My Durgapur teachers
- Meeting Mrs. Haimanti Sinha… Jan 6, 2019
… or “Haimanti miss” as we used to call her during our ninth and tenth grades. Made a second foray into North Kolkata (in one day, that too) to meet Mrs. Sinha in her college in Shyambazar. (Maharaja Manindra Ch College). She is probably the only remaining teacher of ours who is still teaching. The journey to go to see her itself was unique. I ditched the car given the crazy traffic in north Kolkata and walked from South City Mall to Rabindra Sarovar Metro station – about 2.2km and took the Metro train (after about thirty years or more). To cap off the walking spree, after meeting her, I also walked from Shyambazar to Salt Lake City – about 3.5km – for my next meeting!
When I asked her about her life lessons – she gave me two examples. One – intriguingly – enough was something she said she learnt from a classmate of our batch – Prasant Kelkar. The story she told me would be difficult for me to narrate here without putting somebody else in a somewhat negative light. So, I am going to skip that part. But I have to say this – I was impressed by Haimanti Miss’s modesty and open mindedness to remember an incident and admit to learning from a 14 year old!!!
The second learning involved Father Gilson. Somebody who I never had a teacher for myself – but was considered by one of those unparalleled teachers one can possibly have while growing up. It involved the concept of “what is yours”. Very interesting take on the concept of ownership. The summary of the story Mrs. Sinha told me was that just because one created something does not necessarily mean one owns it. If one has a need for it too, that is fine. But if not, it belongs to others who need it.
Sitting in the cafeteria of the college (the staff room was too crowded), I picked up the life story of Mrs. Sinha, her father, her mother and all her siblings. I was also excited by some of the causes she wants to pick up to give her time after retiring at the end of this year. I am personally inspired by those causes too.
As you can see…
Double Egg Omlette: Rs. 14
Chicken Roll: Rs 30
Meeting Haimanti Miss: PRICELESS !
- How often do you get to meet your first grade teacher? Jan 2, 2019
That too 46 years later!!
I recollect it was 1973. Somewhere in the middle of the academic year, I suppose. Our favorite Bengali teacher – Mrs. Dhar – had given a class test. One of those words was “Aam” (meaning “mango” in Bengali). In my infinite wisdom, I had forgotten to put a small vertical line – thereby making it “Am” – which has no meaning in Bengali. Even I knew that! However, that ill fated missing vertical line cost me a mark and I scored 9 out of 10. I distinctly remember coming back home and facing my dad; it was – well, let’s just say an extremely unpleasant experience! I am sure I started putting extra vertical lines all over my Bengali answer sheets thereafter – because, you know, who wants to get thrashed by their dad? 🙂
Well, that spelling mistake is my first living recollection of Mrs. Dhar. I vividly remembered her visage and I also knew that she had triplets – Rinku, Minku and Tinku. (triplets were pretty uncommon in Durgapur).
I had come dangerously close to finding her a couple of years back when I had traced Rinku-di in California. I had even sent her a Facebook request explaining that I was trying to get hold of her mom. Not sure if she ever saw that but I hit a wall on that trail. Eventually, last year I found out Mrs. Dhar’s phone number. Which led to one of those awkward – “You won’t remember me – but I was your student in 1973” phone calls. I was afraid that she would take it to be a crank call. So, before she could slam the phone down on me, I threw the kitchen sink of my memories from those days at her including naming all my other teachers and exactly how the classroom roof looked (it was a crazy semicircular roof).
Having thus established by bona fide purpose, I had the chance to talk to her a couple of times more – all the time looking for a chance to go to Pune. By the way, in a complete twist of fate, I was in Pune a little over a year back to meet Mrs. Biswas – my English classroom teacher from tenth grade – from a different school. I had no idea that Mrs. Dhar was in the same city. Better yet, I never realized Mrs. Biswas was related to Mrs. Dhar. All I had to do is ask!! Go figure!!!
Well, what do you know? A flight to Bombay and an exhausting drive to Pune later, I was there ringing the bell at Mrs. Dhar’s door last morning. For a near-nonagenarian, she looked great and seemed to be in even better spirits. Very active socially and physically, she is an example to me on what I should be when I grow up.
We caught up on a million things – our old school, her daughters, my daughters, our old teachers, some of my batch mates and what not.
I am not sure I will get a chance to see her again (I sure hope I will). But I am just tickled pink that I was able to see her again after those Bengali class days of first grade – a full 46 years back!!
Like you have heard me say before – I am not sure I have ever made something of myself. Or, for that matter, ever will. But whatever it is that I am, a big part of it is the cumulative effect of some incredible influences of elders, teachers and friends around me from my formative years. I hope Mrs. Dhar will accept my visit to see her as a sincere form of saying “Thank You” for that influence.
- The reason we went to State College, PA !! Jun 26, 2018
I had not seen Mrs. Godura for over 35 years. She was our school teacher when I was in my tenth grade. Although she never taught me directly, she was my brother’s teacher and more importantly, she was an important link recently in getting me in touch with an old school mate and another old school teacher.
I knew she was visiting her son Ruchir in State College and since we were on the road anyways, we headed her way. After 7 hours of driving thru absolutely bucolic Pennsylvania, we finally made it to State College. Had a great evening with Mr. and Mrs. Godura, Ruchir and his family!!
- Sharing a lighter moment after 40 years!! Dec 31, 2017
Once in a while, I pick up some mild compliments about my writing style. Mostly undeserved, I must hasten to add. That said, if there are two teachers I lay most of the credit for my writing style, it would be Mrs. Debjani Biswas (ninth and tenth grade English teacher) and Sir Kelvin Donegan (my fifth grade English teacher). I was lucky enough to meet Mrs. Biswas this year in Pune.
The search for Sir Donegan was much tougher. Most of the teachers in school – in fact all of them, I would say – did not have the faintest idea about his whereabouts. Worse, I had heard rumors that Sir Donegan was no more. Because of that rumor, my intensity to search for him had reduced too.
Earlier this year, I found somebody who said that she goes to the same church as Mrs. Donegan every Sunday. And she confirmed that the news about his death was largely exaggerated. A few weeks later, I had a phone number in my hand.
As is my wont, I opened with the breaker-of-all-ices “You won’t know me sir….”.
He duly confirmed that!!
I quickly established my credentials by giving him some of the details from 1977.
If his words were to be believed, he was beyond delight to hear from one of his old students. Apparently, I am the only student from yesteryears that he has had a chance to talk to in over 30 years.
Turned out Sir Donegan left school and embarked on a completely different career in the merchant navy. Which meant, he was always out of the country. Eventually, he went back to his first passion in life – growing plants! He is into hydroponics and lives near the farm in Himachal Pradesh (1250 miles / 2000 km away from our school).
The most encouraging news I had from him that day was that he still visited his old house in Durgapur every year during Christmas / New Years time. You can do the math now… went to pick up my in-laws… thoroughly delayed on the highways… there was still some time to be squeezed out to see Sir Donegan!! Last time I talked to him? 1977! 40 years back!!
To say I had a great time would be a gross underestimation of the exhilaration I had upon seeing him. He had a great influence on me and most of the students. (I had written about him on a blogpost dated Oct 30 this year while discussing the controversy around the word “stoppage” – in case you wanted to look it up in my blog).
I updated him on all the teachers from school, learnt a lot about hydroponics and also the adventures he had in his life while traveling the world with the merchant navy.
The facial expressions should give you a good idea about the fun that was had!!
- The choice was clear.. Oct 29, 2017
The risk was that if I missed my flight back, I would surely miss my long haul back home to US. The opportunity was that my eighth grade class teacher had just moved to Siliguri and if I could align all my flights, I had a window of opportunity of about an hour and a half to see her. After 1980. That is almost 38 years if you are keeping count.
After much dilly dallying, I decided to take the risk. How cool would it be for me to say that in one single calendar year, I met 9 out of 10 of my home room teachers of my life? (The tenth one is a very different equation; more on her later). Plus my goal for this trip to India was to take care of my dad and with any extra time, I was to meet my old teachers.
That decision took me to a flight to Bagdogra and then a pre-paid taxi later. I was standing face to face with the lady who was my class room teacher of eighth grade. It was instant magic. It was almost half an hour of just running thru our old teachers and students from our school, that I remembered to ask her if I could wash my face. (It was a hot day here and the pre paid taxi was non AC).
We were the second batch in Miss Nandita Gurung’s long teaching career. Obviously, we had a lot of fond memories of other teachers, our school, our head master and some of the students. But the best part was me learning Miss Gurung’s personal background.
A highlight of the day was meeting her husband – Mr. Uday Gurung. We talked about a lot of things and we had a lot of connections – from motorcycle riding to mixology. (I am now intrigued about the motorcycle ride from Leh to Ladakh). What was most impressive to me was how Mr. Gurung had fought back cancer successfully.
Siliguri is my sister’s town. After getting married, she moved to Siliguri. I have come here many times. I even have pictures of goats waiting to cross the runway after the plane cleared from over 20 years back. My sister moved out about 10 years back.
It was just great to visit to a town that I had some familiarity with. With a teacher that have a lot to be thankful for.
Picked up quite a few tips about the mountain areas from Mr.and Mrs. Gurung. Natasha is the mountain person at home. Maybe, I can entice her to visit this part of the world soon!!
- “You will get a cigarette” !!! Oct 28, 2017
Circa: Jan, 1977.
I had just walked into a new school in my fifth grade. I knew nobody in my class. I had gone and sat down in class 5B – that is where my name had showed up in the long list in front of the headmaster’s room.
Soon, our home room teacher (class teacher) walked in. She seemed jovial and strict at the same time. I was just a scaredy cat. Everything was new – new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher…
As the teacher settled down after our rather disunited “Good morning, miss”, one of the first question she asked was “Who is the first boy?”. Well, I was a “first boy” but from a different school. So, that did not count. Shounak raised his hand.
“Well, you will be the class monitor. You will report to me any misbehavior in our class and I will give that student a cigarette”.
The new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher was scary enough. I did not need a teacher giving out cigarettes. And what kind of school did my dad get me in to? Why would the teacher give a cigarette? And how is that even a penalty?
Much later I learnt that all of us were to get a “conduct” report card every other week that we had to get our parents to sign off on. And if we did not behave, we would be awarded a “C-grade”. Apparently, not a “cigarette”!!
That teacher was Miss Lakshmi Dutta. She was our math teacher in fifth grade. She taught chemistry when we were in higher grades. And then she left the school. In 1979!!
About four decades later, this year, I had discovered that she lived very close to my brother. My previous attempt to meet her was futile since she was unwell. I almost had the same bad luck this time. Today, she was unwell too and the only reason we did not have a longer meeting is that she had to go to the doctor. But we did meet! After almost four decades!!
You would think that by now, I should be used to meeting my home room teachers after decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meeting Miss Dutta was as exhilarating as it could be.
Anybody who was her teacher would probably remember her for a few things – she giving a lot of students some unique names – “Kaan Khaara”, “Morobba” (for most of them those names have stuck for a life time) – and those trips to the chemistry lab where she would make the fire in the bunsen burner turn into different colors …
Today, I got to know about her original birthplace, her life journey, her granddad, her dad, her own schooling, her siblings, her selfless support for her dad and mom during their last years in life…
This meeting was no less humbling than that first day I had met her in 1977!! I hope to see her a few more times since she is so close to where my brother lives…
- My first grade class (home room) teacher!!! Oct 25, 2017
“Thank you for coming all the way from Kolkata to Ernakulam to see me. I feel very special today. Nobody has done that before”.
“No, no, no, that is not how it works”, I quickly responded. “I am the one who is here to say thanks for every way you influenced me when I was barely a few years old. In many ways I am today who I am due some of those early influences”.
“Plus”, I admitted, “You had asked me to come and meet you”.
“I did?”, she asked somewhat confused.
“Ah! You do not remember, do you? I will tell you that story”
That is how the conversation began the moment Mrs. George opened the door. She was my class teacher in first grade. Last time I had talked to her face to face was in 1973. This year, I had tracked her down to a place about 1500 miles away from where we used to be and had promised her that I would come and see her. Especially given the great difficulty she has in moving around (both her knees are shot) and the fact that she is valiantly fighting Parkinson’s, I was determined to make that meeting as quickly as I could.
After she slowly walked to her chair with the help of her cane and I settled next to her, I continued-
“You lived in Aurobindo Avenue. 5th street, right?
“Back in the mid eighties, there was a girl on 8th street on your road that I used to be romantically linked with. One day, I was coming back from her house, and I ran into another old schoolmate of mine – Soumitro was his name. He lived on your street. He had mentioned that a year or so back, you had realized that he and I had become classmates after leaving your school. And you had asked him to ask me to come and see you if he met me again”.
“Not sure why – I believe I had gone back to my college a few days after that or I was feeling too awkward (and I was plenty awkward those days), I never came and saw you”.
After pausing for a moment, watching her take in the whole story, I finished up:
“I know I took too much time. But I have come today and I have kept your request”.
“Thank you!”, she smiled.
“And I brought something for you”
That is when I fished out a printout of a photograph I was carrying for her in my backpack.
“Do you remember this?”
“Looks like a class picture during Christmas party”.
“Indeed. Mrs. George! December, 1973!! I want you to keep this picture”.
As you see from the photo below, I spent quite some time naming the students and giving her an update on where they are and what they are doing. Much to my surprise, there were a few names she recognized instantly!!
The rest of the afternoon went remembering so many of our old teachers and me learning about her early childhood days in the rubber plantations near Kottayam district and her days after she left our school.
I got introduced to Mr. George. Mrs. George showed me pictures of her daughters and grandkids. I even got to see a picture of her from her wedding day!!!
If there was one meeting I never wanted to end, it had to be that one. First grade! First class-teacher!! There are still many more memories we did not get a chance to share! But I had two flights to catch before I could get back to my place (there were no direct flights for me). Reluctantly, I took leave.
“Yes?”, I looked back at the door where she was standing to say Bye to me.
“What happened to that girl from our road?”. I think she was trying to tease me.
“Oh! I married her!!”.
Going by the big laughter she gave, I did not think she was expecting that answer!
As the Uber guy started our one hour drive back to the airport, I felt a surge of emotional high for being able to see Mrs. George after 44 years to say Thank you. As well as the simultaneous pangs of the inevitable question – Will I be lucky enough to get another chance to finish off a few more stories?
- Fourth grade class (home room) teacher!! Four decades later!!! Aug 18, 2017
In the end, the longest and the hardest searches are almost always the ones where the sought after person is right there in front of your eyes. I must have asked 30 people over the last 20 years if they were aware of Krishnan Miss’s whereabouts. The last time I saw her was on my last day in fourth grade – 1977. Then I moved to a new school.
Earlier this year, I was talking to one of my classmates from that school – Mousumi, who lives in Singapore and was lamenting that I was still missing some of our old teachers. She thought for a little while and gave me a pointer – “I think her son was in our batch in the school you went to after leaving our school”.
I was, of course – “That cannot be. I keep track of – and talk to – all the hundred odd classmates from my next school. How can it be that I never realized that Mrs. Krishnan was the mom of one of them?”. She thought I had a good point but insisted that she seemed to specifically recollect this fact from the past.
There was nothing to lose. We had only 2 Krishnans in our batch – one is in New Zealand and the other I had just met a month back in Delhi. I shot 2 WhatsApp messages to them, expecting to run into another dead end.
What do you know? Sushil – the classmate I had just met in Delhi a month back, responded, saying “Of course, my mom was your teacher. She still keeps talking about you”. I was like – “Are you kidding me? I have been looking for her for decades now. And all this time she was your mom and she lives with you?”.
As you can imagine, only one thing could happen when I was going to be in Delhi next. Which was today. She had come back from her native place in Kerala a couple of days back to make sure we do not miss each other.
It was magical getting to see Mrs. Krishnan – after four decades!! Again, to put it in perspective, I have lived only for one more decade than that!! I could have picked her out of a crowd easily. She still looks the same.
We talked a lot about our old teachers (one of those rare cases where I was able to give her contacts of her own old colleagues) and some of the old students she could remember. Like my biology teacher yesterday, she had cooked lunch for me too!!
It was extremely rewarding to create an intersection point with somebody who had helped me in the journey of me becoming who I am today. Words cannot possibly convey my sense of gratitude.
A shout out to Sushil and Mousumi for helping me make this happen is in order here!!
- Cells do what? Aug 18, 2017
Biology and I have always had an interesting relationship. I had, and continue to have, great curiosity to learn how our body works. In fact, even today, I will pick up a book that explains how our brain works, how our various body parts evolved over time and am usually more than sufficiently skeptical of easy explanations – as an example – food fads.
It was the exam time that I used to dread. It appeared to me that I had to learn everything by rote. I could not logically deduce anything (you know, like in math). And I was not good at remembering stuff. That had to do with studies. Certainly studies that had to do with the red Biology book written by one Katyal and one Ali.
It was sometime in 1979, I believe. Our Biology teacher – Mrs. Pandey had just started with the first chapter. And it was about the most simplest form of animals – single cells, that she was explaining. Eventually, she went to the topic of how cells reproduce and create more of themselves. Her words have been indelibly marked in my memory. “Cells multiply by dividing”. I get it that most folks with rudimentary knowledge of biology will know what she was talking about.
But to a logical thinking, math puzzle oriented 12-year old, that was a “Whoa!! Back up, Back up” moment. What do you mean you multiply by dividing? That gives a lie to my most favorite subject those days – maths.
I do not believe I ever recovered from that shock. Dropped biology after tenth grade unceremoniously crashing any dreams my parents might have had that I would grow up to be a doctor someday.
But I liked my teacher. In fact, I used to look forward to her new lessons – to learn some new thing. However as I said, you could not get me to read it the second time to prepare for exams.
First time I visited Mrs. Pandey at her residence was in 1980. She had asked me to prepare some charts for her for a project she was doing. I remember having done them with great care and then cycled up to her house in Benachity. As an aside, that day, I had a great intersection point – I had run into my classmate Jayita from a previous school in the same building that Mrs. Pandey lived in.
The next time I visited her was again in the same house. This time it was 1983 and I had finished my tenth grade and was going to move to a different school and city. I had gone to pay my regards to her.
And then for the third time, I saw her in her house yesterday! Nearly 1000 km away from the prior house I had visited. In Lucknow! I was in Kanpur to give a guest lecture in IIT. About 2 hours of drive away from where she lives. Made the trek up and down to get a chance to see her and thank her for all her lessons.
The additional attraction was getting to see her son Vikram, who was also a classmate of mine. We were never in the same section (home room) but certainly knew of each other very well. There are those annual birthday calls too!!
While it was a short stay, it was memorable to see Biology Miss (that is how we called her then) and Vikram!! It was heartening to see Mrs. Pandey in great spirits, sporting that incredible smile and in good health. I guess those cells did a great job in multiplying. Or was it dividing?
Ah! I forget!
- Dorothy Miss! Aug 16, 2017
I was in a tight schedule yesterday. I had to go visit my inlaws in Durgapur but unlike every other time, I was not going to spend the night there. In fact, I had to come back by 7PM so my brother would have the option to go back to Kolkata if my nephew’s fever resurrected. The plan was to meet my inlaws, take them out for lunch, drop them back at their place and then head back to my dad’s place.
Fortunately for us, the roads were very clear. It being India’s Independence Day, all establishments and many shops were closed. A few random showers here and there thinned out the herd of pedestrians, motorcyclists, stray dogs, goats and chickens from the road. If any one of them were contemplating on stepping back into the roads, the constant honking of my brother surely made them think otherwise 🙂
That opened up the possibility of creating one more “intersection point”. One phone call to Pratap Bara in Kolkata and after taking a few wrong turns here and there, we showed up in front of Mrs. Benedict’s house. She was my fifth grade science teacher. We all called her “Dorothy Miss”.
Science was my favorite subject. So, obviously I used to look forward to her classes. But most interesting to me were the experiments she used to demonstrate to prove some scientific principles and all that. That was 1977.
And this is 2017.
Sir Lawrence, her husband, was also in our school but was never my teacher (other than a couple of weeks of substitute teaching when my seventh grade class teacher – Mrs. Srinivasan was out for some reason that I cannot recollect now).
I had a great time talking to Sir and Miss. (which is how we addressed our teachers in primary and middle schools).
I was delighted to meet their younger daughter – Shalini. She is a confirmed backpacker like my other friend Shirdhar. She has backpacked thru some beautiful parts of the world. There were some amazing stories yesterday!! Did I mention that I also got to taste some wines from the different places she has been to? !!
I am thinking I should regularly check up on Sir and Miss. Especially after Shalini’s trips. No vested interest, I assure you 🙂
- She is officially the earliest teacher in my life that I got in touch with!! Apr 26, 2017
The day was Jan 15, 1973. I was a tiny tot – all of six years old – when I got down from a strange looking bus – it was more of a re-purposed police van really – to a very foreign environment. I got out of the bus and stared with somewhat trepidation at my new school. That was my first day of being a first grader in Benachity Junior High School.
I trudged along the school entrance path and unlike other smart students, took some time to find my class. I was one of the last ones to arrive and found myself a spot in the very last row of benches. I was pretty nervous. Not really sure who talked to who first that day, but I did strike up an awkward conversation with the boy next to me. Turns out his name was Ansuman Mitra. Actually it still is. And we are still friends and see each other about once a year! “I have a new blue tiffin box”, I remember telling him. That, clearly, was the only thing I could talk thru my awkwardness. Probably, also the only thing that I was looking forward to that whole day.
Presently, a teacher came and announced that the class we were sitting in is 1B. Apparently, 1A still had a few benches unoccupied. And some of us got randomly picked and shooed away to the class next door. That is how I landed up in class 1A. And my somewhat budding friendship with Ansuman was cut short prematurely. In reality though, I sought him out during tiffin (recess) period to show my tiffin box 🙂
Well, it was that random choice that got me in front of my class teacher – Miss George as we called her then. I have but only a few memories of those days. Miss George teaching us English was one of the highlights. There was a red book and a yellow book. I remember some of the contents inside but most of it has faded off. I suppose they were filled with the letters of the alphabet and a lot of pictures.
One of the lasting memories I have about Miss George was that during one of those tiffin periods, I had fallen down (don’t worry, I was not athletic ever; it was not like I had a grand fall while trying to kick the soccer ball or something – it was indeed an ignominious case of me slipping on a stair right next to where they used to ring the big dong announcing that a period was over) and had bruised myself. Miss George had somebody get some medicine (Boroline?) from head teacher’s office and applied it on my knee and put me to ease.
Much later in life – around the mid eighties, somebody told me that Miss George lived somewhere near Aurobindo Avenue (I think that was the street name) and that she wanted to see me. I was such an idiot – and also a confirmed awkward – that I never took that opportunity to find her out and meet her.
Well, that particular memory has gnawed me for a long time. Ever since, I have approached many a people from my past with the “Do you know a Miss George from Benachity Junior High School?” At some point of time, I learned that she had left Durgapur and was in Kerala.
That long search of mine was put to rest last week when Mrs. Bose helped me get her number. It was with great consternation, I called that number. How do you approach a person who taught you forty four years back and somebody you never have talked after that?
“Is this Mrs. Lily George?”
And all that awkwardness came over me again! “Errr… You will not recognize me but you were my class teacher in first grade in 1973”.
I recognized that I needed to back up my point a little more. So, I told her about the school, the other teachers and my recollection of how she looked and most importantly that picture she took with us after gathering all the classmates during a Christmas get together.
The conversation, from then on flowed very fluidly. I got to know about her kids who are both live outside India. I got to know about how she has settled down in Ernakulam. But I was most disheartened to hear how she is having a tough time with her knees. And this is in spite of the fact she already had one surgery.
She took down my contacts. And as I spelt my name – something seemed to stir in her memory. “Rajib Roy. Wait a minute. Were you not the first boy in class? In fact you were the first boy all throughout school, right? I remember you very well. I had heard that you did very well in high school too”.
Well, that was really awkward and embarrassing. First, me doing well in studies had more to do with my relentless parents. I was an unwilling participant. But there were other first boys and girls too (We had many sections). So, I was not sure that was my calling card. But most of all, I was afraid that she might say “Hey! Later on I actually wanted to meet you once. Did you ever get the message?”.
Once I kept the phone down after promising to keep in touch with her, a flood of memories of my classmates from those days started floating thru my mind. Suddenly, I remembered something. I went upstairs, opened up the computer and after some search brought out a picture from that Christmas party of Miss George and all my classmates together. From Dec, 1973. I had digitized it and kept it thinking someday it might come come in handy.
My next mission is to get that picture to her somehow. You never know. My awkwardness knows no bounds. One of the India trips, I might just show up at Ernakulam and give her a printed copy of the picture and let her know that her teachings and guidance is going forty four years strong. With no apparent sign of abating!
What a great feeling it was to actually talk to somebody who is till date, my earliest teacher that I have been able to track!!!
[I am the kid with a squint in the left eye standing in the last row, third from the right of the picture]
- The reason I was in Pune this time Apr 13, 2017
Teachers, especially at school level, are almost always incredibly influential in shaping up a kid. In my own childhood, I was blessed with an excellent set of them. They were often very different from each other and because of that I learnt from them very differently. In that bright constellation, some stars stood out perhaps a little brighter than the others.
One such star was Mrs. Devyani Biswas. She was my English teacher in ninth and tenth grades and also my class teacher (home room teacher) in tenth grade. Without her indelible mark, I can gainsay that I would have grown nary an interest in English literature.
Frankly, I was not that proficient at written English. It did not flow as well as – say, my desk mate Dibyendu Dutta who I was in awe of. Truth be told, it still does not flow that well but my grammatical mistakes and typos make reading it jarring enough that people are usually distracted from the quality of English. My approach to written English those days were not so much dissimilar to the precision that I used to bring to Math and Physics problems. With a wholly different effect, if I may add. There is a telling story that brought this out when Mrs. Biswas had given us a homework to write an essay on “Sound”. If you have the time, you can read up about it here… http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=6911
But finding Mrs. Biswas later was a much trickier problem than writing English essays. The only knowledge I had was that a couple of years after I left school, her husband and she left for Pune. The other data I had was that Mr. Biswas had joined a company called Thermax.
After that, if I could ever find anybody who hailed from Pune, I would try to see if they somehow might lead me to a Biswas family. Just last year, I had realized that a classmate from my eleventh and twelfth grade was working with Thermax. I even made him go to their company database and find out all the Biswas-es from their Pune location.
There were two reasons my searches failed. First, I learnt that evening from Mr. Biswas that he had left Thermax within five years. And the second was that I had forgotten that Mrs. Biswas spelt her name the non-Bengali way – “Devyani”. The typical Bengali way would be “Debjani”. We, Bengalis, can be a little liberal about throwing in our “b”s willy nilly ???? In fact, my name too, outside of Bengal, would be written with a “v” and not a “b”. So, all my internet and social media searches were essentially looking for somebody not my teacher!!
Finally, the search was put to a close when I met my third grade class teacher Mrs. Bose at her house in Kolkata during my last trip to India. Subsequently, I had written to and talked with Mrs. Biswas. She had mentioned that I could still call her “Mrs. DB”, if I so wished. That was indeed how we used to call her those days!!!
Ever since, I had mentioned to Sharmila a few times that I needed to visit Pune during one of my trips to see my parents. The opportunity came in the very next one. I was able to route myself out of Mumbai as the exit point and thus, the previous night, after saying my adieu to parents and siblings, took a flight straight to Pune and showed up at her doorstep.
Over drinks at her place and dinner outside, we caught up on our life journeys. Both her children are in US. Thru all those discussions, a realization I had felt before kept coming back to me. Of all the intersection points I have created, meeting teachers from the long past has been some of the most rewarding. Followed closely by meeting parents of my friends (and the elderly generation, in general).
When I am with a teacher from my past, I remember a lot of events from those days and they further imprint upon me how those teachers were a big part of whoever it is that I am today. In fact, I mentioned to Mrs. Biswas a story from “Tales from Far and Near”. It was called “As the night, the day”. Written by Abioseh Nicol. It involved two characters – Kojo and Bandele. I remember having asked Mrs. Biswas what did the title of the story even mean. And she had explained the original words from Shakespeare – “Be true to thine own self / And it shall follow / As the night, the day”. Essentially Polonius was urging his son Laertes before he set out to the seas to be always true to his own principles and that success would follow from that as naturally as the night follows at the end of the day.
To this day, during extreme stressful situations at work and home, those are my trusted go to lines.
Similarly, we talked about Nissim Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” from Panorama, “Where the mind is without fear” by Rabindranath Tagore and so on and at every point I realized some those small learnings in early childhood translated to much bigger lessons in life. Little did I realize that at that time when I felt that they were simply a means to getting a good grade.
This story will not be complete if I did not talk about Mr. Arup Biswas – her husband and my anchor point for searches in the earlier years. Gracious to a fault, he put me to ease instantaneously with his approachable style, intellectual curiosity and some some very keen observations. I found myself often engrossed in deep discussions with him – who really was none other than a total stranger to me till a few minutes back. Quite a few topics were left to be discussed that night for a future point of time. I wish I had gotten to know him earlier in my life.
At the end of the dinner, the clock pushing almost half past eleven, they dropped me at my hotel. Before I let them go, I let Mrs. Biswas know why it was so important for me to meet her (and other teachers too).
Life is too short. Frankly, many of us find out rudely that it is often shorter than we thought. I just wanted to get an opportunity to tell her face to face – “Thank you for helping me become who I am today”.
Which I did. With all sincerity.
- My sixth grade class teacher (home room teacher) Apr 10, 2017
“Are you Rajib Roy?”, asked the deceptively young looking gentleman as he got up from his chair in the verandah of his house.
“That I am, Sir!”, said I, fumbling with the gate latch.
It had taken me a long time to find Sir Patrick Moore – my class teacher from sixth grade. I got my lucky break when I had met Pratap Bara at the airport a couple of days earlier. I got Mrs. Moore’s number from Pratap and then a few phone calls later, I had set up my tryst with the teacher that I had last talked to in 1978 !!! Three hours of car journey later, I stood face to face with him after almost four decades.
He did not remember me – which I would not have expected him to. But he did remember the two classrooms we sat in while in sixth grade. I remember that we were in the very last room on the ground floor. And one fine day, we were shifted to the room next to the library on the second floor. Sir Moore remembered that incident vividly since – according to him, it was he who had instigated that change after getting headaches from the chemical smell from our chemistry lab next door!!
I told him how he used to often ask us some very interesting questions and then ask us to think about it or even ask around about it and come back with answers the next day. I reminded him of some of the questions he had asked us…. He had just finished teaching us about how ancient people had discovered fire and how that was a big change for civilization. Then he asked us – “What was another discovery or invention of ancient people that changed civilization dramatically?”.
Or when another time, when he had just finished teaching us about the solar system, he asked us to think about what was a man made object that is visible to the eye from the moon.
I had an equally great time with Miss Yvonne (Mrs. Moore) (who was a teacher in our primary section but I never studied in that section of our school) discussing about life, my own life journey and learnt about theirs.
Finally, I offered my heartfelt gratitude to Sir for influencing me in no small ways to be whoever it is that I am today.
In the bottom picture, I am the one sitting in the same row with Sir, next to next to him, on his right.
- My second grade classroom teacher!!! Mar 12, 2017
The word on the street was that she was somewhat of a strict teacher. When I first encountered her – in my very first class in second grade, I also realized that she was very tall and towered over little seven year olds like us.
She opened up this book – a small brown cover book called “Brighter Grammar”, as I recollect – and asked “What is grammar”? I raised my puny little hand up – still a little afraid of her. She looked at me and I blurted out “Grammar is the art of putting the right words in the right place”. I am sure you are impressed by my grasp of the language called English at that age. In reality, I had no idea what I just said.
Turns out that my dad had opened up that book before packing it in my bag the previous night and read the first page and that was how the book started. And he taught me those words right then and there. I did not even know what “art” meant, especially in this context. Although I think I knew what “word” and “place” meant.
Back to Mrs. Shastri – for that was what we called her…, she closed the book and asked me “Do you want a double promotion?”. If I did not know what “art” meant, there was no way in God’s green earth I would know what a “double promotion” meant. I was scared out of my wits by her question. Instinctively, I felt that if she had closed the book before talking to me, that could not be good any which way to Sunday. I just bleated out “No, ma’m”. And she proceeded on with the rest of the lesson. Which, of course, I have no recollection of. Because my dad never taught me anything beyond that first line.
When I came home, I complained to my dad that he did not teach me the right thing and he should stay away from my books. My teacher had threatened to give me a “double promotion”. Some hearty laughter from him and for good measure, complete confusion from my side later, I sorted out that I was going to be okay with Mrs. Shastri. I might have even hit a home run with her, for all you knew.
Just as I was starting to feel really great about myself, my father said – “You gave the right answer. You are not mature enough to go to third grade”. And there went all my feeling great about myself. Never quite figured out who was more strict – my dad or Mrs. Shastri.
Why am I telling you this story now? Because I just finished up telling this story to Mrs. Shastri herself. You see, after getting out of second grade – way back in 1974 – a full 43 years later, I actually heard her voice today and talked to her over the phone. I have not met her yet (so the picture here is taken from her Facebook public profile) but I certainly intend to do so at the earliest.
One of the reasons our paths never crossed much after 1974 was that in 1976 I left that school and in 1978 she relocated back to her home state. And yet, it was crazy to find out how close we have been later without knowing of each other’s presence. Apparently, she used to come to Dallas to visit her son – during a time period when I lived there with my family!!! For all you know, I might have even seen her in one of those Indian grocery stores!!
It was great catching up with her and learning about her journey in life. It was exciting to hear about the book she has written (and one more is on the way) and her research and teachings in alternate methods of healing.
Towards the end, I had a nagging feeling that I was forgetting something as I kept my conversation up with with her. And then it hit me suddenly – “Before I forget ma’m… A very happy birthday!!”
As I kept the phone down, a sense of great happiness descended upon me. The fact that I was finally able to say “Thank You” to somebody who influenced me at such a tender age was an unbelievably satisfying experience!
And this story will not be complete without me thanking Mrs. Bose – my third grade classroom teacher – without whole help, I would have never found out Mrs. Shastri’s whereabouts!
- Meeting my third grade class (home room) teacher Jan 3, 2017
The year was 1975. About twenty five very young kids from third grade were asked to line up and walk towards the school gate. Any distraction from class work was always welcome; so we merrily started walking in a line. What was more exciting was that Mrs. Shastri – the teacher who was leading us – took us straight out of the school gate and onto Mirabai road. About a hundred meters down that road, we took a sharp turn and entered the outer garden of a bungalow. That was the bungalow of Mrs. Chobi Bose.
My memory is very unclear around why we visited our home room teacher Mrs. Bose that day. But I do not recollect seeing her in class again after that. Nearly 42 years later, my brother and I marched up to her house in Kolkata last evening. The best backdrop to the story above that I could put together yesterday is something like this: Mrs. Bose had left the school in the middle of the year in somewhat of an unplanned fashion. In all likelihood, Mrs. Shastri had taken all of us – her students – to visit her since she had left suddenly.
You know how sometimes some small incidents get permanently etched in your mind for no apparent reason? Well, I let Mrs. Bose know how I was struck that day back in 1975, by how well decorated her living room was. I still remember where I sat in her living room and was suitably impressed by those square pillows that were lined up against the wall on their vertices along their diagonals with very colorful covers. Mrs. Bose had a hearty laugh at my recollection.
My brother and I had such a great time chatting with Mrs Bose and finding out about her family. As if getting to see her and talk to her after such a long time was not a reward unto itself, she was, on top of that, able to give me two leads to two more of my teachers that I had been looking for some time. My second grade class (home room) teacher – that same Mrs. Shastri and my tenth grade class teacher – Mrs. Biswas.
Like that day forty two years back, I was again struck last evening by how tastefully Mrs. Bose’s living room was done. Admittedly those square pillows sitting on their diagonal were gone 🙂 But Mrs. Bose was the same old lively person that I remember from the mid seventies.
That was a great evening spent with a teacher from my elementary school days!! I am glad I got to see her after so many days!!
- Our schoolteacher!! Jan 1, 2017
Last time I was in India, I simply ran out of time after meeting five of my school teachers. This time, I wanted to make sure I got to meet Mrs. Nita Banerjee. While she was not ever my home room teacher or subject teacher (she had substituted for our home teacher who had to be away from school for a couple of weeks), I had heard from my friends who had her as their home room teacher that she had enquired after me. I was a little intrigued about how she remembered me.
I was simply astounded how much she remembered about me when I met her today. Again, last time I saw her was in 1983. There is something about teachers. They see a new set of students every year and somehow they have an incredible ability to recollect a few things about vast majority of those students. It is something that has always marveled me.
I was delighted to see Mrs. Banerjee after such a long time. In a complete reversal of roles, today, I explained to her my philosophies in life – why I quit work after every so many years, why I put a high premium on human relationships, the book that Bronnie Ware wrote and so on. I had a great time discussing some of those topics that are very close to my heart.
We had a lot more discuss but it was time for me to leave. We promised to discuss these philosophies in more detail next time… perhaps when she comes to US to visit her son…
- Our renowned physics professor Dr. P.K.Mukherjee Jan 1, 2017
Strictly speaking, “PKM” was never my teacher in any class. He was the Physics professor in RE College and his fame as a teacher was pretty well known. I had approached him during my summer vacation in eleventh grade when I was home from my residential school with a couple of Resnick Halliday problems. I remember him taking me under his wings and had asked me to come a couple of times in the week at 3 PM.
I do not recollect the exact days of the weeks but I remember that he wanted me to come when there were no other students (I guess 3PM on a Durgapur summer day can be oppressively hot) and we used to sit down and keeping working on Physics problems. He was one of the first guys I had called up after the results of my final exams a year later were announced.
I also remember one more incident when I had gone to his college to greet him in 1986. He was leaving to take a class and just asked me to join him. So, there I was – following him into his class and then sat with the rest of the students. He finished the whole session as if there was nothing awry. And it was totally a practical joke he had played. Because half the students in the class were my classmates from tenth and twelfth grades. They were way too surprised to see me in the class and very curious to find out what had happened but dared not do anything lest “PKM” Sir got mad!!
At the end of the class, he took me back to his office and we caught up. But not before he laughed out and “Kirokom dilam bol” 🙂 🙂
I had made an attempt before to meet him. But he was visiting his daughter – and a friend of mine Anushree-di – in USA. I gave it another shot today. Fortunately, I was able to see him in his house today. We caught up on a lot of things including old Resnick Halliday problems!! I even reminded him of a billiards ball problem in rotational momentum that had taken us three days to crack and till date, I remember the answer to that problem – 5h/7. Don’t remember the full problem though.
He was impressed with me recollecting the problem enough that I felt like saying “Ami ki dilam bolun” 🙂
- PT Sir!! Jul 3, 2016
We were getting ready early in the morning to start from Durgapur to Kolkata when my brother and I had a brainwave – since we had covered some of my favorite subjects the previous day, why not see if we can cover my least favorite subject too. We knew the rough area and the rest we figured we would wing it. It was easier said than done. We got a little lost and had to make calls to a friend in Delhi to bail us out.
But that is how I met “Shanti sir” or “PT Sir” as he was called during our school days. After 31 years again!! Now PT sir was less of a teacher to us and more of a friend. I recollect him to be very jolly, very active and always smiling – almost bordering on breaking into a laughter at the least provocation. And he has not changed one bit. You can see from the picture – it would be hard to place him to be in his sixties.
Yesterday, I learnt his fascinating family history. Especially how he got to be a PT teacher because his dad wisely got him to leave our state to shield him from all the Naxal movement that was holding ground. And how he aced some of the athletics tests (I think in Gwalior) and the rest has been history.
There are a lot of memories I have of PT Sir. Two stick out. The first one was the day when I broke out into a bout of typhoid (see a previous blog about our Geography miss). He was the guy who had taken off his jacket seeing me shiver and put it on me instinctively. I remember bobbing in and out of deep sleep – and I felt a little comfortable at one point of time. Opened my dreary eyes and realized I had his jacket on me and he was standing next to me.
The second incident was very funny. As a background, just like many who know me today and not from before get surprised when they see any old picture of mine with a head full of thick and lush hair (I was not born this way, you know 🙂 Actually, I was. But that is not my point 🙂 ) similarly, they would find it very surprising to know that in spite of all my running and marathons and attention to physical health today, I was a terrible athlete most of my life. Using the word athlete itself would be a stretch.
I was a very wiry, nerdy guy. With parents extremely focused on my studies. I liked playing. And would try to do so whenever my parents were not watching. But I was outrageous in my skills. Rumors in school had it that I would not even know which end of a soccer ball to kick. Regrettably, there was a lot of merit to it. On an aside, I played soccer for my college team later in life but I will tell you that story later. It was more of a question of relative excellence since I studied then in a part of India that was not too familiar with that sport 🙂
If following PT sir’s instructions to run after the ball was not scary (because seven other guys would outrun me to the ball), attending the PT exams was an outright nightmare. I think it was such a test in my eighth grade. Or was it my ninth grade? In any case, he split us into two teams to play field hockey. In that entire period, the sum total of times that I touched the ball was – mmmm… let me think … if I count all the flicks, long shots, short passes, hard hits and accidental brushes with the ball….. ummm.. yeah, it was a big fat ZERO 🙂 In the end PT sir gave me a chance to hit the ball in the goal with nobody around but just the goalie. It took me three independent attempts to connect with the ball. That one time that did connect, for good measure, I connected with a whole lot of ground too. My chattering teeth moved much more than the ball did.
In any case, at the end of the whole episode, PT sir declared the grades for each students. I was one of the only three students to have achieved the distinction of getting a “C” grade. Everybody else got “A” or “B”. In fact, most got “A”. Frankly, it did not bother me. My parents would have not let me back in to the house if I ever brought back a “B” grade in any subject, but they did not care about my PT grade.
The funny thing happened a little later. First, I would not say that I was not disappointed. I was hoping for a “B”. May I remind you that I did connect with the ball eventually and it did head out in a generally appropriate direction? An “A” would have been uncalled for since it stopped within about a foot. A couple of my classmates – I distinctly remember Kushal, Jayanta, Sanjiv and Biplab walking up to PT Sir and saying – “Sir, O class-er first boy. Okay C grade dilen”? Basically they pleaded for a better grade for me on the grounds that I was the “first boy”. PT Sir, in one of those “I may be a teacher but I am your friend first” moment, promptly upgraded me to a “B” grade. I was elated! I plotted how to come up with stories of my excellent footwork and all that while explaining my hard earned “B” grade to my parents – then thought the better of it and opted for the real story. My dad had a good laugh!! My mom – who would have a fifty fifty chance to knowing which end of my hockey stick to hold – totally thought I deserved it. On a good day, I might have even got an “A”, she thought.
You can only imagine PT Sir’s surprise when I told him about my marathon runs. Once he had settled down from his guffaws, he looked at my brother (who, by the way was a true athlete and PT sir’s favorite student) and he confirmed what I had just said. In one of those spontaneous moves, PT Sir came over to me and shook my hand!! I could not believe it!! That was my triumphant moment!! I had finally earned our PT sir’s respect! Finally I got my “A” grade. Without any assist from Kushal, Jayanta, Sanjiv or Biplab!! Eleven years of trudging along the trails in merciless heat, torrential rain and bone chilling snow – all of that was made totally worthwhile – by that one handshake!!
I am a painfully slow learner but I eventually got there. Over thirty years later!!
- Sir Nandy! Jul 1, 2016
Time to visit another teacher. I called up a number I had obtained recently. I was assured that was the right number.
“Achcha eta ki Mr. Nandy’r nombor?” (Is this Mr. Nandy’s number?)
“Hnah. Ke bolun to?” (Yes, Who is this? – he addressed me in the form of grammar used to address elders in Bengali)
“Sir, Amaakey aapni bolben na. Aami apnar purono student. 1983 batch. Naam Rajib Roy”. (Sir, don’t address me that way. I am much younger. In fact, I am a student of yours from 1983 batch. The name’s Rajib Roy”
“Rajib Roy maaney amaader Rajib?” (Rajib Roy? Are you our own Rajib?)
That was a very confusing question. I had no idea which Rajib he had in mind. This was getting more confusing than his alligation problems from Jadab Chandra Chakraborty math book.
“Kon Rajib bolun to”? (Which Rajib might you be referring to?) I asked.
“Narendrapur to?” (He referred to the school I went to for 11th and 12th grade)
“Osadharon smriti shakti aapnar”. I told him I was amazed by his memory.
“Aarey, tokey ekta cost accounting-er boi thekey khub shokto onko eney diyechhilam, mon-e aachhey?”
While life has prepared me for a lot of a situations, certainly it did not for this one where my math teacher from seventh and eighth grade not only pin pointed me from among thousands of students who he must have taught over the decades, but remembered the exact problem he had given me. I had no living recollection of that problem.
But then again, that is our Sir Nandy! Like I had mentioned in a previous post, between Sir Nandy and Sir Roy, you could not possibly escape getting the soundest of foundation in logical and mathematical thinking. I visited him yesterday. This was the first time I saw him after 1983!! A short 45 minute planned meeting went for nearly two hours.
I got to know his family history. As students, we never had shown interest in understanding our teachers’ backgrounds. We talked a lot about our school and how education has changed over the years. I also got to meet his daughter who is headed to the USA for her MBA degree. We talked a lot about living in the USA. By the way, I am impressed with the youth of today and technology. She has never seen that country (or any other country for that matter) but through the internet, she and a couple of her friends have already fixed a out of campus dorm, figured out what to buy from Bed Bath and Beyond and all that. At that age. I would have been lucky if I could figure out how to spell the American university name properly. And the state name if I really went Beyond 🙂
But nothing was more fun than discussing with Sir those problems where people, with no apparent real jobs would keep mixing milk and water repeatedly from two containers and then we had to calculate the proportions of each. Or those tubs of water that used to get filled with a tap but also seemed to mysteriously have a hole that water escaped thru and the hapless students like us had to figure out when would the tub get filled up. If ever. I mean, if ever, we could figure it out 🙂
“By the way, what was that problem you were referring to?”, I asked. The story I got from him was, apparently, I used to finish up my math problems in class quickly and sit down and idle in class. To keep me busy, he used to bring new problems for me – increasingly more difficult. Then he got frustrated – his words, not mine. Because I kept solving them. As he explained to my brother who was with me and also was his student – “Aami-o chharbo na. Oke aami thhekaboi.”. Basically, he felt he had to come up on top of this what he perceived as an escalating war. That is when he fished out a cost accounting book from his college days and chose the problem for me that he referred to in the phone call.
“Did he solve it?”, my brother asked.
Sir Nandy laughed out aloud. “What do you think?”.
I kept smiling sheepishly because. frankly I had no idea if I did or did not. But I am going to take that as a yes. Or that is the story I am going to stick to when I narrate this story to dad tomorrow. Else, he will make me call Sir Nandy up again for the problem and won’t let me go out for a run till I solve it successfully. I am telling you, my dad has not changed much.
That was a blissful time spent with Sir Nandy! On our drive back, I was not sure what I was more happy about – that I got to see him again after 33 years or that he had such detailed memory of me. I must have done something right somewhere, either way!
P.S. I have tried my best to write this in a way I do not come off as a self-boasting or showing-off person. I am sure in those days, I was an idiot. But hopefully, today I am not. In spite of my efforts, if this has hurt your sense and sensibilities, I sincerely apologize.
- Sameer-da! My tabla teacher!! Jul 1, 2016
Continuing with meeting up with my old teachers, the next one was a change of pace. I had been looking for Sameer-da who taught me “tabla” during my fifth and sixth grade for a very long time. I got a lucky break last time when I was in India. Do you remember the blind lady (Sundori-di) that I had gone to meet? (http://www.rajibroy.com/?p=10121). You probably also remember that she plays an instrument called the sitar. Thru her association with the School of Music in Durgapur, I was able to trace Sameer-da’s whereabouts.
A month later, I had called up that number in India. The voice on the other end was unmistakably his. Even though I was hearing the voice well over three decades, I was quite sure that it was him. The question was would he remember me?
“Sameer-da, aami Rajib Roy bolchhi. Aami aapnar kaachhey tabla siktham. Chintey paarchhen?”. I basically introduced myself as one of his students and asked if he could remember me.
His immediate response was “Soma-r dada Rajib? America thekey bolchho?”. Meaning “Are you the Rajib who is Soma’s brother? Are you calling from America?”.
My sister and I started learning music together. She continued for a long time. I gave up after two years. At that time, I was not too much into it. Today, that is one of my biggest regrets. I discovered my love for tabla after going to engineering school. I wish I had continued with formal coaching for a few more years. By the way, convincing my father that I wanted to stop learning tabla was very easy. I just manipulated him by saying that it was distracting me from my studies (remember how he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor? :-). My mom, on the other hand had suggested that I cut down on my playing time 🙂
Sameer-da used to teach me tabla as well as accompany my sister’s music teacher. Later in life, he had become close to our family but I had left Durgapur way before that.
Finally we pulled up in front of his house – and that took us some time since he lives in a village outside Durgapur town. Google maps had failed me already and finally, I had to resort to asking people on the streets. Of whom there were not a lot since it was late at night – 9PM and it had just rained. However, when I saw him, I could not believe my eyes. Sameer-da has not changed a bit. Not even one fraction of a bit. You can see him in the picture. He is 61 years old. And he can as easily pass by as a twenty-something!!!
That was one of the best meetings I have had in a long time. I had no idea about his own family history. Got to know how he was one of five kids. How all his brothers would go out and play in the remote village he was brought up in but he was more attracted by the sound of tabla that his dad used to play. Eventually, that love became his passion and then his profession.
And it still is his passion and profession!! We talked for some time about some of the intricacies of tabla – the instrument as well as the playing. Lamentably enough, I learnt that there is not much of interest left in Durgapur to learn tabla. Apparently, studies, western music and parents wanting their kids to get onto stage in rapid time has taken over the psyche. Unfortunately, tabla is one of those instruments that takes a lot of time to get the hang of and a whole lot more practice and perseverance before you can get on to stage.
But for most part, we talked about our families. I got to know about his son and daughter – none of whom I have ever seen and also caught up on mu sister’s music teacher!
He in turn, talked about my parents’ generosity. I did not realize this but apparently my parents had helped him when he was going thru some tough times in his personal life. He even showed me the set of tabla my dad had gifted him much later and he still has preserved it and plays it occasionally.
Although I gave up my formal lessons two years into it, I did impress him by mentioning that I do sit down to play by myself (terribly, I might add) every Friday. He in fact, quizzed me on a few taals and songs. I lucked out and came thru with flying colors. I think he went easy on me!!
- Bhowmic miss! Or as we called her – “Geography miss” Jul 1, 2016
After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Roy, the next stop was to cover my next favorite subject – Geography! Fortunately, I have been in touch with Mrs. Bhowmic for some time – although I had seen her only once in the last thirty years or so. She is even on my Facebook friends list.
Mrs. Bhowmic and geography has been synonymous to many of us. For students like me, learning geography started with Mrs. Bhowmic in 7th grade and finished with her in 10th grade. My dad and she are the two persons in this world responsible for my loving world geography to this day. My dad, even now, will pepper you with questions like capitals of countries and river names and all that if you do not have your guard up. Mrs. Bhowmic, fortunately, focuses on more varied topics!
But there was another side of Mrs. Bhowmic. She was my classmate’s mom too. Her son Abhik and I were classmates for six years in the same school. So, I got to know the family a lot more closely than that of most other teachers. And that connection, as I said has continued till today.
Many of you who know me from much later stages of life will find this incredulous but I used to have a head full of hair. And very thick too!! (I know, I know this one is for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not 🙂 ). In any case, Geography miss used to often comment about that in the class. And she brought it up last night when I went to meet her again!!
Another lasting memory I have from those days was my annual exam in seventh grade. While appearing for my Geography test, I came down with typhoid. I started shivering two thirds into the time period and managed to somehow finish it up. I remember that my vision had become blurry and I was struggling to keep my head up. Eventually, I gave up. The next thing I knew was I was lying down in our principal’s room, our PT teacher had thrown his jacket on me (I was shivering a lot) and Mrs. Bhowmic was next to me. Then I blanked out.
Couple of weeks later, I was back from the hospital, still very weak and mostly in bed. My dad came into the room after having visited the principal. He was worried that I would not be promoted to the next grade since I missed all but three of my annual exams. (We needed minimum marks for the whole year but I had no chance of clearing it). Fortunately, our principal told him to quit worrying. When he was there, he ran into Bhowmic miss. And as my dad narrated it, apparently she had said “Aapnar chhele to jor niye-o geography-te first hoye gelo” (basically, I had lucked out and topped the test that year). So, I told my dad that I wanted to be a geologist when I grew up. He told me – No, you have to be an engineer or a doctor. And that was that 🙂
It was so great to see her after such a long time. I got to know a little more about her personal life and the circumstances under which we lost Mr. Bhowmic at a very early age due to misdiagnosis. But what was most teachable for me is her spirit of fighting it out. She still lives her own independent life and keeps up with teaching.
I have always considered – right from our school days – that Mrs. Bhowmic has been one of my most ardent supporters and cheerleaders. She still is today. If nobody puts a “like” on my FB posts, she would be sure to go put one!!
- Sir Roy and Deepali Miss Jul 1, 2016
One of the goals for this trip has been to meet some of my teachers from school days that I have not seen in a long time. First and foremost was to find Sir Roy. He was my math teacher for 9th and 10th grade as well as my class teacher for ninth grade. Not that I was particularly great at math but it was undoubtedly one of my most favorite subjects (and still is). (Geography and Physics were the next two). I still love the logical thinking required in math problems and puzzles. Sir Roy and Sir Nandi were the two teachers that I remember the most for instilling in me the love for math.
Sir Roy, to all of us, was not just a math teacher. He was our go to person anytime we got into trouble in school and almost always could count on him to be our friend, philosopher and guide. Two of the lasting memories I have of him was his constant smoking and always reading an English novel. He was undoubtedly one of the most voracious readers I knew.
In the circle that life is, last year, one of my classmates’ (from school days) twin daughters had called me from India with a math problem. I was driving (in US) and promised to look into it when I reached home. Funnily enough, before I put the phone down, I had suddenly remembered a method (of elimination) Sir Roy had taught and was able to solve it for her verbally over the phone. My wife thought I had gone crazy drawing triangles on the steering wheel while standing at a traffic light!
I had fixed the time and place to meet Sir Roy. It was not his place but rather where he still teaches his students (he is retired from school now). The best news he gave me was that Deepali miss was there too. Mrs. Roy – who we always called “Deepali miss” was one of the first teachers I had met in fifth grade after joining my new school (St. Xavier’s). In fact, I think sequentially it was Miss Lakshmi Dutta, Sir Donegan and then Mrs. Deepali Roy. So that would have been precisely at 9:55 am on 10th of January, 1977 when she walked in and introduced herself as our Bengali teacher.
I remember her being very sweet to all of us and not being very strict with us (as opposed to Miss Dutta and Sir Donegan from the previous two periods 🙂 ). Certainly, we were not above taking advantage of it 🙂
One amusing incident. Miss Dutta taught us math and was very strict. In our math test, I remember that I had made a error. And so had my friend Shounak. But my friend had smartly answered one question more than he needed to. (we had to solve 10 out 11 problems and he did all 11). He got credit for that and beat me in that test. Not to be outdone, I tried the same trick in our Bengali test. Except that Deepali miss promptly canceled my last answer and told me that I should focus on revising my answers instead of wasting time on questions I did not answer!! Boy, was I confused that day!!! 🙂
Both Mr. and Mrs. Roy left indelible marks on me and in many ways has shaped and formed me who I am today. It was energizing to see them after such a long time (some 33 years) together and talk about our old days in school and get caught up on a few of the other teachers.
- Sometimes he was “Sir”. But mostly he was “Uncle” Sep 13, 2015
I was heading into Durgapur from Kalyani when I had to run thru my list of To Dos or rather To Visit items for the day. Other than my in laws and my own uncle – who are Must See for me – the options are as wide as they can be. This is where I grew up, went to school till tenth grade and consequently knew a lot of folks from my past. Every time, I try to a meet a few folks – some long lost friends from yesteryears and some parents of my old friends. It used to be that I would go around meeting my friends but they started losing their parents at such a cadence that I have often prioritized meeting parents higher than friends in the hope that I have longer time left to meet my friends.
So, as I was running thru the options in my list, the first person I wondered about actually had a dual identity for me. He was the dad of a first grade friend of mine – Mousumi Roychowdhury – with whom I have kept in touch (mostly by phone) throughout the years. But he was also Dr. A.N. Roychowdhury – the math professor in our local engineering college. And he helped me a lot during the tough junior and senior high school years. All those calculus, trigonometry, algebra became much simpler because of the time he took to sit me down and help me get them nailed thru my thick head. There was a summer that I had come home from my residential high school and I would show up multiple times a week to get some pointers at his home.
I not only remember him for those great classes and his mild mannered style of carrying himself and his passion for the violin but also what used to happen after those classes. Since I had a special identity of not only being a student but also his daughter’s classmate, I would meander into the kitchen area after classes. And auntie (Mousumi’s mom) would sit me down, chat with me and insist that I partake of tea and some snacks and sweets. Which was my reason to meander into the kitchen area to begin with!!! She was kinder to me than I probably ever deserved.
I called up my friend in Singapore, got her dad’s address and couple of Google Maps maneuverings later, I was knocking at a house in City Center, Durgapur. Uncle (I would interchangeably call him Uncle and Sir – it is that duality of identity again) came out. He had no idea who was at his door. So, I gave him my name. He thought for a while and asked “Bappa Biltu-r bondhu”? (he asked me if I was the same Rajib Roy that was his daughter’s and another common friend’s friend). Everything fell in place in his mind once I answered in the affirmative!
A couple of minutes later I got to see Auntie again. Age has crept up on both of them. But for both of them, the same old smile and hospitality and kindness has not left them. I stayed back for more time than I had planned. I was overwhelmed by their welcome as well felt extremely great to have seen them again. About 30 years later. I do not know about them but I absolutely had the best time of my life with them.
In fact, I missed them so much after leaving them that I made it a point to call them before boarding my flight to start my long journey back home. He asked me to Skype and email and phone whenever I could. I got to put that on my priority list when I get back home.
- Swarupda!! Jun 1, 2012Swarupda!!!! My personal tutor in 1982!! Met after 30 years! One of the earliest influencers in my life! He is the reason why I fulfilled my dad’s first dream of me – bagging the National Talent Search award. I never went near his second dream – being an IAS officer! Not that I was too much into his first dream either, but I did master double differentials at the age of 15 due to this gentleman. If not anything else, I owe a lot of self confidence to him. 30 years later, we met under very circumstances…. But with our unbelievable respect for each other intact. 30 years back, who knew we will meet someday and talk about the effect of macro economic policies on our respective industries? — at Ffort Radisson Raichak.