Many a school student has a to ‘Sir with Love' figure from the school faculty. Unlike the movie, such reverence dawns upon the student much later when he reflects upon his journey in life. For that, he takes off his tinted glasses and Eureka! His world view undergoes a huge paradigm shift.
In this sea change of altered prism, a devilish teacher begins to appear as benign and the one who shaped your Destiny. The hated one becomes the loved one. You suddenly begin to realise that the qualities of a hard task master and a perfectionist have become your cherished values also.
My world view changed somewhat along the ‘To Sir with Love' scenario when I came of age in my profession.
And this is the story of our toughie English Teacher Rev. Father D. Pinto S.J.
Rev. Father D. Pinto, S. J. St. Xavier's School, Jaipur. Mid-1960s.
He demanded both excellence and deep understanding. And he set standards which all of us considered were higher than Mt. Everest.
In our school days, the most important and most enjoyable year was the Tenth Standard, which I entered into in 1963.
We become senior but not yet burdened with the hangover of a Board exam around the corner, which would be at the end Standard Eleven,
We could participate in sports, games, cultural activities, debates, all kinds of quizzes, competitions and what have you with freedom. And dominate too. Thus Standard X class year looked joyous, wonderful, and fulfilling.
Things are never the same as they appear to be. As Sheldon has lucidly warned us, The Best Laid Plans do go awry.
Mastering academics is a different ball game altogether. The stakes are high. The end result shapes the future.
The syllabus in Standard X changes dramatically. The teachers demand higher standards. Benchmarks go up a notch.
And the pressure begins to tell. Standard X boys begin to wilt. I fell into the trap straight away in my English Literature class. The syllabus introduced us to Julius Ceaser by the Bard himself and to Charles Dickens in The Great Expectations. And although ‘Waiting for Godot' was not far behind, but we all know that ‘Godot' never comes. (Ed. note: For Subhash's entry into St. Xavier's and English, see साला, मैं तो साहिब बन गया!)
No more ‘Child is the Father of Man'! This is big time. Different league altogether. A whole new world opened before us. The syntax, style, language, narration, idioms, similes changed completely. That's Shakespeare and Dickens for you. Dish out your best and still struggle!
Ceaser, Brutus, Cassius, et al use phrases which we thought never ever existed. Only Mark Anthony said things in plain simple words. ‘Friends, Romans and Countrymen I have come to bury Ceaser not to praise him.' Up straight.
In short, the Bard flummoxed us all. It's not that we didn't try. We gave him our best shot.
And poor Pip and jilted Ms Havisham. Some of the sentences in The Great Expectations were more than three pages long. Dickens could test your patience like no one else. (But our English teacher Fr. Pinto simply did not find our submissions passable. His take was simple. The Bard and Dickens are in your course and you have to master them. To, excel in the Senior Cambridge exam next year.
He harangued us. He lectured us. Sometimes, mocked us. Think clearly! Think straight! You are now on a different planet. No! That's not the correct interpretation, you Dope! I scratched my head, hard and long. How come I missed it? So did everyone else! That's no consolation!
But, by the end of the year, all of us had a better understanding of The Bard, his hidden meanings and shadowy characters like Cassius and Casca. And even began to appreciate the Dickens syntax. We even entered the Land of Lotus Eaters moderately successfully.
We met a similar fate in précis writing. Every day the class had to write a précis in 60 words out of a 300 word para from our text book. Tall order indeed! And all of us came a cropper. But we improved every day. Fr. Pinto ensured that.
The constant scolding and goading stood us well in the Senior Cambridge exam in 1964. All of us did creditably. Fr. Pinto was happy but only gave us a wry smile. We interpreted that favourably.
Fr. Pinto's high expectations came wrapped up behind a very genial outlook, a full flowing beard, and the Pipe. The Pipe intrigued us all. In fact, smoking pipe appears to be more of a ritual. Like style Bhai!
Mannerisms matter more than the puff itself. Fr. Pinto kept cleaning the pipe with a small steel rod, mashing the tobacco in his palm before filling it up. Two or three deep puffs and the pipe was put aside. Not to forget the ubiquitous the match box. So essential.
Of course, Fr. Pinto did his puffing outside the class. But he carried the paraphernalia everywhere in a pouch with him. It would sit on his desk in the classroom. Untouched.
His beard too played a role in my life. At various stages I grew a beard but stopped short at the Goatee stage. No long hair for me.
We dreaded going near him as his breath smelled foul but loved his genteel chiding. He was extremely patient with our ignorance levels. Always critical but egged us on.
He retired shortly after we graduated and returned to his home in US .Several years later the news filtered through that Fr. Pinto had passed away to meet his Maker.
If the 1964 Jaipur Xavier's batch is better off today in all aspects of English writing, speaking, and understanding, then we have only one Teacher to thank.
‘The good that men do is often interred with their bones.'
© Subhash Mathur 2018
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