The title is not my own, I’ve taken it from Ms. Manisha Shah’s (a colleague and a friend) article. She’d used it in French ‘La Extraordinaire’. It was Manisha who told me about the demise of this very venerable professor, Dr. Amina Amin.
It was not the news that shattered me; I was not surprised either, but the news did leave me feeling sad. Right now when I key in about her, I’m feeling nostalgic. Every little detail about her is etched in my mind — very thin and petite, she would take those short but confident steps to her room on the first floor of the School of Languages.
In two years that I spent in that coveted building not once did I see or hear ma’am laughing. She would smile, yes—a gentle smile, never full throttle laughter. She was the only teacher, in my MA, whose lectures I never ever bunked and the only teacher who would make me stand quietly out of respect, not out of fear.
That’s the emotion Ma’am generated—right from the vernacular teachers to the stiff, upper-lipped ones, every English teacher, worth her salt felt the same way about ma’am.
I didn’t know Ma’am personally; I think none of us did. But I was few of those lucky ones who had the honour of having been taught by her. She taught us American Literature and how…
No, please don’t think that her classes were boisterous; they were those silent classes, where we caught on to every word of our professor — every single word of hers was pregnant with important details and information; she’d make a difficult text easy. I had these little note-books only for her lectures, I still have the one with the notes of Saul Bellow’s Herzog, somewhere at home.
Even at the sake of being called puerile by my learned acquaintances, I’d found Herzog ‘unreadable’ and ‘indecipherable’ (whether my sensibilities have taken a plunge after all these years, I’ve no idea, for until now, I’ve not had the courage to pick up Herzog and read it again). In any case, the moment I found out that the text will be taught by Ma’am, I’d been rest assured, for that meant that she’d bring the text to her students’ level of comprehension and would ensure that they learnt it well.
She was a teacher par excellence; anyone who came in contact with her would know that. The sort of teacher (I share your thoughts here, Manisha) who would put hours of hard work to make studies effortless for her students; the sort of teacher who would not waste time bandying words with her colleagues on trivial issues, but invest that time in reading; the sort of teacher who would be proud to stand in a queue to catch a bus and gently but firmly refuse to be dropped back home by one of her students.
I can never forget the day, when I stood outside her door to give her my wedding card—wondering whether to ring the bell or flee. Just then she’d opened the door and I had had to enter. What a fool I had made of myself, when in my nervousness I’d dropped the glass of lemonade ma’am had offered. She’d been so kind about my clumsiness.
I still have that prized photograph where Ma’am is standing with me on my wedding day. She’d given me a book by Albert Camus.
Thank you, Ma’am for being a wonderful teacher. Even if I could be a fraction of a teacher like you, I’d be proud to say that I learnt from the best.