His name was Manik Ranjan Datta but he was called ‘Discipline sir’ by the students and also by many teachers in our school.
When I was in standard eight, he joined our school. Immediately after joining he came into prominence like no one before.
Unlike other teachers, who had qualifications like ‘B.A.’, ‘B.Sc.’ &c. he had a qualification called N.D.S. and none of the students knew what that meant. We never asked because asking question was not only discouraged but considered as a ‘bad manner’. For example if any student had ever dared to approach a teacher asking, “Sir I have a question……” the teacher would take it as an insult and retort as, “How dare you ask me question.” Asking a direct question was considered as challenging his authority. It was not only at school but even at home we were not allowed to ask a direct question. If we ever wanted to know something from elders, which was very rare because our curiosity was nipped in the bud from early boyhood, we had to ask in a very polite manner like, “I have a doubt about……….” Asking a direct question implied that the questioner was smart but asking to clarify a doubt implied that the questioner was a stupid and that was what we were supposed to think about ourselves. “As you are growing up you are becoming more like a stupid donkey” was a compliment, meant to boost our confidence so that we could keep our heads high when we would grow up, was told by our guardians several times a day. The word ‘stupid’ was used with ‘donkey’ so that we could never think that we belonged to the ‘intelligent’ category of that species. Where curiosity is suppressed speculation only grows; so it was assumed that our Discipline sir was from military background, probably retired from military service and joined as a teacher. There were few things that fueled the speculation. He had spectacular health, he used to stand straight, he used to walk like nobody could walk – walking erect with long steps and was never seen ‘shaking while walking’; had very authoritative and coarse voice, shirts and pants very clean and pressed and he was the only teacher who used to wear polished black shoes.
Before Discipline sir joined our school, as the first daily activity, we assembled in an open ground in front of the school to sing the national anthem. It used to take only five minutes and immediately after that we returned into our classes.
Since the arrival of Discipline sir the morning ritual turned into an event which lasted almost half an hour. Before singing the national anthem we started doing parade. It was not a march or any kind of walk but it was more like a drill which we practiced standing at the same place and it had two items which he used to command in Hindi. The first command was ‘Savdhan’ (attention) and we had to stand straight with our heels together, feet turned out equally forming an acute angle of approximately forty-five degrees, arms hanging straight down with stiffness and fist clenched and we had to look straight ahead.
The second command was ‘Vishram’ (relax) and we had to stand with feet turned out equally but the heels separated from each other by about nine inches and big toes by about twelve inches while arms remained hidden behind our backs and the thumbs holding each other.
Since his arrival, boys had to tuck in shirts all the time while in school and failing which he used to punish so severely that it justified his name.
Tucking in a shirt was uncomfortable considering the climate in which we lived but otherwise we were totally excited about morning parade and about our new teacher. He reached hall of fame instantaneously. And suddenly we felt that we were receiving the same quality education which the boys and girls who studied in the best schools in the city were exposed to. “This school has improved a lot since the Discipline sir has joined the school” almost every guardian started saying.
When the board examination result was announced and every student from our school failed and our Headmaster started roaming with a cane and started beating every single boy who was seen outside his class room the Discipline sir forwarded his helping hand. He was also seen roaming in the school with an equally long cane, beating every single boy, just like our Headmaster. So in a way he shared a burden of our Headmaster.
“Tomorrow I will teach you a new drill”, one day at the end of our morning parade Discipline sir announced. We were unable to hold our breath thinking what that new drill could be. We all had difficulty falling asleep that night.
On the following day when he started by saying, “The new drill that I am going to teach you is ‘Aramse’ (at ease)” we were all charged up. We were taught that in the ‘Aramse’ position our feet should be like in ‘Vishram’ (relax) but the upper body should be completely relaxed even swinging little bit would be okay. We started looking at each other thinking how privileged we were.
At home, in the playground, while walking on the village road and almost everywhere we started practicing those three drills and discussing among ourselves about those drills and our Discipline sir. Suddenly we started realizing the importance of ‘discipline’ in life and as a manifestation of that we started ‘tucking in shirts’ even when we were at home and not wearing school uniform.
Discipline sir was known to be a great singer and a great music teacher. Every boy and girl believed it. After learning three magical drills ‘Savdhan’, ‘Vishram’ and ‘Aramse’ we were ready to believe anything that was spoken about him.
In our village we had a young man called Dhananjoy whom small boys and girls called ‘Dhanada’. He lost his father when he was a small boy and to support his family of two younger brothers, sister and widow mother he started working in a factory owned by one of his relatives. Like some young boys and girls in our village, Dhanada also learnt singing from an early age but he was different from the rest because whenever he had performed on stage during any of our village functions his audience never threw tomatoes or rotten eggs on him.
Dhanada, because he was deprived of school education due to the demise of his father, wanted to become a singer. One day he went to meet our Discipline sir and begged him to accept him as his disciple. Discipline sir, before letting him inside his house wanted to know for how many years he had been practicing singing. When Dhanada mentioned that he had been singing for the last ten years, Discipline sir asked him to learn from a good teacher for at least ten more years and then approach him again and he shut the door on his face.
Like the young boy ‘Ekalavya’ of the great epic story ‘the Mahabharata’, Dhanada returned with a broken heart. He confined himself in his room for the next few days and stopped talking to others including his mother and siblings. After few days of deep mourning he started practicing again and was seen practicing few hours in the morning and many hours in the evening. When he was asked to sing on stage he politely refused.
It was a republic day and every student assembled in the school for flag hoisting. After the flag was hoisted few teachers requested our Discipline sir to sing a Bengali patriotic song. He initially refused but when the Headmaster requested he agreed to sing.
When we heard him singing we could not believe our ears. We were not sure if he was chasing away barking dogs on the road, or scolding somebody, or shouting by someone’s name in a crowded place.
The following day when the school started, boys assembled in the open ground for parade but not a single boy was seen who had tucked in his shirt. It was not an act which was planned jointly. Probably like every great mind, every innocent mind also thinks alike. Nobody was punished, as it was impossible to cane so many boys at the same time. From that day every single boy stopped tucking in their shirts. Soon the morning parade was discontinued and we were singing only the national anthem.
After a few days Discipline sir was seen coming to school without tucking in his shirt.
Few years later he resigned from the school.
Dhanada again started singing in functions and he received more applause because hours of daily practice played magic on his voice. He sang for many more years but never went back to the Discipline sir to become his disciple.