Somehow I am thinking back to my English classes in class eleven in school. Our teacher was called Alan Lewis and he was a retired teacher from Great Britain. He had his own ways of doing things. He would never follow the textbook or the syllabus. He would ask us to read novels and come to the front of the class and speak extempore on an assigned topic. If he saw somebody stammering, he would ask that student to continue in Hindi, so that he could tell if the person was afraid of public speaking, or just not confident in English. For our middle school, he actually compiled his own textbooks, with extracts from Shakespeare's plays, Rudyard Kipling's novels, articles from newspapers, Arthur Conan Doyle's stories and other diverse things. My batch mates and I got to study that book only in class eight, but our juniors got to do it in class six through eight. I still remember random things from that book, like, "The evil men do lives after them while the good is oft interred with their bones." (from Julius Caesar) I still remember reading Animal Farm and The Guide for his class. My mother, who also taught class eleven at the time, would sometimes ask me how I liked a certain story in the standard textbook. She would be disappointed to know that we hadn't read it. I would sometimes read them on my own, but I never found them too interesting. In class twelve, our teacher would sometimes make references to stories we were supposed to have read the previous year and then end up asking, "Did you people read anything last year?"
Newsflash. We read a lot more than we would have read if we had followed the guidelines. We learnt and explored a lot more. That was when I actually grew to like reading novels. I had sort of given up doing that after I outgrew my Enid Blytons. I still have that copy of The Guide in a bookshelf in my original bedroom in Delhi. And I know exactly which shelf.
My school administration was never too worried about the prescribed syllabus. We never had any real tests until we were in class five, and no annual or half yearly exams until class eight. We had a lot of open-book exams from time to time. Only for class ten and twelve, they had to do what the CBSE told them to do. It was okay if, say, one teacher was teaching three sections and another was teaching the other three, then they could have separate question papers on any of the tests. There was a lot of freedom for the teachers in many ways, but Mr Lewis was probably the one who made the best use of it. He taught us that doing things our own way is a good thing, that it helps us grow. He taught us to be respectful towards each other and not to interrupt when someone else was making a point. He taught us to listen. And to talk so that others would listen. I remember being in the English Faculty room one day just before his class, discussing something with my teacher-in-charge for the school magazine. I told her that I didn't want to be late for his class because he wouldn't let me in if I was. She told me that in that case I should come back to her and get some more work done. No way, I told her. I want to attend his class. I think that was the only time in school or college that I ever said such a thing.
Those were some good times. It always feels good to look back on those days.