Monday, July 18, 2011

Luna Inter Minores

I have had the privilege of being taught by a score of stalwarts in my sojourns across the length and breadth of my country. I remember many of them and try to remember some of the things they taught me.

One person who I found myself reminiscing about very recently is a teacher who I never had the privilege of meeting in a class but who nonetheless has left an indelible mark on my perceptions of his subject. It was many years back that I had sought admission for his course but since I had arrived a little late, was denied entrance. I could have taken admission elsewhere but he commanded such an inviolable stature that I chose to tutor myself with borrowed notes of his class rather than opting for another teacher.

I remember vividly those winter afternoons when I would sit by myself and eagerly peruse another set of photocopied notes. The genius of his pedagogy was such that even in that solitude, the words would spring forth from the paper as if he himself was guiding me through the nuances of the subject. They were always concise, simple and unimpeachably well-structured.

It was during one such lesson that I came upon his elucidation of the Constitutional position of the Prime Minister of India. We all know that considered in a purely theoretical form, the PM is a part of the Council of Ministers who aid and advise the President of India in running the affairs of the country. Yet, the PM is also the Head of this Council, the “Prime” minister. Various authors have described him as the “chief of the government”, the “leader of the majority party in Parliament”, the “executive head of the govt.” etc. etc. All of them are correct, but none puts it across in a manner that is not just perfect but also unforgettable.

All, that is, except Sir. He described it in three simple words, “Luna Inter Minores”. The Little Moon among the Stars. Affirming the fact that while the PM is an equal amongst his contemporaries in the Council of Ministers, he is a little more equal than the others. A first among equals.

It’s been years since I first read this description but never has it faded from my memory. And with each recollection, it establishes anew the power a teacher holds in our lives.

An anecdote I remember in this connection relates to Alexander The Great and his tutor Aristotle. They were out hunting and had gotten separated from the main party. While trying to find their way back, they came across a river in spate, with no bridge in sight. Aristotle was of the opinion that he should cross over first and then secure Alexander’s safe passage with the help of a rope. But even before he could move, Alexander had waded into the river, struggled across to the other bank and thrown a rope back to help Aristotle cross.

When Aristotle reached the other bank, he was livid for he saw Alexander’s action as rash and a needless risk for the King to take with his own life. Alexander, however, not only placated him but paid him a genuine homage when he humbly said that had a misfortune befallen him, the world would have lost but one Alexander; had the same misfortune befallen the teacher, the world would have lost countless Alexanders.

Thank you Sir, not just for teaching us but for giving us an education.


  1. Some people have a gift for sharing what they know in a manner that impresses itself upon the person receiving the knowledge. We may never realize it, but true education shapes our conscience, such that it becomes a guiding part of our lives.

    A pity it is then that not a lot of people get to learn from such a teacher at least once, and its a greater pity that many don't appreciate the gift that is in front of them.

  2. @Dilshad-cliched as it may be, i do believe that real education is what remains with after you have forgotten everything that you were taught.

    @Maverick-absolutely agree with you. In fact, the ultimate reward for a tutor would be when the pupil outdoes him.