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Learning to disagree without being disagreeable


The chairman emeritus of Infosys on the four teachers who taught him valuable lessons.

I am lucky to have been taught by a large percentage of excellent teachers, both in terms of what they taught and how they taught academics as well as values. I belong to the generation when good teachers were not a rarity - in both government and private schools.

In Madhuguri (in Tumkur district near Bangalore ), in the government high school, Siddalingayya taught us Sanskrit. He was an extraordinary teacher. The way he taught us Sanskrit, we used to actually look forward to his classes. He constantly introduced new ideas about grammar, language, vocabulary and made it an exciting event. He was also a very generous and warm hearted person. He knew how to handle both the smart kids as well as the not-so-smart ones. He made sure the smart ones were not slowed down by giving them bigger exercises, to do two paras instead of one. At the same time he encouraged the not-so-smart ones to try and write two paras.

I later moved to a private school in Mysore, Sharada Vilas High School. The head master, K V Narayan, who taught chemistry, was a strict disciplinarian. He wanted everyone to be best in academics as well as values. He even spent his Saturdays and Sundays at school. He was immaculately dressed in a Mysore peta (turban), panche (dhoti) and cream coat.

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is from him. One day, he was doing an experiment with common salt. I was sitting on the front bench with three friends. One of my friends thought he was being stingy with the salt and almost burst out laughing. Narayan Sir stopped the experiment and came over to our bench and said: "Young man, you think I am being stingy. Yes, because this salt is public/school property. Come home and I will give you a whole bottle of salt. " It taught all of us about how carefully community property must be treated. I was hugely influenced by it. My classmates and I meet once in a while. Some of us have done well, some not so well. But every time we meet, we talk of that day. All of us have been influenced to varying degrees by what happened that day in the chemistry class.

Later when I joined the National Institute of Engineering at Mysore, the professor of civil engineering was Dr N Krishnamurthy. He had returned from the US, after getting his PhD from the University of Colorado. He was such a brilliant teacher that he could communicate very complex ideas in a very simple manner. He encouraged discussion and he was a great orator. The day President Kennedy was shot dead, he spoke so eloquently for half an hour that all of us had tears in our eyes. This was before the mass media explosion. Kennedy was a distant figure but he made the event so relevant to us. He taught me the importance of adjusting to other cultures and to communicate well.

After I finished IIT-Kanpur, I went to IIM-A and came under the influence of Prof Krishnayya. He was my boss and did not teach me in the classroom but every interaction I had with him was a big education. He was the first professor to show the importance of being good with both theory and practice. He was as comfortable with advanced mathematical algorithms as with using a screw-driver to open a disc drive. He also taught me how to disagree without being disagreeable. This was really useful to me later in Infosys. I learnt to argue with passion but move onto the next transaction and start with a zero basis. He also taught me the importance of being generous. He had no hesitation in meting out criticism but when good work was done, he unhesitatingly admired it in public. From him I learnt the trait of criticising in private and praising in public.

I was very lucky to have had a large percentage of good teachers but these four in particular stand out.

As told to Asha Rai

Reader's opinion (2)

Hema ChandranSep 12th, 2012 at 11:34 AM

i agree ..but in todays world we miss such teachers Why not we the parents /elders in family teach such values to our children/younger ones when family is together (,instaed of watchin TV ) which will not only transform individual but also the society in long run.TodayEthics and value are must

Vinod TapariaSep 10th, 2012 at 13:45 PM

Here one fine person narrating about finest...which are now rarer ! Superb..

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