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In a guest-post, Peter Panicker (1970) writes about his aunt and legendary teacher Maya Thomas, who died this month.

The death of Mrs Maya Thomas at the age of 92, in February 2009 marked the passing on of an original teacher who taught in Loyola during the early days of the school. The ones who spring to my mind are Mr KS Jacob (Science), Mr Pillai,  Mrs Varghese (Geography), Mrs Muthunayagom, and Mr Doss, all  under Fr E Kuncheria. They taught me way back in January 1965 when I started studying in Loyola English School, as it was then known.

Maya Thomas with niece (c. 1936); Courtesy: josephclan.comShe was an excellent teacher of English and stressed to her students that knowledge of English was the ability to express ideas simply and concisely. She used to allude to George Orwell’s book Animal Farm as a prime example of how even such a complex political philosophy such as communism could be dealt with at various levels, be it as a story or political satire, and still appeal to a range of ages. Her corrections of my homework and test papers would have the comment “Keep it simple.”

Her style of teaching was not formal; nor was she one to pile on homework. She did expect you to behave in her classes; there was an element of old-school expectations in her demeanour and style of handling her students. She taught us English Prose and Poetry (including Shakespeare), as well as History.

She used to display righteous indignation at any “injustices” shown towards students, especially by the Jesuit priests. She would storm to Fr Kuncheria’s office and make her case with little regard for repercussion.

The obituary at her family website says “Mayakochamma was a remarkable individual and anyone who interacted with her over the years could not help but be struck by her personality. … She was an intellectual in the true sense, interested in ideas and had a fine critical mind. She was not given to the usual preoccupations of many middle class Indians — money, family connections and status symbols. She was an idealist and a true secularist through her life, having no time or patience for communal or religious divisions.”

The obituary also reveals how she came to be named “Maya” (after Buddha’s mother), and her early influences in life, including her visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, and her participation in the freedom struggle.

She spent the last two decades or so at the Yuhannon Marthoma Mandiram in Manganam, Kottayam. She was buried at the St. Andrews CSI Church near Puthupally, and is survived by her three children (a daughter and two sons) as well as three grandchildren.

Peter Panicker (1970; Eapen Joseph Panicker) lives in the United States and works in the infotech industry.