“Yes, may I know who you are?” said the firm yet experienced director of one of India’s J-school. Yes, I had been forewarned about his ability to ‘cut-you-off’ or worse ‘put-you-down.’ Nonetheless, I had a dream and I wanted to fulfill it. So there I was. Sitting before one of the most experienced desk-editors and a pioneer in the world of media education – Prof. K. Thomas Oommen, aka KTO.
For those of who aren’t aware of this formidable man – let’s just say that he is truly one of kind. His personality can make you quiver in fear and even make you tear-up in laughter almost simultaneously. Indeed, he was as tough as tough could be. A former journalist with AFP, AP and several popular publications and visiting faculty at several universities across the world, he has trained some of the best journalists in the world. Seeing him face to face was an honour.
At first, my apparent child-like and cheery disposition did not seem to impress him. “Sir, I was wondering if I could help or assist a senior faculty at the institute so as to get an idea of the world of teaching and academics,” I said. One would imagine a more diplomatic or a more considerate reply as oppose to a firm and point-blank ‘NO.’ “The students would chew you up,” he said. “You lack experience. I am sure you remember how students treated inexperienced faculty during your student days,” he added.
The conversation led to several topics – such as my education and career plans. Like many people of his league, he was extremely critical about my decisions. Did I dare argue? Not at all. For it seemed criminal to argue with an octogenarian as experienced as he was. I decided to handover my resume in case the institute was able to make room for a ‘child’ like me. It was then that I got to see the guide in him. We began talking about foreign degrees and courses. He enlisting scholarships and study programmes that could further enhance my skills. Thus, ended the conversation with the ever-famous KTO. It was experience packaged with delicate wrapping. 🙂
A year later, I was asked by the institute’s management to assist him. I wasn’t scared. But was curious to know as to why he hadn’t asked me himself. Soon, I was back to the place where it had all started. Only this time, KTO seemed to appreciate my cheery disposition and was mentally prepared to train a student in a subject he knows best. No, it was not journalism. But he began training me to become a teacher. I was delighted. But most of all, I was grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime. Every second that I had spent with him taught me more than I had ever imagined. The lessons that were learnt were responsible for grooming my personality. Yes, behind all that anger and firm talk, there was a man who genuinely cared about the people around him. Indeed the grand-old man of education in India.
The tales seemed to have taken an interesting turn since then.
(…to be continued)