Today, I am playing catch up and falling back on a prompt from earlier this month where we were asked to write about someone we admire(d). And then I recalled this essay I had written for my writing class last year, about how impressions transcend time and the power of impact. So I used that here for today’s post, with a few minor updates.
Small Stature, Huge Impact: How Impressions Transcend Time
The 13-year old me said, “he is just a tiny old man”, when I first saw Dr.T.V.K.Rao at the school campus of our little town. But the current me knows I was wrong. His personality and the impact he left on many a young student, including me, was huge. He left such an impression that makes it seem like “everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today.”(Cisneros’ ‘Eleven’)
The town I grew up in always seemed like it was a utopia in the middle of nowhere (actually a small town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka), flanked by a river on one side, and a busy highway on the other. And within the walls of our beautiful gated colony, that highway ceased to exist. But it was using that highway that Dr.Rao made his way to our colony from the neighboring town.
My memories of him are that of a tiny old man making his way to our school on his trusty old scooter. As a kid, everyone over a certain age was old, but in his case, he looked ancient and his petite and calm sage-like appearance added to that effect. However, as I got to know him through his visits to our class over the next few years, I realized that age is just a number, and no matter how old you are, inside you can be as young as you want. Like Sandra Cisneros says in her story ‘Eleven’, “the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one.” And Dr. Rao was someone with the wisdom of his grand-old age and the spirit of a teenager. As that 13-year old then, I hoped to grow old the same way, wise in years and young at heart.
He used to make weekly visits from the neighboring town to our school among other local schools, teaching middle and high school students about various social and public health issues. He was not a member of the staff, nor was he required to do what he did. But he did it anyway, completely voluntarily and totally passionately, every week for a few months at different schools. He spent his retirement among teenagers while he could have spent it on his armchair reading a book. To my teenage mind, he made volunteering look like a way of life, one that can easily become a habit just as brushing your teeth is. And today, while I can only still aspire to be like he was, I try to do my part by being an active parent volunteer at school and with my kids’ scouting troops. I get an inkling of how he must have felt around us all those years ago.
He taught us about the hows, whys and whats of many things, which were important to know but not part of the school syllabus. I recall one class where he addressed the topic of rabies and how we can identify and help others if needed. He talked to us about human reproduction. The classroom snickered as he showed drawings of the reproductive system; in our defense, we were silly teenagers. I definitely felt smarter, more worldly-wise in our somewhere-town after listening to him; each of his visits left me with an energy and a passion to do more to help others at school and in our community.
It never failed to astonish me that he never raised his voice above a whisper; yet he always managed to make himself heard, no matter the size or the noise level of the room. And well, people listened to him. My voice is not a loud one; but I know because of him that each of us can make ourselves heard, always!
At one point, he stopped coming to school and we soon heard that he had passed away. While we never knew him personally, the fact that we would not see him anymore left me feeling an emptiness. It was like one of those things that you never miss until it is gone. And then you realize the importance. Dr.Rao’s impact on my life is certainly there, in spite of his being a tiny old man with a whispery voice; it in my psyche, my being, my identity – because of his energy, smile, patience, the joy he felt at being with us, and the passion with which he did it all.
And The End of The Post
So dear reader, is there somebody from your childhood who made an impact on you? How? What is it about them that inspired/s you?
“Never underestimate the valuable and important difference you make in every life you touch for the impact you make today has a powerful rippling effect on every tomorrow.”Leon Brown
Here are my previous posts for the month: