May his soul rest in peace!
He was a History teacher in our school.
At our home our mother was our tutor. I knew an easy technique to memorize history lessons which I had learnt from her. I used to read it like a story and relate the characters of the book with the characters I knew. The method worked for me starting from standard four till standard six.
When I got promotion into class seven, we had Mr. Nirmal Mohinta as our History teacher.
I still remember it as if it were yesterday; it was our first History class for the academic year. The topic was the Indian king Harshabardhana. In the class he read the chapter and we were told that the next day we would be asked questions from the chapter.
Harshabardhana, according to the text was a benevolent ruler who was also famous for his charity. Once in a year, in some public function, he used to display his charitable extravaganza by donating everything he possessed including his clothes and then he used to receive some clothes from his sister Rajyashri as gift and would return to his palace. In our village we had our next door neighbor girl named Rita. She had many brothers and sisters. All of them were my friends but since Rita and I were of the same age we were very good friends. I imagined myself as the king and Rita as Rajyashri. I imagined that I had donated everything I had including my round glass marbles, rubber ball, wooden spinning top having a pin underneath, gyrated on a cement floor when spun by pulling a cord wrapped around its center, and finally my shirt. Then I imagined that I was accepting one shirt from Rajyashri who was none other than Rita. And so I was done with my history homework.
Next day in the history class, when it was my turn, he asked me to talk about the king Harshabardhana. He was staring at the page by holding the book in his left hand, and there was a stick, which was a thin branch of a bamboo plant, smoothened and polished, having a length of almost three feet, one end of which he was holding with his right hand and the other end was swinging in air following the law of simple harmonic motion. While I started talking about the king, he was trying to match the words of my mouth with the text. Expression of his face gradually started to change.
Harshabarshana was a powerful king during his time but his new avatar felt helpless on that day when the exact words that came out of his mouth could not find a perfect match in the book. All that Mr. Nirmal Mohinta wanted to hear was that was printed in the book.
He had a special technique for punishing his students, which was kind of his signature punishment. In every class room there used to be a teacher’s table and a chair for the teacher. He ordered a student to approach near his table; as soon as the student had arrived, he grabbed his neck, forced him down to a bending position and pushed him further to place his head just underneath the table top and the student had to remain in that bending position, in most cases, till the end of that period. Sometimes he used to punish up to three boys simultaneously, in that manner. When his stick used to make contacts with the backs of those bending students, most of the boys and girls used to shiver while sitting in their respective places. We also observed that he always smiled while punishing his students.
When I read about French Revolution, guillotine and Robespierre I imagined that the victims of guillotines used to bend like those students.
Most of the boys and girls in my school were from families whose parents were illiterate, literally; they were the first generation school goers in their families. Instead of making any complaint to the Headmaster for the harsh punishment inflicted on their sons, most of the parents used to come to the school and thanked the teacher for disciplining their wards.
But he was not the only one who used to beat the students, almost every single male teacher and even few female teachers used to discipline their students in a similar manner but his method was the harshest and he used to invent new techniques every now and then. The rough guideline that was followed while punishing students, especially boys was ‘save the stick and spoil the child’ or ‘boys have ears on their backs’. Parents used to believe ‘more beaten the better as long as their wards did not become handicapped’.
In the 70s, when the state of West Bengal was in a political turmoil due to Naxal movement, a political party which believed in communist ideology, he became a vociferous supporter of them. He started explaining to people about communism in general and about Naxal ideology in particular. His audiences were simple village folks, to them any school teacher was like the most respected person and a teacher of his stature was like a god. But his over enthusiasm soon landed him into deep trouble. One night his house was raided by the police, probably because somebody from the village had reported about his activities. He could narrowly escape the arrest. He was not seen coming to the school for the next one to two months. What I heard about him was that he started living in the family of one of his relatives in the neighboring state and during that time his father and his brothers started talking to the police, trying to convince them about his innocence. Finally they succeeded because there was no charge against him, he did neither commit any murder nor any crime per se, he was shown mercy; he was only asked to show his face to the police station at a regular interval. He joined our school again. But he became a hero in the eyes of the students except to limited few who knew the reason for his return but they never dared to discuss about it.
When we were in class ten, he used to teach us History of Bengali Literature which was part literature and part history. He started teaching like a university professor, walking up and down the class room and reciting every single line from his memory, without ever opening the book. We used to keep the book open in front of us and verify if he was missing any line. Whenever there was any reference to any date or year, he used to gently stroke his forehead with his finger and the exact date popped out from his memory. He always used to end the class saying that we, his students looked fatigued after listening to a very difficult subject for such a long time, so he should stop for the day. One day he was sent by the Headmaster into our class as a substitute teacher. We had a class mate named Tapan who was very mischievous; Tapan requested him to take his usual ‘History of Bengali Literature’ class. In no time we all joined Tapan and started telling together “Sir, please take your regular class”. When he realized that he could not escape he asked one of us to give him the book and he started reading from the book sitting on the chair. Since that day he always remained seated and read from the book in the class.
That was my last year in that school.
My friends, who continued in my old school for one more year in order to appear for the board examination used to tell me about him whenever we met.
When he was in his mid-forties he was diagnosed with diabetes but he was unable to control his food habits and he died soon afterwards.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
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