The Math Professor You Know, The Man You Don't
“Some legends are told
Some turn to dust or to gold
But you will remember me
Remember me, for centuries.”
– Centuries, Fall Out Boy
“Every day I walk into the college, I see the smiling faces of my students.
Every day I teach, I learn something new.
Every day I stand on the raised platform and face the class, I feel my best self.
That is exactly why I made a promise to myself- I will teach until my last breath.”
Dr. R. Arumuganathan, former Head of the Department of Mathematics (2012- 19), is a professor you will remember for life, if you were lucky enough to be in his class. While Queuing Theory remains his magnum opus, the respected professor is also a published Tamil poet, Dean- Students’ Affairs (2010- 12), Faculty Advisor of Team Dramatix (1997- 2002), and former NSS Program Officer (1992- 97). When asked about how he manages to wear all the able feathers in his cap, he gave me a humble smile.
“If mathematics was the ship that led me towards my dreams, Tamil poetry was the anchor to my soul. To think about balancing languid art forms with concrete skill is to think of one of them as a burden.
So I’ve always believed that if you love something enough, you will fight for a way to make it a part of your life. If you don’t, you will find an excuse instead.”
I saw a flash of John Keating in him at that moment, the legendary fictional English teacher played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.
Dr. Arumuganathan also arose as a superhero for students dealing with anxiety and peer pressure in a time where awareness about mental health was almost non- existent. “My cabin is open for students who are under any kind of problem. You’re always welcome.” He said, backed up his words with action by starting counselling sessions for troubled students years down the lane.
“I had to do something.
I couldn’t stand to see the children starve throughout the day.”
Back in the days of him being Hostel Warden, a student once approached him for mess fee reduction. “We don’t eat during the day, it is a part of our tradition of Ramadan fasting.” he reasoned. “If we were at home, our parents would make some sort of meal before dawn, but we can’t expect the hostel to do the same. So, we skip the morning food instead.”
The fact that some students couldn’t have breakfast in the morning tugged at his heart. He spoke to the higher authorities and the mess workers, and managed to provide breakfast for students every day at around 4:30 in the morning for a whole month of the Ramadan period. This kindness soon became much popular around the hostel premises, and other students started waking up early to eat with their Muslim friends, as a show of support.
“I wrote a poem about it, no one bothered to read.
I put up wastage per day posters, it blew away with the wind.
It was heartbreaking to see all that food go to waste; families could be fed.
I decided I needed to dig my heels in.”
It is no surprise that irrespective of which part of the world it is, food goes to waste in university premises every day, and PSG College of Technology was no exception. Dr. Arumuganathan saw food wastage as an outrageous crime, and would not allow it to happen under his efficient watch.
Hence, in 2005, the math professor came up with a rule. A 50 rupees fine would be imposed on students who throw away what’s left on their plate, and the same will be strictly monitored. If the fine was paid for the third time, the student will be sent out of the hostel.
The implementation of this rule saw the amount of leftovers drastically reduce from 100 buckets per day (from both the girls’ and boys’ hostel) to about 35 buckets in less than a month. The rule was in place till Dr. Arumuganathan’s tenure as Hostel Warden.
After this conversation, I asked him what he thought of the present generation of students.
“Simply put, they are awesome. They are self- sufficient, kinder, and much more proactive when it comes to making decisions. I love the fact they know what they want. Others might think they are very out- going and rude, but I see them as strong, efficient individuals who are capable of changing the world.”
He had a proud smile on his face, a smile weathered down by kindness and time.
“Any last words for the readers, sir?”, I questioned.
“Love your work, give it your all. Do not hate something before you give it a try. Be unafraid in the pursuit of what brings you happiness, do not let someone make you feel less for anything, ever. Try new things that interest you, do not fear rejection. Loss will teach you a lot more than success ever will.
Above all, and most importantly, make some crazy memories with your friends. Memories that will make you smile years down the line, memories that will last a lifetime, good memories, bad ones, and everything in between.
Because these years will fly past you and leave you behind before you know it, and all that will be left is what your heart will choose to remember.
Soar high, kids. I wish you my best.”, he ended.
When I left for hostel that day, I knew why great teachers are also called beacons- it is because they guide you towards where you want to reach.