1 BOOK EVERY STUDENT (OF LIFE) MUST READ
TO SIR, WITH LOVE
By Neel Anil Panicker
I must confess here that I have been blessed with the company of wonderful teachers all through my life and, this is my very own humble tribute to them all for having tolerated and put up with me as I battled through my own inner demons in my very own infuriatingly irascible manner.
We all have our favourite books, don’t we? There are as many reasons why one particular book that we have read remains our ‘favourite’.
It could be simply the sheer genius of the author in constructing a beautiful fictional world peopled with absolutely delightful or believable or for that matter unbelievable characters or a plot that is so twisted and intense or even a theme that is absolutely out of this world
I must confess here that I too have read my fair quota of books in my short life so far though certainly not the enviably large numbers clocked up by my more worthy colleagues and also others who I know of.
If I were to list down one single book as my personal favourite it would undoubtedly have to be the highly mood elevating inspirational book
To Sir, With Love, the autobiographical centre stage view of life as experienced by a greenhorn school teacher E.R. Braithwaite in the very tumultuous sixties.
I remember being absolutely riveted and wonder struck, and of walking around in a maze for days on end the first time I happened to flip through the 189 pages that constitute this rather slim sized bundle of joy.
What was there that I did not find interesting nee mesmerizing here?
Be it the sheer simplicity of the language, the heart warming honesty of its prose or the sheer large heartedness of the protagonist E.R. Braithwaite, the book shall forever remain etched in my mind and my heart as the epitome of what constitutes good writing and thereby its purpose which is to help in its reader traverse through a soul searching experience.
In fact as a natural corollary to all this, when a movie version of ‘To Sir, With Love’ came out, not only did I view it not once but several times over, but for a long, long time it remained my favourite movie of all time, though I must admit that position has now been taken over by a few other more ‘modern’ movies.
An interesting trivia about this sixties movie version of ‘To Sir, With Love’ is that
was directed and screen written by James Clavell, better known for having written great oriental novels including his magnum opus ‘Shogun’.
The legendary Sidney Poitier as the Black teacher getting his ears wet in his first ever teaching job in a back alley East End London school was par excellence as he did absolute justice to his very demanding bringing in a highly nuanced portrayal which made great mental, emotional and spiritual demands of him.
The character’s sheer stoicism, perseverance, and the understated dignity with which he conducted himself and ultimately managed to turn around an initially uncouth, unlettered bunch of fifteen-year-old school students, all from impoverished backgrounds was a very humbling, invigorating, educative and life changing experience for me.
And thanks to the scenic capture of grimy London_ bare and stark_ I became a long convert of all that was London including its people.
Coming back to the book and the reason why it remains my perennial all time favourite, check out some path breaking quotable quotes from the book and see for yourself:
My favourite quotes from the book:
“So long as we learn it doesn’t matter who teaches us, does it?”
“In Britain I found things to be very different. I have yet to meet a single English person who has actually admitted to anti-negro prejudice. It is even generally believe that no such thing exists here. A negro is free to board any bus or train and sit anywhere, provided he has paid the appropriate fare. The fact that many people might pointedly avoid sitting near to him is casually overlooked. He is free to seek accommodation in any licensed hotel or boarding house – the courteous refusal which frequently follows is never ascribed to prejudice. The betrayal I now felt was greater because it had been perpetuated with the greatest of charm and courtesy.”
“There’s no corporal punishment here, or any other form of punishment for that matter, and the children are encouraged to speak up for themselves. Unfortunately, they’re not always particularly choosey about the things they say, and it can be rather alarming and embarrassing.”
“Don’t fall into the habit of bringing work home, Rick. It indicates a lack of planning, and you would eventually find yourself stuck indoors every night. Teaching is like having a bank account. You can happily draw on it while it is well supplied with new funds; otherwise you’re in difficulties.
Every teacher should have a fund of ready information on which to draw; he should keep that fund supplied regularly by new experiences, new thoughts and discoveries, by reading and moving around among people from whom he can acquire such things.”
“Rose shifted her shopping bag off her lap and with a grunt levered her ponderous body upright; she smiled broadly at me, and with a cheery “Ta Gert, ta girls,” she waddled towards the exit while I eased my shoulders in relief from the confining pressure of her body. God, what a huge woman.”
If ever there is a book that can teach you how to hold within your heart the power of self belief and instill in you the firm conviction that no man or woman is bad by nature but happens to be so by virtue of an unfortunate mix of his or her circumstances and also due to not having the much needed opportunity to display his latent talents then this is the book, and that is precisely the reason why it ranks so high way up in my list of all time best reads.