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…

18 replies on “What defines a great professor?”

I was his student too. I studied Machines and Microprocessor just cos of him. He used to tease me and scold religiously about the speed I rode my scooty but yet used send me to buy markers in between classes n tip me the balance. One tuition I never missed and enjoyed.
Miss him so much. God just don’t make men or professors like him much these days.

Loved the words you wrote for him.

One fine day while we were having digital electronics class and he was teaching K Map reduction techniques, he showed a few examples and gave an exercise for us to solve and finally was discussing the answer. I was looking into the answer I got and was in disbelief that my answer was not matching with his. I cross checked many times and finally gathered the courage to tell him that I got a different answer. He took my notebook and cross checked it ,smiled at me and gave me a 100 rupee and told me to buy myself a baskin robins ice cream. 🙂 The next week he didn’t forget to ask me whether I enjoyed my ice cream. He was always an inspiration for me.
I appreciate the work done, Mr. Athul.

Thanks Jeejel and also thanks for sharing your experience here. I can well understand the state of mind you had at that moment.He is so unpredictable, if there would be any loophole, then you are done! 😀 He will tease you like anything 😀 I was once a victim 😛
Really, missing him and those day. He was an inspiration for every student he had are welcome mam. But I would like to hear from you about his days at college. It would be highly appreciated if you could share those memories here. All his students must be eagerly waiting, to hear it from you. Already there were suggestions that i should have included much more instances. So please mam.

God always takes away Good person from this world . We will always miss you sir and you were really one of the extraordinary person i have seen and meet in life.

Thanks athul for such a wonderful write up about a great person….I was going in his class from my second yr of colg….even d most toughest subject he will make it easy in a magical way…..all his students cant forgt him bcz he is still living in all our minds…he ws such a hero, the way he tuk d class, d way he talks…..thank god for giving us such a great person in our life…who changed the life of all his students….And god plz be wit his son…..Whnever i think abt shivakumar sir, his son’s face comes to my mind….he ws a great father too…..

Being an IT student, I was his tuition student for only a small stint. But he was truly inspiring as each moment in the class was filled with joy, knowledge and enthusiasm.
People with beauty inside, are recruited back to heaven so quickily in the 30-40s i guess ( eg. are many ).

Thanks for the writing…Mr. Athul.

Remembering him is always great… thank you for the writing and I can sense the truth in that.. if you ask me, I got tears on my eyes when read through, truly because I also went through all these. I share an experience. I went to tuition for certain subjects during my second year and it was great time we had together in his house.. During the end of 4th semester, I had a big financial crisis in my family and I could not continue the classes.. He kept on calling me atleast everyday to join back the classes and asked me whether it is the fee then no need of paying it… Even he tried calling on the land phone. He asked my friends to persuade me to join back… The intention was true… he wanted me to clear the subject as he know I was a dumb in that…Also his wife was one of my friend’s friend.. so I came to know about their marriage when they were in the initial stages of the proposal and I was the one who cracked that in my class.. It was great fun and then whenever he get a chance he will tease me…. I was really afraid to attend the class as he will find something for me always… you are one of the best things that happened in my college days, a great teacher and a better human being.. Missing you and those fun filled sessions.. you have a special place in my heart always… thank you very much Sir…

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