Teacher’s day has passed into oblivion only to rear its head next year on September 5th. But I do not choose a Teacher’s Day to realize what my teachers have been to me. From Kindergarten to 10th I had the privilege of studying in St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Khadki, Pune. The army of students in light blue shirt and dark blue shorts from 1st – 7th standard and white shirt and white pants for standard 8th – 10th, all standing in “Attention mode”(Saavdhaan), evokes nostalgia. The choir comprising of students always provoked envy as I never made it there, the pledge “India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters (except one)….” were all said with rapid haste with “except one” said with more clarity than any other words. “Jana Gana Mana” sung with precision and vigour. The shouting reached a crescendo when we all declared “Jaya Hai Jaya Hai Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hai” Vishram(Stand at ease). I thought the Vishram is also part of the national anthem and was always disappointed why it was omitted when it was played on Doordarshan. The most memorable part of school life was the short and long breaks. The most melodious music was the bell that announced that the break is here. I remember I used to finish my dabba in the short recess so that in the long one we could play with abandon. I hardly remember eating my own tiffin. I had a Goan friend Craig D’Souza who loved Mallu food and I loved every other food than what I got. So exchange of dabbas was in vogue and my hands were in almost all the dabbas possible. The cardboard cricket, the football, the races with friends, hide and seek, dog and the bone and what not was the flavor of the long breaks. Our school was known for hockey and I tried that for a year until I lost my hockey stick. Next I tried table tennis and found some solace in my otherwise very dim record in sports. I was like the ‘kacha limbu’ (I am sorry I can’t translate that). All these memories have been lingering from many days and the flood of it will make it impossible to ever do justice to pay my tribute to a very special man.
My School was truly gifted with eminent teachers who were dedicated, creative, committed and some; one must acknowledge were very average and highly forgettable. Every teacher I have come across is worth writing about but one always has to choose. Shitole sir as we popularly called him was a maverick teacher who loved to entertain his students while he taught. His razor sharp sense of humor is what made him a legend among the students. The 5 feet 4 inch man who was heavily built with pot belly, evoked laughter no matter what he said. Even his serious face gave us ruptures of chuckles. He officially taught us Hindi and Marathi, but he was remembered for whole lot of other things. He rode a Chetak Bajaj scooter that was brown in colour and his erect posture and serious composure on it betrayed the real him. Even before he started teaching, his teaching methods and style was folklore and part of school legend. First time he entered the class in 9th standard, he marched into the class like a soldier. We erupted with laughter only to be rudely shocked by his howl “Shut up. All stand up”. I was scared we had it today. “Sit down”. We complied with relief. “STAND UP” (with stern intonation), “sit down”. And he caught some of us doing his exercise of initiation into his class very clumsily. “What reKharbuda, you are mathara.” (It is tough to translate Kharbuda which means rough, are you old is the other word in italics). I still remember the graphic spectacle he created on our minds, coming like a storm, and retreating like a thunder, stamping his boots with all his might as he walked away. In the next class because of my loud laughter he noticed me. He asked me a question to frame a sentence. My sense of grammar in Hindi is and was pathetic. I mixed the gender in my statement to the utter shock of my teacher. He roared “ enna da mallya da, stri ling puling , confusion da”(he mocked as I was a malayallee and confused my genders and interchanged it.) He came to beat me holding my collar and said “I Love you but the circumstances…” but then refrained from hitting, leaving me with a warning. That was a narrow escape. He used to call students to write on the black board and with my terrible handwriting he captioned it “maggi noodles”. He used to get annoyed when students forgot to put the line on top of the hindi alphabets encompassing a word. When a student who was besieged for the honours at the board forgot to put the line on top, there came the roar “ Tera Baap takla hai kya re?” (is your father bald as he equated the line not on the alphabets to being bald”, to this the student replied “Ha sir aapko kaisa maalum” (yes sir, how do you know that) to the utter entertainment of the class that refused to stop laughing. He used to have jingles to entertain us. In his question answer sessions when a student rigged with grammar he used to start the jingle in Marathi “Yevda Mottha Ghodda Zaala” ( he has become such a huge horse) and we used to complete it “ Vyakaran Tyaala Yet naahi” ( grammar he does not know). This jingle was our favorite and we used it in out of context several times.
Sir used to make us read our text books loudly and expected us to be involved in the character of the lessons when we read it. most of us did a very dull job at it that evoked his response “Ye Kaadi petti,( you matchstick) hungry kya, Zor se pad (read loudly).” With all his humor, sir while he taught was the most serious man and got involved in the characters of the story. I remember distinctly when he taught a Marathi lesson “ Maaze Kasht Vaaya Zaanar Naahi” (my struggles will not go in vain). It was the story of the mother of a sanyaasi and the struggle she went through to give a good tomorrow to her children. The lesson evoked pain and hope. In middle of the lesson, our sir who read it seemed to have fallen silent. I looked up to see tears flowing from his eyes. We as a class were overwhelmed. We had never seen this part of him. He struggled and read but he broke down only to regain his composure. That memory never leaves me. That lesson of passion of teaching instructs and guides. Like his teaching his evaluation of our answer sheet was unique. It was full of graffiti and dialogues. We used blue ink but he overshadowed the answer sheet with his red ink. The columns were filled with “De Dheel” ( keep faffing), “Malaa Shikavto” (are you teaching me?) and he drew a bed where the student left unwarranted space between two words asking “so ja bed pe” (sleep on that bed). I was part of the luminaries who happened to fail in his subject. So he decided to honour us. “Take the Olympics and go to every class and say ‘I won the Olympics’”. If you are wondering what is Olympics, well it is only the dustbin. The fun of his punishments was that we laughed more than any other. 11 of us went from class to class displaying with pride our newly achieved Olympic trophy. He gave all unique names that we cherished and never found it derogatory. Students with dark complexion were given the title “President of Ghana”. With my superior constitution and great build, he used to call me “refugee from Somalia.” He used to take our books for essay and try to distribute it with distorting our names. Rinoy Samuel became “Reena Shimla”, Merin Mathew became “Meera Maruti” and the laughter went on and on and on.
As a student, the personal life or history of Shitole sir was not my concern. Most of us do not even know his first name. But as a teacher he deflated our egos and taught us to laugh at ourselves and not to take ourselves too seriously. His placid face after cracking a stupendous joke, his horror at our stupidity, his ever rewarding smile if he was ever pleased with what we did remains today as a memory. His passion for Drama and script writing always took him to another realm. His jokes at times were crass, his mannerisms eccentric but his influence and aura transcended all these. As students we were shocked to read about his death in the newspaper. With some sadness, some of us again relived the man, his jokes, his passion, his love. We laughed even at such a sad moment. That I feel is the message of his life. A brand of humor that transcended and defeated the finality of death. The name of Shitole Sir does bring tears knowing that such a man is no more but it is simultaneous with smiles and roars of laughter. As Students, We will always laugh at ourselves, thanks to you. You will always be special to us and your presence will be missed.
P.S. Students of Sir, please add on to the anecdotes and memories you have about this man.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Community Centre