This story again dates back to my school days at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. On September 13, I had written about Mr Gupta and his “steady slap”. Today’s tale precedes Mr Gupta by quite a few years. We must have been around 10-11 years of age and we were in the Junior School. Mr B L Singh had the difficult task of trying to teach us Hindi. I must say he did his best and a more sincere teacher it would have been hard to find.
However, we were more playful at that age. Many of us were recipients of his slaps, for work not done, for dreadfully wrong answers etc. Almost 60 years have gone by since those days but I can still vividly remember his saying, ” Bewakoof Ladka, ek chaanta maarega tho ghir jayega” or words to that effect. A Google search tells me that it means, “Foolish boy! If I give you one slap you will fall down. ” We may not actually have fallen down but those slaps stung!
If he had a fault, it was that Mr Singh was super patriotic. Now, being patriotic is indeed laudable but perhaps not to the extent he was – in the context of his being a teacher. He was likely to get carried away with his stories, much to our amusement. When he was in the mood, one story would follow the other until it was too late to get much Hindi text book work done in that period.
It was easy to lead him away from the task at hand by asking him about India’s freedom Struggle, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and the like. Often when he spoke of Netaji and the fight of his Indian National Army, his eyes would become moist. He would say one of his favourite phrases with dramatic pauses, ” Believe it or not , boys……..Ladai Huaa…..” .
On the day a Hindi Test was scheduled, Mr Singh was greeted on entering the class by the sight of two boys arguing loudly, standing chest to chest and on the verge of having a physical brawl. He broke up the fight by employing a technique most schoolmasters of his time used. He pulled them apart by holding one ear of each of the boys! When he asked what the matter was, Boy A said excitedly , ” Sir, he is saying Godse shot Gandhi because of the British”. Boy B hotly denied this . ” No Sir, he says Gandhi shot Godse.” Boy A : ” Sir, he says Netaji ran away to Germany because he was scared! ” Boy B : ” Sir, how can he say ” ran away”? You told us he went by submarine! ”
” Silence! ” roared Mr Singh. After giving them a slap each to cut short their arguments, he settled down on the edge of the table, his usual story telling position. He began with shakes of his head as if telling himself to be calm irrespective of how maddeningly ignorant these boys were.
” Boys, in January 1941………” he started off. Soon he was telling us ( though he had told us this story many times before) how Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from Calcutta, under the eyes of the British Intelligence. As the minutes went by, we sat , some like me, deeply interested in his story, others listening quite indifferently, some playing “book cricket” the immensely popular pastime of those days. Despite our varying levels of interest we were all privately happy that there would be no Hindi Test that day.
The events that Mr Singh spoke off had taken place just 20 years before that time and must have been fresh in his memory. He went on and on, assisted by some questions from an eager audience ( to keep the flow going) and was about to conclude when the bell rang signalling the end of his period. He mumbled something about the Hindi test being postponed to the next week. He then strode off, not before glaring at the errant boys who fought at the start of the class.
As soon as Mr Singh left, many boys rushed up to congratulate Boy A and Boy B the brave volunteers who had fielded a slap and a tug of their ears by Mr Singh for the greater good of the class!
You would have guessed by now that Mr Singh failed in his attempts to teach me Hindi. However, I thank him so much for instilling in me a great admiration for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who I firmly believe was the most admirable public figure in the India of the 1940s. Those interested may like to check out this link on books about Netaji.