharam master for his services to the education of English language.
I would normally meet Punjaksharam master in his living area set up in front of his house. He had an easy chair and you could see photos of his guru Mr Nelson who was once a Principal at Attiar Hindu College. Punjaksharam master still prayed to him and described him as his mentor who inspired him and guided him in his school days. It is an admirable characteristic of devotion to his guru!!!!
A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning!!!!! This saying is very applicable to our guru Mr T N Punjaksharam. His students based all over the world including me, wish him well for his selfless contribution and service over decades.