A subject that I dreaded in School was Hindi. Perhaps it was more my fault than that of my teachers. To start with I could not understand , for example, why a chair was of the feminine gender and cloth was of the masculine gender. It was not surprising that I struggled all through School!
Mr Ganesh Prasad Gupta, known far and wide as “Gupu” was one of our Hindi teachers at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. He could pack a punch and I write with considerable personal experience in this matter. This was, of course, long before the days when corporal punishment was frowned upon. Masters could- and frequently did- slap us to put some sense in us. Whether they succeeded or not is highly debatable!
For reasons best known to himself, Gupu used the phrase, ” steady slap” as against the more common, “tight slap.” He once asked us to write an essay on ” Urban vs Rural” expecting us to write about the differences in outlook, facilities, economies etc. He was a sticker for exactitude. If he expected 1000 words, by God that’s exactly what he accepted. 999 was not good enough. You had to pass the magical 1000 mark.
I was on 950 words or so and the clock was ticking. We had to hand in our papers soon. To cross the much wanted finish line, from out of the blue, I made the Town Guy say, ( in rudimentary Hindi, of course! ) : ” Hey, look at that guy! ” To which the Village Guy asked, ” Where? Which guy? ” Town guy, ” There, there! ” Village Guy, ” Just look at him, ha ha!! ” Town Guy: ” Yes, look, look, ha, ha ha,” There was more along these lines and the essay finished well past 1000 words.
Over 55 years have gone by but I still remember the walloping I got from Mr Gupta, much to the amusement of my classmates. They howled with laughter when he read out the last few paragraphs to highlight how an essay should NOT be written.
Mr Gupta perhaps prided himself on being a stickler for grammar as he would ( for reasons best known to himself) start with the future tense. ” Bewakoof ladka! You need a steady slap!” This was fair warning for fellows like me as to what was coming in the very near future. He shifted then, more hurriedly, to the present tense, ” I will give you a steady slap now.” That was the signal for me to take a deep breath and brace body and soul for what was imminent. Whack! There came the steady slap! Your head reeled and you could actually count the stars. Then seemingly in the distance you could hear Mr Gupta, as correct as always, summarize recent events with his customary, ” I gave you a steady slap!!!” As if you couldn’t make that out!!!
Sadly, Mr Gupta is no more. Wherever he is, if he could, I am sure he would have a chuckle on reading how his ” steady slap” – if not the Hindi he taught- is remembered even after five and a half decades.