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L.Srikumar Pai
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Our sterling teacher in the prison
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By MOHAMED IBRAHIM: It was a special classroom with special students. The students had been sentenced to death and life. Yes, they were inmates of the Coimbatore central prison. They were a deeply depressed lot and some of them had not had even a single meeting with their families for more than a decade. Prison life is harsh — marked by fear and melancholy; sometimes, a telegram would herald the death of their lovable parents or a court order would uphold their death or life sentence, as the case maybe; or a dismissal of their clemency petition would arrive from the President or the Governor. Occasionally, a release order would bring joy and life back to them. .

The classroom strength was never stable — some got released by courts and others got remission for good conduct in prison. But there was a special and gifted teacher named Sister Ethu Kutty, who taught us spoken English. A brave but kind soul, she boldly entered the prison and taught the inmates whom the world feared or hated.

Our gifted teacher was a retired principal of a prestigious school; then she became a caretaker of a hostel for destitute children even though she spent her valuable time with the inmates. She never sought any publicity.

Our teacher had to cross various checkpoints and metal detectors and walk nearly 1 km from the south gate to the main gate of the prison. At the main gate, she and her teaching materials (i.e., books) would be thoroughly checked by the sentries. She fully cooperated with them without a smirk because she knew they were just doing their duty. After the search, she had to walk half-a-kilometre reach us.

She entered the classroom always with a smile and greeted us cheerfully, notwithstanding the tediousness of repeating the long-haul journey.

The class started with a prayer. We closed our eyes and raised our hearts to the Almighty. We had a special slogan: “I can do everything with the help of God who gives me strength.”

The students were many — Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The teacher exuded hope and created a convivial atmosphere in the class. The inmates always greeted one another during their respective religious festivals.

Sister Ethu Kutty was not only a teacher but also a kind guide and good counsellor. She always advised us to spread positive vibrations by cultivating positive thinking. To be positive in prison under trying circumstances is next to impossible but our teacher helped us to maintain calm. I personally know of inmates who came to her class to overcome stress. Some prisoners came even though they were unlettered. So what? They just came to listen to her soothing speech.

She taught us spoken English. When I joined the class I didn't know proper English grammar and as a person from Uthagamandalam, I only spoke “butler English!” Now I am able to write an article!

On September 5, I called my teacher and wished her. Some inmates like me got released from the prison. But till date, she is taking English class on Mondays and Tuesdays without fail.

A lot of inmates like me were released and are living a peaceful life with positive thoughts which Sister taught us. We always pray to the Almighty to bestow peace and prosperity on her. On this day, I also remember Sister Selvi who introduced Sister Ethu Kutty to us and arranged that class.

Once she said that a teacher has to be a guide, a parent, a doctor, a friend, a companion and a counsellor. She played all these roles. We are proud of our gifted teacher.

(The writer is a former inmate of the Coimbatore central prison. His email id is: )

( Courtesy: )


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