Tuesday, September 2, 2008
My first acquaintance with Nandan Mash began I think during 1996 when I joined for BA English at Sree Kerala Varma College. I must have surely seen him at the campus when I did my pre-degree from 1994-1996. But it was during the degree days that I got to know him closer. I used to look with admiration at the Mash full of life wearing a cooling glass and riding his bullet with Shalini Miss behind him. As new students, we used to enquire about the teachers to our seniors and all of them had a single voice when they said that Nandan Mash was the best; a recognition which would make all other teachers envy him for many more years to come.The words of the senior students came true in our own experience when Nandan Mash taught us like pacha vellam The Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams, a text considered by most students to be a difficult nut to crack. And unlike the tradition in Kerala Varma, he explained and made us understand the entire dictionary-like book from A to Z. From then, I have had no fear for theoretical words or jargon employed in the academia. He handled European Fiction for MA and made all the fifteen novels come alive in class. It was the magic of Mash that he could make any text simple and enjoyable. To sit in his class was like enjoying a wonderful show of whatever you like most. Sometimes he would be taking two or three hours continuously and none of us would know how the time had passed. Fiction was his forte, but there was nothing behind the roof of literature which did not yield to his magical wand.I have to say with pride that I have never had such a wonderful teacher in my student career like Nandan Mash. He was much much more than a teacher. He was a friend to his students. Once we, the MA students, bunked class and went to watch a movie. The Department viewed this matter seriously and an emergency meeting was called. Everybody said that stringent action should be taken against the students. But Nandan Mash disagreed to be a party to this. He asked, "Before we discipline the students, are we teachers doing our duty. Do we go regularly to classes? Do we do justice to our work? Do we come to sign or to teach?" One sentence which he often repeated was that "The whole bloody institution exists for the students." He believed that the student is the most important person in a campus of learning. Administration and even the teachers are incidental; that is, they are there only because the students are there. If the students were not there, none of them would be needed. As a human being, he was a gem, rare of its kind. He was a person who said what he meant and meant what he said. Mash was straightforward in speech and behaviour and he hated hypocrisy and humbug in others. His dedication to work, utter lack of pretence of any sort, and open approach to life itself, has always touched me.I had the good fortune to work with Nandan Mash as a colleague when I worked as a guest lecturer at Kerala Varma during 2001-2002. He used to help me in every possible way whenever I expressed any difficulty regarding anything. He consoled me when I was depressed. I wrote the UGC-NET twice and was unable to clear it. At that time I was working at Kerala Varma. I was about to go for the next class and I told him, "Mash, with what face will I meet the students? The UGC seems to suggest that I am unfit for teaching." Mash smiled, patted me on my back and told me, "JP, look here, one or two failures is not the end of the world." After a pause he continued, "JP, I have a feeling that you will get only both together, NET and JRF. Maybe that is why it is getting delayed." The words of Mash came true. In my very next attempt in December 2001, I cleared the NET and was awarded the JRF.My brother did his MA in the distance education mode and scored 52% in his exams. He was sad that he did not get 55%, the minimum required to appear in the NET. I used to tell about Mash at my home but they had not seen him. I went with my brother to Mash's house, and he welcomed us as the usual caring host. He told my brother, "Yours is a glorious 52", and patted him on the back. On coming back home, my brother told me, "Your Mash is wonderful". With Mash's blessings and encouragement, he appeared in the improvement exams and succeeded in scoring 55%. Mash's concern for his students was more than as a teacher. He was like a family member, or even as concerned as our parents.Once I was admitted a hospital down with back pain. Mash came to see me in the hospital and that was the only time my father had met him. However, when Mash passed away, I was telling father that it was unbelievable for me even after a few days, he told me, "Yes, I also felt some unknown pangs inside me, though I did not have much acquaintance with Mash. The sadness is also there in nature, the atmosphere tells it." My mother had never seen Mash. But when the news of Mash's demise reached home on the Vidyarambam evening, she blurted out, "Why he? He was a loving Mash, who loved all the children and whom all loved. There are so many others still around, why he had to go so soon?"I have traveled several times with Mash in his car to the Calicut University where I did research for some time. He would be coming there to take some class at the Academic Staff College, or to meet his daughter Aparna who was studying at the Providence College, and he would invite me for a privileged trip in his car. We used to discuss so many things during those long journeys lasting for several hours. By then, I had been deep into meditation and used to tell him how it had benefited me a lot. He told me that he was not interested in all these stuff. He used to proudly call himself an atheist. I remember an instance in our MA class, when he asked, "Those who do not believe in God raise your hands", and Mash's hand was up. I looked around and saw no single hand and so I raised my hand. Mash laughed and said, "Poda." He knew too well of me to swallow that! However in the private discussions we had in our car journey, he told me that he was aware at some point in his life that it was necessary to sublimate the mind. For that he found reading, especially fiction, a safe means. He was skeptical of the inner search and introspections of meditation. We agreed to disagree on this point, but he never discouraged me or made fun of my meditation. I have a strong suspicion to this day that he was a strong believer, a true lover of God, who did not want this secret sacred relationship between he and his beloved to be exposed to others. A few weeks before his demise, I wrote to him a request asking for donations for a Meditation hall under construction at Thrissur. He immediately responded promising to do whatever he can. He sent the money to me, and I asked him for his residence address to issue the receipt. He wrote back to me not to worry about the receipt. "As for receipt, keep it with you, or leave it with Shinoj; you need not post it at all. Or bring it to me, another excuse to meet you again. ha ha… Mash" were the last words in the last mail that he sent to me a few days before his passing away. Mash had the last laugh. By the time I got the receipt, he had already gone.The old students meet Mash organized a few days before his demise was a grand event. Most of the old students had come and Mash was the central figure of the whole function. It unwittingly turned out to be a farewell meeting for him. Mash was a person who hated being considered old and used to say that he was "growing young". A man who passionately loved life and described himself as the kind of man "who ought to live a thousand years" echoing Zorba of Kazantzakis. Surely Mash will never grow old. Neither will he ever die. His smiling person full of vigour and vitality will remain fresh in the hearts of hundreds and hundreds of students. Mash had during his last days started a blog www.nandantk.blogspot.com where he writes that he wishes to look at his own life as a story. But it was as if he gave a strange unexpected twist to the end. Like the expert writer of fiction he never dropped a cue to this twist and silently withdrew without leaving any loose ends. As Shalini Miss told, "He wound up everything well".