Friday, September 5, 2014

Happy Teacher's Day daddy

Today, I spent the eighteenth Teacher’s Day of my life. At least thirteen of these Teacher’s Days have been spent after I started gaining conscious thought and emotions. I have many memories about Teacher’s Day and about teachers in general. I even wrote once about Teacher’s Day celebrations in schools about four years ago. Yet, I have never thought about writing about the man who has been my lifelong teacher. So today I am going to do just that, as much for him as for myself. Baba, this essay is for you.

The first time daddy acted in a teacher-ly manner with me was a time that I have only very vague memories of. I have heard often about the incident from him, though. I do not remember how old I was at that time, but it was before I started schooling. Daddy took it upon himself to teach me Bangla. He told my mother not to worry about my learning English; that would happen automatically. Rather, they needed to consciously work on my knowledge of the mother tongue. My mother tried to do the Bengali letters of alphabet with me, but being the stubborn monkey that I was, I stoutly refused to learn them. Then, after many days of futile struggle on my mother’s part, daddy got fed up with me. One evening, after a particularly mulish display of obstinacy on my part, daddy took me in his lap and boxed my ears and held me down tightly, saying that he wasn’t going to let go until I read through the letters. I howled and threw a tantrum, but finally I did manage to read through them, and then gave daddy a tear-streaked, snot-nosed, toothy grin, saying “Ami parchhi toh” (“I can do it”)!

That was the beginning of a lifelong journey of fun and learning for me.

Daddy has always been there for me. I have always known him as a father rather than as a teacher. So, it was difficult for me to comprehend totally what his pupils really felt about him. All through primary school and middle school, I attended hardly any tuitions; I could handle most of the studies myself, and daddy was always there to sort out any confusion in any subject. But naturally, I was hysterically excited about starting my formal classes with him in high school. The thought that I would get a taste of the Suvro Sir that all his students saw him as was as great a motivation as actually being taught by him – probably more. In fact, I was so impatient to get into his classes that daddy actually started teaching class eight students to accommodate me and my friends sooner!

It is strange how some memories stand out so clearly in one’s mind that one can delve into oneself and relive the memory as many times as one wants. My first day in daddy’s class was something like that. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I went down to the classroom at 2.40, five minutes before daddy. It being the first day, he descended five minutes earlier than usual. The class was deathly quiet; my friends were sitting there with pale and subdued faces, studiously ignoring each other. I went and took the chair on daddy’s right, mentally making a resolve to claim that seat as mine permanently (which, by the way, I did!). Five minutes later, daddy came down with a broad smile. He greeted us with such warmth and kindness, that soon everyone started relaxing. After that, the class flew. Daddy told us the rules we would have to follow in order to make the most of his classes – “this is not school, don’t turn it into a zoo” is a good summary in more than one ways – and we went on to discuss a poem that the Carmelites were having problems with in school. Afterwards he dictated a model essay on “Education” to us, and we ended the class with some grammar homework. At the end, all the boys and girls left the room grinning broadly and chattering to their hearts’ content, as if they had known this man forever. Ironically, in all the three years that I studied with daddy, the only other times that I saw the class go so deathly quiet were the times when he gave us one of his famous “jhars”!

The year was a lovely one. Daddy took us on a new journey of knowledge that was definitely not restricted to English. His classes were a comfortable mixture of studies, discussions, and pure ‘adda’. We did so many interesting things: from group discussions and debates to writing essays about the opposite gender (I remember one of the boys naming his essay “The world is a garden and girls are flowers”!).  Time flew, and before we knew it, class eight was over. At that time we were not too sad though, as we knew that we would be back in class nine in a matter of a few months.

Classes nine and ten were a slightly different story. Right from the beginning we could sense a more disciplined and serious approach from daddy. There was less fooling about and much more hard work. Yet, the classes were nothing if not pure joy. Daddy was always so fresh and vigorous, he never let boredom settle in. He somehow knew how to make even drab grammar practice interesting. I now understand how much of that freshness has to be forced, and what gargantuan effort goes into that demeanor. Under him, the batch sailed through the examinations. But that came later. Before that there was the last day of class. That is one day that I try not to recall, but since I am reminiscing, I might as well get it all out. It was a sad day. The entire class was subdued. Towards the last half hour, more than half the class had glistening eyes. I tried hard to keep calm, knowing how much daddy dislikes public show of weakness. But when the hour struck indicating the end of class, I could control myself no longer. I practically shot out of the class, ran upstairs and rushed into the bathroom to lock myself up and have a good cry. When I was done fifteen minutes later, I came out and went to the balcony. My friends were still there in the garden downstairs, sniffling while daddy petted them reassuringly. It was then that I realized the full import of the situation: we were done with the classes, and they would never really take place again.

Except that they did for me. I keep gate-crashing into daddy’s classes whenever I feel particularly nostalgic. Thank you daddy for letting me do that.

Till now I have just been talking about daddy’s profession. But to daddy, being a teacher is much more than just a means of livelihood. Some people are born to do certain things. Daddy was born a teacher. His encyclopaedic knowledge about almost everything under the sun is actually only a tiny part of his being a teacher. It is his personality that does a great deal of the teaching. Anybody who has been his student knows the kind of attention he gives to every individual student. Daddy once told me, a teacher may enjoy teaching a bright student, but his real skill and credit lies in how well he can explain and simplify matters to the weakest student in the class. And that is exactly what he does. Daddy insists that practicing what one preaches is a fundamental requirement for a teacher. And there again, daddy is spot on. He tries to teach so many values in his classes, but none that was utopian or impractical. He insists that punctuality is an essential habit, and he himself is never a minute late to class. He stresses on neatness and organization in one’s work, and he himself has never been anything but. In fact, it is because I have had daddy as a teacher that I maintain such high standards in my expectations of any teacher. Mostly the teachers that I have fall way short of my standards. For the same reasons, if I call somebody a good teacher, there are probably few higher compliments that I can pay him/her.

Yet, if I restrict myself to daddy’s classroom avatar, I would be doing him a gross injustice. As I said right at the start, learning has been a lifelong journey with daddy, and only a part of that has been done in the classroom. Daddy has been a teacher to me in a much wider sense: he has taught me how to live a good life. It is easy to gather information; there are endless sources that can give us more reading material than we would be able to finish in a lifetime. But to have a guide and mentor is a far greater thing indeed. I have found mine in daddy. Daddy has shown me the way to a happy, fulfilling life. He has taught me to be self-sufficient and yet sensitive to the sorrows and joys of those around me. He has taught me kindness and patience, and also the need for anger and violence. In spite of leading an unrewarding life himself in many ways, he has helped me keep faith in humanity when the going is rough. He has insisted that I learn from his failures as much as from his successes. He has never been afraid to admit that he can be wrong, that no man is infallible. He has maintained the need to earn people’s respect and not claim it merely as an advantage of one’s age all his life. He has shown me the beauty that there is in being a loner. But most importantly, he has taught me the meaning of love and belonging. There are few lessons in life that I can call greater than that.

Daddy has tried to teach all these to his students as well. His eternal sorrow lies in the fact that so few of them are willing to take all that he has to give to them. The few who realize the wealth that is waiting for them in the form of Sir learn their fill and lead better lives for it. I wish for daddy’s sake as much as for theirs that the number of such students were greater. Also, I wish he had not had to suffer all his life so much from girls. He has tried so hard to be a good teacher to everybody, but even more so to girls. Yet it is they who have gone on to cause so much pain to him. Why do they have to tell daddy that they love him when they do not mean one word of it? He often laments that he has never got anybody other than me whom he can love so wholly. Still, I know that I will probably never be able to be a Chandragupta to his Chanakya.

The best I can do is try.