My childhood was wondrously laid-back and my parents were blissfully unaware of the need to enroll their children in extra classes that taught any new skills or sports. I had free rein over my leisure hours. I learnt swimming, or rather how not to drown, in the huge pond in our backyard. There were all sorts of fishes and creepy crawlies lurking beneath the murky surface, including a huge tortoise and once my foot had accidentally grazed its rough, scaly back. My father had brought home that tortoise when I was three and it had slid out of his palm onto the dinner table, slowly crawled across the whole expanse, and would have fallen off the other end if I hadn’t held it back. Not much brains to speak of. My cousins and I never contracted any illness even after months of splashing around in the pond that had never been chlorinated. I also learnt how to fish sans any expensive equipment. All it took was a long and thin bamboo pole, a thick string and a fishing hook. I got flour balls from the kitchen, dragged a small moorha to the edge of the pond, and sat down to fling the bait into the water. My youngest uncle accompanied us and solemnly whispered fishing tricks to all the wide-eyed children surrounding him, basking in the attention that we showered him with.
Candles, Mass Murders and Small Towns.
When I was a child I sat at the study desk every evening for a few hours, opening slim volumes of brown notebooks with a serenely smiling Don Bosco on the front cover, to draw maps, solve quadratic equations, summarize a poem or memorize the years of famous battles. I grew up in a modest locality of a small town in Assam, where the residents were thankful for a few hours of electricity every night. And till the time my father brought home a noisy power generator, a candle and a match box were as essential on my study table as a pen. Every time there was a power cut, it was the perfect excuse to plead to my mother that my eyes hurt reading the tiny print in the faint light of the candle. She knew me well, and after confirming with an ophthalmologist that I had excellent vision, she started bringing home newer sets of large candles with thicker wicks.
The Grandfather in My Father’s Stories
I wish I was in your class again.
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.”
You might remember me only as a face in your classroom. But I will always be grateful for your support, belief in me and guidance at crucial points of my life. I feel blessed to be your student.
This is for you:~
Ma’am Deepti Singh: For that encouraging smile, a pat on the back, and developing a healthy competitive streak in me. And it touches me that you remember me even though it has been fifteen years since I last sat in your classroom. You were, are and will always be my favorite teacher in the whole wide world.
Sir Bijoy Handique: You were a lot of firsts for me. You were the first person to notice the ‘biggest introvert’ (me) in the classroom, the first to appreciate my work, the first to believe that I could achieve something big, the first to create a genuine interest to learn something instead of mugging up for exams and what do you know, you were even my first crush! I will always like history 🙂 And the fact that you still remember me as the little girl in a grey skirt, wearing tiny, hoop earrings and traveling to school in the old fiat…delights me no end.
Ma’am Manjula: Your smile comforted me on the first day of kindergarten. You taught me the alphabet. You didn’t laugh when I said that I sent my sports shoes to the ‘barber’ for cleaning!
Ma’am Ruprekha: I still remember the first thought that crossed my mind when I first saw you, “If my grandmother dressed up in chiffon sarees and wore lipstick, she too would look as beautiful as Ruprekha Ma’am”. I think your maternal aura made it impossible for anyone not to like you. How you patiently listened to my fanciful imaginations about ETs, doppelgangers and the ghosts in the school church!
Ma’am Anita: You were the woman of 2011 in 1994! You made learning such fun. You brought beautifully crafted jewellery boxes to class when teaching about indigenous craftsmanship of Jammu and Kashmir, you taught us to appreciate the beauty of a song’s lyrics (the example was ‘ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga‘), you striked the perfect balance between being amiable yet someone we didn’t dare anger!
Sir Joseph: You introduced me to the world of books…novels, poems, short stories, essays, and even limericks. You let me borrow 4 library books every month when the rule was a limit of maximum 2 books. You played chess with me and didn’t make a big fuss when I bunked PT class. You also bought me pastries in the school canteen, when the queue was long. You are awesome 🙂
Ma’am Srivastav: You always saw through my trick of feigning stomach ache when it was my turn to read a passage from the Hindi textbook, but you didn’t scold and embarrass me in front of the class. You gradually let the love for the language grow on me, even though it never reached substantial heights. But you managed to hold my hand and walk with me through my living hell of writing Hindi essays!
Fr. Philip: I am yet to see a person as dashing and as charismatic as you. I doubt whether I’ll ever see one. The way you spoke, the way you walked, the way you taught us the values of life was awe inspiring. But during tiffin break you patiently answered the questions of two enthusiastic little girls, my best friend and me, ranging from the contents of your lunch box to ‘why bad things happen to good people’. You let us rummage through your personal library every day. And when I left my hometown and joined a new school, you uncomplainingly passed on my long letters, addressed to the school principal, to my eagerly waiting friends in that old classroom. Yes, I will never meet anyone like you again.
Sir Angelus: You were aggressive, and you never missed the target when you threw a chalk piece at an errant student. You scared me when you threatened to clip my long nails in front of the whole class. Yet, when I came to know you better, I thought you were the most gentle person I had ever met! Your razor sharp wit, your quirky assignments, your exciting tales, and the fact that you were the lone inhabitant of the school at night (as your living quarters were on the spooky top floor of the school) made you quite the interesting character. You disciplined us when we needed it the most.
Rafida Ma’am: You taught the most boring subject on earth. Social Studies. Yet, I never dozed off in your class. You helped me adjust to a new school. You handed me important responsibilities, so that I felt more involved in the alien environment. You advised in hushed tones to each of the girls individually when it was their time to start wearing a bra. I anticipated the dreaded moment and it lived up to the most awkward conversation (or was it just nodding my head) of my life. You left us all bereaved early this year, but I would always remember you fondly. RIP, Rafida Ma’am.
Sir Ratul Rajkhowa: You instilled in me a love for life sciences and consequently medicine. Your tuition classes were so much fun. You showed us the bottled gall bladder stones of your wife while solving genetics problems, you showed us your Bihu music cassette while classifying bacteria, and told us about your stint with the Indian Navy when we discussed ecological hazards! I so enjoyed those two hours of biology tuitions every morning.
Sir Balwant: I excelled in mathematics in school because of you. I was a dunce when it came to numbers, but your teaching showed me how mathematics could be fun. Your black diary with the toughest mathematical problems, invoked in me such a competitive streak to solve all of them before anyone else, that it scared me. You are such a down-to-earth and humble person. I will always appreciate your confidence in my abilities.
Sujata Ma’am: English seemed more than substance writing and grammar. Poetry awakened dreams instead of being monotonously mugged up for exams. I loved that you understood and took care of the individual needs of each of your students. You are such a witty, and for a lack of a better word ‘spunky’ woman. I liked your ideas, and everything you had done in life. You will always remain my idol.
Sir Jnanendra Sharma: I can’t picture Gauhati Medical College without you. You are a great teacher and one of the most tirelessly hard working person I’ve ever met. During undergraduate days, you always encouraged this “Jorhat’or suwali” to work hard, and I really did during Pediatrics, which still is my favorite subject. Even when I was going through a bad phase of severe anxiety and cut myself off from the whole world, you were the only teacher who was supportive and gave me hope. You are a busy man and you didn’t have to care if your past pupil was having a problem, but you did. And I will always be thankful for it. You didn’t even make me feel awkward by questioning about my past problems, when I resumed my normal life. You made it very comfortable for me. I hope someday this “jorhat’or suwali” will be able to make you proud in her own small way.
Sir Sahid Ali: You are knowledge personified. And you are genuinely interested in sharing your knowledge with all your students. You care. A lot. And that’s why I respect you so much.
Ma’am Gayatri: You are an epitome of intelligence, hard work and positive attitude. I always wanted to work hard in your classes. Especially pediatric ward classes. You are one of the finest women I have ever met.
Sir Suresh Chakraborty: I always looked forward to your questions about Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Satyajit Ray at the end of the psychiatry class. You made psychiatry come alive. I loved when you encouraged us to make diagnosis, validate it with strong arguments, and supported it with that happy smile of yours. You had always encouraged me to write during my undergraduate days in GMC, and I’d always be thankful for that.
Probodh Da: I hated it when you cut short the evenings, meant for having fun with my cousins, with boring homework assignments. But you never missed a class for 8 years, and made sure I stick to the books. I enjoyed the chat sessions at the end of the class, and playing scrabble with you.<