Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.

                                                Doug Larson (1976-2023), American Politician and Businessman

Listening is an important skill for communication to be effective and for sustaining a conversation. I started listening in Primary school itself, not just as one of the many students in the class-room, but also to the woes of my teachers.

I had studied my first and second standards at Samiyar Bala Patashala, a private school which was just seven buildings away from my home. The owner of the school was a Keralite middle-aged bachelor and everyone called him Samiyar (means ascetic in Tamil) and Bala Patashala means School for Young ones in Sanskrit.

In 1957 I had to leave Bangalore due to my father’s transfer to Kadakavasala (a place near Pune where National Defence Academy is established) and hence missed out that academic year, as Kadakavasala had only a Marathi medium school. I was admitted to third standard in a Corporation school at Egmore, Chennai during the academic year 1958-9, courtesy my father’s cousin, as he came to know that me and my elder sister lost an academic year when he met my parents at a wedding in Chennai. As my father’s cousin was selling away his house in 1959, we were dropped at the estate house of my paternal aunt situated a few Kilometres away from Coonoor, a hill station in Tamilnadu, as my paternal grand-mother was living there with two of my aunt’s sons who were managing an electrical business at Coonoor. As there was no school in the vicinity of five Kilometres of the house, I spent the whole academic year with nature and books.

Sometime during April 1960, my grand-mother decided to get me and my elder sister back to Bangalore to continue our schooling, as we had our ancestral property which was let out to a Marwari family when my father got transferred. She requested the tenant to provide us just a room till such time he finds another house. She got me admitted to fourth standard back in Samiyar Bala Patasala and my sister to sixth standard in another nearby girls’ school.

As the name suggests, it was only a primary school and hence, had only up to four standards. On an average there were about twenty five students in each class. Thus, the total strength of the school was only around one hundred. Perhaps, as I was taller than the average student of my class, I was not only made the monitor of the class, but to lead the prayer during the daily assembly. Perhaps because of this position, teachers were interacting with me more often than the other students.

Sometime during August, my class teacher Padma asked me to accompany her. She took me to her house and after giving me some biscuits and milk, she started telling me about another teacher Madhura, class teacher of second standard, accusing her of bad behaviour. She further advised me not to listen to whatever she says. I just nodded my headed and returned home. Another teacher, Chandra called me once and enquired about where I live. Further she asked me whether I know a person by name Sajjan Raj. I said ‘yes’, as he happened to be the second son of our Marwari tenant. After this she often engaged me in conversation just to know more about Sajjan. Thus, at a very young age of ten, I started learning to listen, though many a time it did not make much sense to me. My listening woes ended with fourth standard!

From fifth to tenth standards, I studied at Rai Bhadur Arcot Narayanaswamy Mudaliar’s School (RBANMS) that was established way back in 1873, where my grand-father and father had studied. My experience during the three years in this school was totally different. Each class had three sections and there were more than fifty boys in each section. Teachers at RBANMS (again only lady teachers) motivated me both in academics and extra-curricular activities. Grace Manuel Tukker, class teacher of fifth standard was even worried about my general health as I was very thin. My language (Tamil) teacher Karuna Sundaram encouraged me to participate in Inter-school debates and also formed a drama troupe, wrote scripts for a couple of plays and made me act as the hero.

On the occasion of Founder’s day, it was a practice at RBANMS to give away prizes to topper of every subject, top three ranks based on aggregate marks and the first three toppers of several extra-curricular activities. The prizes were generally books and were given by the chief guest, some important Public servants like State Governor, Commissioner of Education, etc. After I passed out of seventh standard, I could establish a small library with the books that I had received during those three years and named it as Lal Library in honour of Lal Bhadur Shastri (1904-66), India’s second Prime Minister during whose tenure India had won a war against Pakistan in 1965. Listening to the teachers during those three years and following their advices helped me to mould my future.

By 1965, I had already moved to High school, which had only male teachers. Because of adolescent phase of life and the type of peer group that I was with, my interest got diverted to movies and sports. To my surprise, Sundaramurthy, who was teaching Social-studies in my eighth standard used to take me to his home often and apart from feeding me well, he also gifted a few good books. Only later I realised that he was motivating me to study well instead of spending time in other activities, so that if I learn to focus on studies, there will be a possibility of me getting a State rank in the tenth standard Public exams! Though I was nowhere near the top twenty State rank-holders when the Public exams results were announced, I topped my school and was fortunate to get National Merit Scholarship for my college education!

The huge ground in front of the school allowed us to play all sorts of games – basket-ball, cricket, foot-ball, Kabbadi, volley-ball and a few more. I played cricket and foot-ball. Listening to my senior players helped me to improve my game.

Walking every day to the school situated two Kilometres away and back home for six years, not only helped me to keep myself physically fit, but also in developing friendship with a few of my schoolmates who walked along with me. Listening to them on various aspects of their lives developed empathy for others in me.

While games, movies and novels provided the much needed entertainment during the time that I spent at RBANMS, listening to teachers and seniors, and reading books other than academics laid the foundation to develop the required intelligence for taking appropriate decisions for specific situations.


December 14th, 2023 | Ravi 68