One day many years ago, when I was in school, a tall, bearded man became our teacher.
He taught us English.
In a stiff educational ambiance wedded to syllabus and academic performance, he sometimes came to class with the book he was reading. Small things like that, triggered curiosity. Compared to other teachers, he was young. Quite approachable and a bit of a misfit in those days of strict discipline at school, he was a hit with us. From the way he dressed, to his informal, relaxed style of talking while taking classes, the way he reminded us to be quiet, as opposed to commanding us – everything was different. Occasionally his reluctance to be assertive meant a slightly chaotic class but we were delighted to have a ` cool’ teacher. He didn’t work long at the school. His tenure was brief. He moved on.
Post college, I tried unsuccessfully to be a copywriter. In the desperate aftermath of losing that first job, I was accepted as student for a course in journalism. It was a case of grabbing what came my way to stay afloat. Months later, I found myself a journalist. I met my old English teacher just once after leaving school and that was several years ago. I was home in Thiruvananthapuram on holiday and his house then was a kilometre or less, away. In the years following that stint as teacher, he had become a prominent journalist. I called on him because I wanted to say hello to someone I respected in school and in whose chosen profession, I found myself in. He had worked at The Indian Express, Mathrubhumi, News Time, The Statesman, The Independent and India Today. He was also associated in between with BBC Radio. But what would make him a household name in Kerala was ` Kannadi’ (mirror), a popular programme he produced and presented for Asianet, a leading television channel in the state. He eventually became Editor-in-Chief of Asianet News. I met him in the early phase of ` Kannadi,’ as a student he had taught at school during his pre-journalist days. We didn’t meet again. In the years that followed I also disconnected my cable TV because the whole business of news and breaking news had become unbearable. Amid that, while travelling on work or at other people’s houses, once in a while, I caught snatches of ` Kannadi’ on TV. Early morning of January 30, 2016, I received a text message informing that T.N. Gopakumar was no more.
I remember T.N. Gopakumar as my old teacher. The deep, rough voice from ` Kannadi’ and that unmistakable style of sentence-delivery, was there even then but cast as my school teacher, it is a Gopakumar in a non-media setting I came to remember. Someone who was intellectually leagues ahead of his students, probably wondering what he was doing in our class and yet, amused by it. I was lucky to have a couple of teachers, whose impact exceeded syllabus. Gopakumar is one of them but with a difference. In his case, the impact is tough to articulate because it was both an impression and an impression over a short period of time. The closest I can articulate the impression would be – he made you want to grow up, have a head full of ideas and a book to read. News reports said he was called `TNG’ in media circles. For his students, he was ` T.N. Gopakumar sir’ or ` Gopakumar sir.’
He will be missed; not just by television viewers and the media fraternity but by his old students as well.
(The author Shyam G Menon is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)