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A teacher's fond memories of Suu Kyi: An unassuming, simple pupil

Iconic Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s return to Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, from where she graduated in political science almost five decades ago, will certainly be an extremely emotional moment for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Among those who will be there to celebrate the much anticipated re-union with her will be her teacher Nirmala Khanna and childhood friend and classmate from LSR Malavika Karlekar.

After a historic win in a bye-election earlier this year, the pro-democracy leader, who was put under house-arrest for two decades by the military junta, had expressed her desire to visit India and specially mentioned wanting to return to her college in Delhi. (See video here).

Suu Kyi (second, from left) with Malavika Karlekar (far right) in 1964 at LSR.

“I’ll be meeting my first student,” says a visibly excited Khanna, who taught her International Relations. “The first class I took was with her. Imagine how high my spirits must be. I am really looking forward to it,” she says. Khanna, who was 25 years old when she joined the LSR as a teacher in 1964, describes Suu Kyi as being simple, gentle and attentive.
“When I learnt of her house arrest, I felt very sad that this had happened to such a simple and nice person. But I admire her courage, all that she has undergone and her struggle for freedom.” Did Khanna see any signs of the towering pro-democracy leader she was to become?

“To be honest, she was very unassuming and simple. But then you see the glitter in her eyes, the light in her eyes, her wanting to learn the subject well. Not that I expected to become a world leader (laughs). I am very happy for her. Now she is travelling to different places. I was watching her on television as she was delivering the Nehru Memorial lecture. She is so strong, she doesn’t beat around the bush. She is so clear-headed.”

Recalling the LSR campus in the early 1960s and some of Suu Kyi’s classmates, Khanna says: “The principal at that time was Dr Koshi, he was a strict disciplinarian. There were fewer students in the class, around 15…I remember practically the whole class. There Malavika Chanda now Malavika Karlekar, a good friend of Suu Kyi’s. I remember Kamala Rangaswamy, daughter of K Rangaswamy who was editor at The Hindu, there was Anjali Singh...”

Asked what she would say to Suu Kyi when she meets her, Khanna, says, “I will give her my blessings. I wish her all the best for getting full freedom for her country. She is such a strong woman. And she has turned into such a beautiful and graceful lady. I remember how simple she was at that time. She never tried to throw her weight around.”

But Khanna wonders if Suu Kyi will remember her. “I was a fresher at that time. I became popular only later on….I don’t know if she will remember me.” Khanna will be surprised how vividly students tend to remember all their teachers.

Writing in Outlook Magazine (April, 2012) Suu Kyi’s close friend from LSR days, author and researcher Karlekar says, “Among other things, I remember Aung San Suu Kyi’s ready wit.”

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