Known for his brilliant teaching skills, Pitambarlal Rajani, a noted professor and theatre director in Tamil Nadu, has died of COVID-19 at the age of 80.
Fondly called Pa by his students, Professor Rajani taught English Literature at the Madras Christian College for around 30 years and directed around 100 plays staged across the country. He later taught at the University of Madras for 12 years where he became an Emeritus Professor and was awarded the Tagore Chair.
Professor K Ganesh, former English head of the department at the Madras Christian College, said P Rajani "taught poetry as it were a play creating such an impact on the students. Be it John Donne or Milton or EE Cummings or Sylvia Plath, the poems' sense and form unfolded itself."
His poetry reading sessions were a huge hit among students and he would often work with students after hours rehearsing plays. Gigy Jenson, who was part of one of his plays, said: "Dr Rajani taught me the ABC of acting and voice modulation."
Ruth Anand, another actor who worked with the professor, added: "We learnt how to deliver each dialogue. Though Sylvia Plath committed suicide, he resurrected her in his teachings."
Kannaiyan, a visually-challenged academician, said: "The professor induced me to participate in poetry reading competition every year. His sweet voice will be heard in every heart of his students."
Joycea Thorat, a Mumbai-based social activist, said: "He was a great inspiration."
Many people said P Rajani was an epitome of excellence and the liberal education spirit at the college. His home was also a refuge for several students.
Arul Kumaran, a former student of Madras Christian College and now the Dean at St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, in Canada, said: "(He was the) single greatest influence on my life. I'll miss you forever. I never told him, but I loved him like a son. I feel so helpless sitting here."
After his retirement from the Madras Christian College, the professor taught at the English Department of the University of Madras. He also established the theatre wing "Curtain Call" there.
Professor CT Indra, former head of the department of English at the university, said: "His theatrical achievements reached great heights when we got opportunities to stage plays directed by him in international conferences on Australia, India and Canadian studies."
In a tribute, the current English head of the department S Armstrong said: "He trained a generation of students and influenced many teachers in Tamil Nadu and India."
P Rajani also taught at the Thiruvarur Central University for four years before returning to his hometown Coimbatore where he taught at a private college.
Professor VS Venkataramanan, his friend and former teacher at the Madras Christian College said: "We've lost a brilliant teacher. Rajani was never tired of teaching. He had the longest innings. Although he came from an affluent family, he lived a simple life like a hermit. He felt at home with the high class and the ordinary people."
Besides his many acts of kindness, habit of sharing books, his former students also recollected his engaging and enriching conversations besides his signature unprofessional look -- unkempt hair, a long beard, wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and his motorbike rides.
Dr V Rajagopalan, a former student turned colleague, said: "Some people whose dynamism is profound never let forgetfulness eat into our memories and (Professor) Rajani was one of them. Professor Rajani was, as Simon de Beauvoir has said, 'a child blown up by age.' With him, time shall play no fool with our memories."
Originally from the Sindh province of Pakistan, P Rajani's family settled in Coimbatore. The professor did not have any spouse or children. He died of COVID-19 at a private hospital in Coimbatore on Friday.
(Disclosure: This reporter was a student of Professor P Rajani at the Madras Christian College between 1992 and 1995.)