On September 5, Teacher’s Day, many images come to mind but only few are truly exceptional. They are silent leaders who improvised teaching and inspired students in their respective areas. One such teacher was our dear Professor K Chandrasekharan Nair, fondly called 'Chandu Sir' and formally as Prof K C Nair.
He started his career as a teacher at the Department of Prosthodontics, Government Dental College, Thiruvananthapuram, in 1973. He served as Assistant Professor (1986) and Associate Professor (1987). During this time, the all-India entrance candidates used to choose Prosthodontics in Thiruvananthapuram just for his tutelage.
In 1997, when he took voluntary retirement from service and moved to Karnataka to take up Professorship at the Dr MR Ambedkar Dental College, Bangalore, the then postgraduates, including this writer, were in utter shock. The Thiruvananthapuram Government Dental College had lost a gem of a teacher and a great leader.
In 2003, he joined AECS Maaruti College of Dental Sciences, Bangalore and headed the postgraduate programme and was the guiding force of that department till 2015. The college grew in popularity and the Prosthodontic postgraduate programme there was in great demand due to the professor’s presence.
In 2015, when he retired from service, he was approached by several dental colleges to take up the post of Professor Emeritus. In 2015 July, he chose to join Vishnu Dental College, Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh as Professor Emeritus.
An accomplished teacher
During his teaching journey, his accomplishments remain inspirational to every student of his. He has 46 years of teaching experience with undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD students. He has guided more than 50 postgraduate theses and initiated and guided many research projects of national value. He has more than 190 publications in state, national, and international journals.
His contribution to Kerala and Malayalam is also worth noting. He started writing articles in Malayalam periodicals in 1970, during his student days at the Government Dental College, Thiruvananthapuram. These articles were intended to educate the public on dental health and hygiene. He wrote regular columns for leading periodicals like Vanitha, Griha Lakshmi, Aarogyamasika, VanithaAarogyam, Vignanakairali, etc. The Week once profiled him and highlighted his remarkable work in Maxillofacial Prosthetics at the Government Dental College, Thiruvananthapuram, under his guidance, in 1995. In total, he published over 150 articles in Malayalam alone.
What is so special about maxillofacial prosthetic work? During my postgraduate days, I witnessed his commitment, hard work, and dedication to social work. When cancer patients had to undergo extensive orofacial cancer surgeries, there was no restoration work post-surgery. He took the personal initiative to ‘restore’ post-surgical patients with the required types of prosthesis. These included intraoral prosthesis and extra-oral covering the face, lips, tongue, ears, nose, eyes, hands, and fingers. Even a leg prosthesis was once made. The joy at the end of prosthesis fitting is immense for every patient and the post-graduate students who helped him. His dedication to the cause of cancer patients inspired many doctors in the younger generation.
Chandru Sir could design and make cost-effective equipment with limited resources as a substitute to costly ones. Such custom-made research equipment were the pride of his postgraduate and PhD students who presented these alternative options in conferences; winning many ‘best paper’ awards at the national level.
He was a unique teacher who inculcated research thought in every postgraduate student he mentored. Some of the equipment he developed were: fiber-reinforced plastic for prosthodontic use, semi-adjustable articulator (Anantha), extra-oral tracer (Chandra), magnetic joint to improve ear prosthesis adjustability, ‘joint’ for finger prosthesis and many more.
His research ideas were truly out-of-the-box and contributed to the specialty stream of prosthodontics nationally and internationally. He is considered a role model by every aspiring prosthodontist.
A library dissertation titled “Contributions of Dr K Chandrasekharan Nair to Prosthodontics” was submitted by Dr Sayali Sunil Kalanthri, postgraduate student, Rural Dental College, Loni, to Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences (Deemed University), Loni, Maharashtra. Another student from Maharashtra, Preeti Kalia, dedicated a poem to honour the professor. The poem, 'Framed', was framed and handed over to him.
He was asked to contribute to the reference book of Phillips’ Science of Dental Materials. Apart from contributing to this book as Editor, he also authored many books in English and Malayalam. His English books are Flexural strength of porcelain veneers, Lambert, Germany, 2012; Rediscovering complete dentures (1998); What is not taught in medical colleges (Contributor) (2011); Effect of disinfectants on modified denture base resins, Lambert, Germany, 2012; Study on tensile bond of luting cements, Lambert, Germany, 2013; Metal and ceramic coping borders and their influence on aesthetics, Lambert 2013; A primer on Complete Dentures (2014).
He authored 11 books in Malayalam. I am fortunate to have translated some of the titles to English: Dental Health, Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, 1977; Oral Cancer, Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, 1978; In Search of diagnosis, Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, 1979; Dental Care, Language Institute, 1980; You and teeth, Saluja Prakasan, Delhi, 1981; Cancer and mouth, Saluja Prakasan, Delhi, 1982; Tooth-0-Tooth, Balbhavan, Thiruvananthapuram, 1981; For better teeth, Language Institute, 1996; Illustrated Human Encyclopedia, Knowledge publishers; Medical Encyclopedia, Travancore Publishers (Contributor); Health Encyclopedia, Prabhat Book House (Contributor).
His contributions are not confined to articles, research, book writing, and social service. If there was an award for the best inspirational teacher in Kerala it should have gone to him. During my postgraduate days, it was with awe that I observed how he managed to bring the best out of the least interested students, too. He asked me to take the diplomate national board and PhD after my masters. He expected nothing in return. This inspired me to give the best to my students too, without expecting anything in return. Great minds can sow the seeds of inspiration in others and this is what our guru Chandu Sir did. He set the same high standards for all his students. He treated all of us the same.
He was simple, humble, and had a great sense of humour. His classes were a joy to attend, even the longer ones. He was a great orator and a bold and intelligent decision-maker in whom students could confide anything. Even if we made mistakes, he gave his suggestions and never brought these up in later conversations. He was always calm and had an amazing ability to convert rude questions into objective queries.
His perfectionism, meticulousness, and professionalism were incomparable. These qualities fetched him a name as a professional speaker. From 1986 to 2019, he conducted more than 140 professional advancement programmes and was the guest speaker for more than 45 international dental and medical conferences. As a contribution to academics, from 1991 to 2019, he conducted more than 40 workshops on educational training for teachers in various institutions.
He is a recipient of various awards like Alarsin research award, IDA best paper, IDA Baruch award and several others.
He taught me that a great teacher, apart from knowledge and skill, needs a positive attitude to organize and guide the students. The best part of a teacher’s life is when he or she impacts the mind of the students and gains love and respect from them.
He has been seeking to change the existing dental education in India to world-class standards. He encouraged the Alumni of the Dental College, Thiruvananthapuram, to contribute in terms of research and publications. His ambition is to make the dental discipline in India world class by incorporating new teaching and training methods. This Teacher’s Say, I salute this great academic, influencer, and, above all, a humble human being. I express my gratitude to this living legend.
(The author is a Faculty, department of prosthodontics Ajman University)