Panegyric dedicated to teachers who have struck a chord in my heart and made it never the same anymore

Scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I have seen some ex-students of mine pouring out their words of grief for your departure to another consciousness. As I see your son sharing the retirement card I wrote for you from the Facebook memorial group created to reminisce your kind soul, it has stirred up some emotions in my heart, bringing tears of gratitude and reverence in my eyes.

Back in my undergraduate years, you taught us a few courses like Teaching Methodologies, Psycholinguistics…as I can remember. We were impressed by your sharing that was also laden with your life experiences, not forgetting the yoghurt making sharing session that entertained us so much. And we also looked up to you as a man of great love who always shared your pearls of wisdom tirelessly with us.

You were also my academic advisor who had a caring listening ear for me. I remember myself as a passionate, hopeful and on-the-go student who felt as if she was a superhero empowered to change to the world for a better place.

One day, I was delighted to see the opening of the first vegetarian stall in the cafeteria. At least, there was finally a sign that more people were going vegetarian. Somehow, I received some hearsay that the running of the vegetarian stall was contract-based and its continuity depended on the flow of visiting customers. A mighty idea popped up in my mind. I wanted to have a petition by collecting signatories from students to enable the vegetarian stall to remain in the campus. I did carry out some background research by talking to the stall owner and my close friends.

Yes, I was kind of foolhardy back then, thinking that I had superpower to bring a positive change to the planet. For me, the skies were the limit and I was never afraid of a toppling roof as my head was always held high. Eventually, I started the petition by contacting all my vegetarian friends in the campus. By circulating the petition papers in countless classes, we managed to collect numerous signatories, including those from non-vegetarians. Not to forget mentioning the one of the first few from Mr Renu, my academic advisor. I remember him saying some words of encouragement while signing it without hesitation.

Feeling as if I was ready to conquer the world, I made an appointment with our then Vice President, the late Dr Teh who once planted the seed of interest towards research in me during his Research Methodology classes. Despite his overloaded working agenda, he made a point to see me. He photocopied my signed petition papers and returned the original copies to me, hinting me to reach out to our Student Representatives Council. I contacted and met SRC. A short while after that, I left the university with my Bachelor’s scroll.

In 2015, I was back to my alma mater to work as a tutor. I was greeted with a warm welcome by my lecturers and one of them was Mr Renu. Walking around the campus, I could see more vegetarian food stations and this brought back the history of my foolhardy self as well as how supportive an academic advisor Mr Renu was. I am not saying that the opening of those food stations was directly because of my effort but maybe I did contribute a little?

Undoubtedly, the bold experience of galvanizing some students to collect so many signatories has shaped my character and eventually paved the way for me to go on and come out as a Master’s graduate who did a linguistic research on animal rights. I shall not forget to thank my then supervisor-cum-my current new PhD supervisor, Dr Sridevi (She is a vegan.) who has always steadfast in guiding me and bolstering up my spirit in the face of my inadequacies. I am indeed glad to say that I have been on a meatless diet since April this year after being a flexitarian for almost one decade.

Mr Renu left us and our student with just one day difference in the month of December to that of Mr Krishnan’s demise last year. Talking about Mr Krishnan, he was the advisor for English Language Society in which I was holding an exco position back then. I never forget the appetizing taste of Red Bean Paratha brought by you as a sweet treat for our exco committee during a society event. Once I apologized to the whole class for being late to be the timekeeper for a public speaking session. My lateness was due to our ongoing society event. You were the society advisor and lecturer for that public speaking course. I remember the brimming courage I felt in me when you announced my name to be the best public speaking role as the timekeeper of the day. Since then, some parts of me seem to have overcome my public speaking anxiety which was quite disabling when I first started my Foundation year. I am not an expert in public speaking, but you have somehow made me a better public speaker, despite my mental barriers. Unexpectedly, I was assigned a tutor role for this course during my previous tenure, besides having been the society advisor for almost three years.

Of course, I never forget another kind soul who sparked the interest of writing in me. He is the late Mr Mahalingam who taught me History of English Language. I still remember some iconic moments in his very first class with us. He asked us to write a short essay which allowed us to freely express, saying that he wanted us to showcase our English writing proficiency as much as possible in these few words. Despite being the all-time high achiever in my batch, I felt a tightening chest as I always looked up to those course-mates who spoke English as their mother tongue. I was so afraid of losing out.

After a few minutes, you collected our writings and read through them. With your resonating voice, you read out my writing from the whole pile, deciding that mine was one of the best in the class without mentioning my name to avoid unnecessary jealousy in the stressful university atmosphere. I felt as if I was inflated with a great dose of confidence. In your fatherly tone, you advised us to practice daily journal writing, saying that you hoped to see the outcome from time to time. As a dedicated student, I heeded your advice despite its irrelevance to the covered syllabus. After that, I went on to create my own blog and start a writing spree that has gone on till today. Though I’m not a well-known one, I am glad to have a group of subscribers seemingly validating my writing skill. It is something little to be proud of as an Asian whose first language is Chinese.

This brings back my memories of primary teachers who always encouraged us to keep our vocab books for the languages we were learning like English and Malay. Surprisingly, this note keeping habit has stayed with me till today, throughout my secondary school and university years.

Good teachers are like angels with a magic wand in their hand (not a caning rattan). With just a light stroke, they can weave a magical spell over the students, creating the butterfly effect in some way. Our world needs more teachers like them, not just those with very high academic qualifications. A little kindness from a teacher can help to create a ripple effect that bring goodness to many. Let’s pay it forward.

Writer’s note: I thought I can be a superhero by ditching my antipsychotics but I ended up not sleeping at all throughout the night. My thoughts have been racing and my heart feels restless. That’s why I spend my Friday on a writing spree whilst my mind is hyperactive. And I am glad to have made some progress in the pilot test for my doctoral study in the past few days.

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