The Qualia Digest

What defines a great professor?

A Tribute to M Sivakumar


Some things in life won’t happen at times we wish. This post is one of those.

What does actually define a great professor? Is it the epitome of Charisma, the impeccable sense of humor or the command over the subject? No, I didn’t ask you the traits of a good professor. I asked you the traits of a great professor. If you haven’t had one in your life, lad you are so unlucky!

Yes, I was hell damn lucky to have one.

My college was a place that presented with me a lot of great relationships, surprises and turning points. And it was there, that I met this person, the man who changed the way I perceived the world.

As I recall, it was an afternoon section. It hadn’t been more than a week since the classes started for us, first years. A man well dressed in formals entered the classroom. After a quick round, he found himself comfortable in one of the vacant desks in the class. He asked “Who is no. **?”. Some girl stood up. He asked her to sit-down. Looking at that number on the attendance slip, he said, “That was the number of my girlfriend in college”. After a short while of dumbstruck silence, the whole class burst into laughter. That was the beginning of an uncommon, enduring student-teacher relationship.

With love and respect we called that man, “Shikku”. It’s obvious that professors will have nick names among students, but not a pet name. If you visit his desk, [the only place he won’t be seen, as he will be either busy helping some students with their projects, college fest matters or hanging around inside the college with other professors] the name board would say: M. Sivakumar, Asst. Professor, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, Sree Chitra Thirunal College of Engineering.

“Shikku”….Ahhh! He was truly an uncommon breed; a perfect combination of passion, personality and performance. Not only was he passionate about his subject, but also his students and colleagues. He was a person who was always approachable for anything and everything. Such a flawless fusion of qualities, it’s seldom found in one person! Not every professor will make you laugh or give you an extension on your problem set and challenge you and make you learn in ways you had never imagined.

Can you even imagine a professor who would buy you chocolates and ice-creams at his own expense? Other than that, special treats on ‘Ifthar’ and birthdays. In his classes it was never he and us; it was always ‘We’.

May you be the smartest or the dumbest person in the class, any gristle concept or theory would be a piece of cake with him. He must have known the science behind our brain that, the duration of peak concentration of our brain is less than 20 minutes that, he had never taught us for more than 15 minutes in a single spell. He was unique in all his ways of lecturing. He would rob your mind and ears. He would come up with analogies at which you would laugh your heads off and at the same time understand the core concept so that you would never forget. “He is the reason I am an engineer today” was a common dialogue among his students who would graduate. Well that’s only a truth!

He was not just a professor. He was a brother with whom you could share your secrets, a friend with whom you could play around and crack jokes and a dad with whom you could share your sorrows. Still today, even after a quantifiable period after his demise, this name brings tears in many people’s eyes. It’s proof that, he still lives in this world though our memories.

He was only 37, when he surrendered his life to jaundice. God himself must have felt jealous of such a noble soul! Still now, even at this moment, writing this post, it’s hard for me to believe that he is not with us anymore. But before he left, he had touched a shedload of lives and showed us how to live in this world of competition, greed and selfishness with a heart of love, empathy and symphony. He showed us the path to greatness…