Thursday, September 05, 2013

Teacher's Day

In India, September 5 is commemorated as "Teacher's Day," in memory of Dr. Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of the Republic, a philosopher and educator.

The teachers and administrators of Campion School, Bombay, 1993. 
When we lived in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat in western India, the local custom was for the senior school children to serve as teachers and administrators on this day. In 7th grade at St. Xavier's Loyola Hall (then at the edge of town, surrounded by trees and open fields), as part of the senior class of primary school (In India, school goes till 10th grade, and the divisions are different), somehow, I was elected Principal for Teacher's Day. It was quite a surprise. I was a shy, nerdy, introverted guy and had no idea I could be so popular. (The coolest job, however, was for the boy elected to be the bell ringer. Normally the task of a lowly peon, this was a coveted role for 12 year olds.)

I really don't remember if we had "real school" that day. It was probably a half day. There were classes. But students played the teachers. The teachers themselves were honored and feted. As Principal, I got make announcements over the PA. I think I even got to say some prayers. (This wasn't new. I used to sing in the choir which gathered in the Principal's office every morning for the prayers which went out over the PA. The only song I remember went, simply, "God is so good. God is so good. God is so good to me and to you.") I think I then made the rounds of the classes to make sure all was in order. And I recall there was a bit of a snafu when the bell ringer rang the bell at the wrong time and much chaos ensued. The highlight, however, was sitting in Fr. Charlie's big, swiveling chair. Unlike the previous Principal, a tall, stern man who was known for boxing ears for misbehavior, Fr. Charlie was kind, cool and hugely popular. I adored him.

We lived in Ahmedabad for three years. My happiest memories from school, however, involved the afternoons after school let out. My best friend Sam (my only friend, really) and I would wander through the back yard pretending we were commandoes in World War II. We were both avid readers of Commando comics.

The following year, we moved to Bombay, and I was enrolled in Campion School, a prestigious, South Bombay prep school run by the Jesuits. Campion was a huge culture shock, coming into the elite world of South Bombay from hicksville Gujarat. The teachers were a cast of characters themselves. Mr Bhal, who taught Hindi, was a terror in class, but a softy with a huge heart. There was Mr. Irani, who taught physics. Mrs. Shenoy, plump and pleasant, who taught geography. Mr. Gomes, our strict chemistry teacher, and Mr. Colaco, much more laid back. (He also brought me back early, on a local train, from an NCC camp, after I fell sick.)  And later on, the hugely popular Mrs. Ramadorai, who taught History. Mr. Kenneth Dyer -- the first layman to be named Principal, who also taught Accounting. You knew you had the right answer on his tests, because they were all round numbers. He insisted that I take a typing class, a skill for which I am ever grateful. There was Fr. Richard Lanesmith, an Australian Jesuit, a herpetologist by training (look it up!), who taught "Moral Science" (what non-Catholics got while the Catholics were in Religion class), and whose office was always a cool hangout because of the snakes he kept there. Mr. Hodiwalla, the PT teacher, who took pity on my flabby self, and let me get away with the simplest of exercises during the PT exams.

However, in a league of his own, was Mr. Joe Sheth. Shakespeare came alive in his classes: Julius Ceasar in 8th grade; The Merchant of Venice, in 9th.  His voice still rings in my head at Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" or Portia's "The quality of mercy is not strain'd." Byron, Shelly, Milton and Tennyson dripped from our tongues. (I could possibly still recite "Ozymandias" from memory!) We loved Sheth wildly, deeply. Perhaps two years after our class graduated from 10th grade ("O" levels in the British usage), we received word that Mr. Sheth had died of a sudden heart attack. It was such a shock. The day of his funeral is a etched into my memory. A bunch of us who were at St. Xavier's Junior College in Dhobitalao, took the train up to Andheri. A vast crowd packed into Holy Family Parish, Chakala, for the funeral Mass. I was in a row right at the back, and pretended to mumble the responses. The coffin was surrounded by the distraught family, and we surged out behind it after the Mass, to the graveyard outside, as the sun set, and darkness fell.

This June, some of the Campion Class of 1988 got together with a bunch of teachers from the school for dinner in Mumbai, before heading to Goa for a big reunion. I was in India at the time, but, unfortunately, was unable to participate. 
Today is a day to reflect on the invaluable role that so many teachers have played in our lives. Their selfless devotion to their art, for little material reward. Their quirks. Their flaws. Their humanity. Their love for us. All these teachers -- and many who came after -- have shaped me and formed me into the man I am today. Several have gone on to their eternal reward. For all, I am utterly grateful. 

1 comment:

Derek said...

Fr. Gaurav, your post took me back to my own school days at St. Vincent's in Pune, also a Jesuit school. God Bless our teachers indeed!