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A model teacher

EDUCATION Lourdes Tirouvanziam was recently honoured by the French Government for her contribution to the field of education

Photo T Singaravelou

Pursuing a cause: Madam Louis with husband Dr. Bernard.

Born into a family of doctors, she was the only one to pursue language studies and literature. Her father and grandfather were leading medical practitioners in Pondicherry. The French Government recently awarded her the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques for her contribution to the field of education.

She is the second person in her family to get the award. Her father Marcelin Ponnoupillai Tirouvanziam got the award in 1958. Lourdes Tirouvanziam alias madam Louis, the English professor at Lycee Francaise in Pondicherry, says she feels "so much honoured and happy that my hard work has been recognised by the Government". The French Consul General in Pondicherry Michel Seguy presented the award to her at a simple function.

Madam Louis has been a teacher ever since she finished her M.A. at the Government Tagore Arts College. "I love children and my students love me too. I don't believe in giving lectures but see to it that my classes are interactive. As a teacher, my best gift is when my old students come to meet me," she says. Midway in her career, she switched over to teaching English from French. "That is because of the love for the language, its poetry and its musical quality". She is an M.A. in French and English and has two doctorates from the Pondicherry University.

Born in Vietnam in Phuc Yen in Tonkin province, madam Louis came here when she was just two years old. "The Pondicherry I remember used to be quiet and had just five cars. Even a bicycle was considered a luxury. At that time talking about women's liberation was a taboo and women would not be allowed to study much," she says as she recalls how she fell in love with Dr Bernard Louis and married him when she was in her first year of M.A.

Wielding the ladle

"After marriage, my husband encouraged me to study further and I have two Ph.Ds thanks to his support." Bernard served in the Indian Army and also in the Pondicherry Government.

"My wife is an excellent cook. When I was in Kashmir, she joined me and would keep herself busy by teaching many recipes to the officers' wives. They were amazed at her culinary skills."

Madam Louis knows three types of cuisines - Vietnamese, French and Tamil. She has written a book on the traditional cuisine of Pondicherry. A 1000 copies were sold in six months and the proceeds from the sale of the book went for a cause. "I now plan to bring out a revised edition with more recipes," she says.

Not just cooking, she is an expert on plants and has a beautiful garden. "I spend an hour with my plants every day... I talk to them and take care of them." She is aware of their medicinal properties and prepares medicines using them. She has won the best terrace garden award and also has an amazing collection of bonsai plants.

This versatile personality has a musical bent of mind and is well versed in playing the veena. "My father used to sing Thiruppavai and Thiruvempavai during the month of Margazhi and even used to recite the Thevaram. Though a Catholic and a doctor by profession he was interested in Hinduism and other religions. He was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion Li Honneur for his service as a doctor. He used to not only treat the poor free but also provide them with the food. I seem to have imbibed a lot of his qualities, including his love for music and soft spokenness. Which is perhaps why I have never raised my hand on my students or children".

Madam Louis learnt Sanskrit so that she can understand the meaning of the Carnatic compositions. It also helped her in pronouncing the words correctly. Asked about her future endeavours, she says, "I am 59 and will stop teaching in a year's time. Like my husband, who after retirement spends time in treating patients at the Hospice, I too have a lot of work to do. I have my plants, my music and also want to continue learning Sanskrit."

DEEPA H. RAMAKRISHNAN

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