My first teacher, like everybody else on this planet, is my mother.
When I became five, I was initiated by my father, in the morning of the Basant Panchami (Swaraswati Puja) into Bengali Alphabet. In fact he gave me a pencil which I was gripping with my right palm which again was completely embedded into his right palm and we wrote together those first alphabets. Till that day nobody in my family, my father or my mother, told me to read or write anything. That was also the day my father taught Bhanu and Kanan, two boys from a very poor landless farmer’s family, which had no exposure to education, how to write Bengali alphabets. He followed the exact same procedure for them. So, three boys were initiated into the path of learning by my father on that day. Since that day my mother was my only teacher till I was seven and was sent to school. I was admitted into class 4. So, when other children were attending classes 1 to 3, I was running behind dragonflies, grasshoppers, and butterflies. I used to catch one or two dragonflies with my bare hands and bring them to my mother and share my joy and excitement about how beautiful they look.
In class 4, I met three teachers, who created deep and profound impression on me.
First and foremost of them was Ranjit sir also called lime seller. He used to sell lime, garlic, ginger and green chilly in the local vegetable market. Those days teachers had very poor salaries and that too they never used to get their salaries in time. Hence for regular source of income he used to sell vegetables in the local market. He taught us many things like metric system conversion (kilogram to gram, meter to centimeter etc.) in the form of rhymes. One such rhyme was like this:
“Dekho Ekta Kil Maria Deshe Shanti Mele Kina.” Let me solve the puzzle now:
“Dekho” – deka meter
“Ekta” – hecta meter
“Kil” – Kilo meter
“Maria” – Meter
“Deshe” – deci meter
“Shanti” – centimeter
“Mele” – millimeter
For memorizing the number of days in a month he taught us a rhyme which I still remember as if somebody taught me only yesterday.
“Tirish dinete hoy mas September” – (Thirty days make the month of September)
“Seimoto April, june ar November” – (Just like the months of April, June and November)
“Atas dinete mas February dhare” – (The month of February has 28 days)
“Leapyear hole tar ek din bare” – (Add 1 if it is a leap year)
“Baki sab mas hoy ektirish dine” – (rest all the months have 31 days each).
Our Headmaster was called Phony sir (Phanindra Nath Datta). He was always with smile, we were never afraid of him. He was our science teacher. Of course there was not much of science in class 4 but it was there as a subject. I came to know from my brothers that if a rubber cork is kept in kerosene it expands. Secretly I did that experiment at home and the next day I took the rubber cork to school and showed it to him. He smiled and commented “yes it has really become large”. I felt very proud that my scientific accomplishment was recognized in front of the whole class.
We had one lady teacher, Anima didimani. She was the epitome of kindness. I really liked her a lot.
So, in essence my first year in school was a memorable one, I learnt a lot from them who practically were teaching in the school as part of social work.
From class 5 it became a day school. We had a teacher, who used to teach English, his name was Nani Madhav Chakraborty. He had a strange habit. While sitting in the class room he used to bite his upper lip with his lower one and give his whole body a shake. He used to do it almost every one or two minutes. Different students used to interpret it in different ways, and not a single interpretation was nice. But he was also a good teacher; used to explain things in such a simple way that everybody could understand.
In those days teachers were not well paid and they never used to get their salaries in time. Hence bringing a good teacher and retaining him in the school was very difficult. When we were in standard 9, a miracle happened. We suddenly got 4 very good teachers; all of them were science teachers. Suddenly all the science students felt very proud and students of other streams became jealous of us for having such fantastic teachers. But our good fortune did not last long, within a year they all left the school.
When I got promoted into class 11, I changed my school. In my new school, we had few good teachers. One of them created profound impression into our minds. He was called Arun sir. He, what we heard about him, was from a very rich family, became a teacher with the purpose of serving the nation, used to be a fantastic motivator, we all could perform 200% in his presence.
I heard later, years after I left the school, that he lost his mental balance. Almost everybody told me that extreme poverty, which was part and parcel of a teacher’s life in those days, was the reason.
When I was in Maulana Azad College, studying B. Sc. in Chemistry, we had few very good teachers in Physics, Mathematics as well as in our Chemistry department. Professor Kedar Chatterjee and Prof. Kiron Sen were very good teachers, very much liked by students. Kedar Chatterjee was bit eccentric.
In our college, in the department of Sanskrit, there was only one student. Out of curiosity I used to stand at a distance and observe how the class goes when the teacher to student ratio is 1:1. And this is what I observed.
The teacher used to scold the boy with his heart’s content and the student looked petrified, stupefied and mortified all the time. “Shakhamriga” (a deer which can climb a tree, which means a monkey) is the word which he used to use every now and then. Frequently he used to raise his hand to slap him and the boy tried his best to cover his face with his hands; that is the best he could do. I think diapers were not common those days.
When I was studying Biochemistry, I came across some of the great teachers. To start with I must name Prof. J. J. Ghosh. But the name that should immediately follow is of Prof. A. B. Banerjee. I also found that some teachers who may not be extremely good while teaching in the class rooms can create profound impressions in the minds of young students by being their guides and mentors.
In I.I.T. Madras, where I learnt software, I met one fantastic teacher; his name was S. Kothanda Ramanujam. He used to teach us Systems Programming. Every single time I approached him with some problem, he never told me the solution, but he told me to think how this problem is different from other problems. Then he used to point me to some references and asked me to come and explain to him the solution that I have reached. He always used to set some deadlines and he always adhered to those deadlines.
Many years later when I was deep into software, I was sent for training in Bio-Informatics at CCMB in Hyderabad. There are very few campuses which are as good as CCMB. The library was simply outstanding. There I met few professors, like Professor Singh, Professor Pandit, who I heard never got married, because they thought if they were married they would not be able to devote their life for the advancement of science. Since I was the only participant who was a “non-scientist” in the entire class they used to take special interest in talking to me in between the classes. I was surprised to see the humilities these great minds possessed.
This is a small village near Raghunathpur in North 24-Parganas. It is past six o’clock in the evening. Almost every boy and girl is back into their homes in this village. They know this is the time the teacher of their school will roam around every nook and cranny of the neighborhood to make sure no single child is out. He knows every single child by his/her name. He knocks every single door. He is the popular “mastermoshai” of the village. He will ask the mother if her child is studying. If any child has any difficulty he helps. At nine, when children are ready to go to bed, this “mastermoshai” goes back to his own home and helps his own children in their studies, which is also his duty.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
(This story has many Bengali words, which I tried to translate to the best of my ability. West Bengal is a state in India where people have deep interest for literature ).