They say,the teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others. Today, let me introduce you all to the person whom my consider the best teacher of my childhood – my uncle**. I wish a Happy Teacher’s Day to all the teachers out there, and that includes all parents and guardians who shape a child’s life. I wouldn’t be writing this if my mother hadn’t taught me the alphabet. As I watch little kids struggling with identifying letters and numbers and multiplication tables, I am reminded of the hard work and patience my parents and teachers had once put for me. Where would I be if not for them?
**This piece was originally written as part of a series of personal essays. For a little bit of my personal history, please read this article.
After we came to Durgapur from our ancestral place, my uncle, Aunt Polly’s husband, took over the duty of teaching me from my mother. My uncle was born in Bangladesh in the early 1940s. He had to leave the country to avoid the wrath of communal riots and came to India with an unfinished college degree. (A fragment of his life there inspired a section of the title story in my ebook, Bound by Life)
When we came to Durgapur, my parents had no clue where to put me in school. Uncle took the responsibility of my admission. I remember him giving me a sheet with a list of words and sentences for me to remember.
“What is your name?”
“What does your father do?”
“Who is the President of the country?”
On and on it went in his small, cursive handwriting.
Since my admission until my fifth grade, Uncle taught me. He was not a teacher by profession. But he liked to teach young kids very well. He had a curious mind and was a life-long learner. He had answers to every question I had!
His most successful trait as a teacher was that he never made me memorize anything. He would dictate answers to the questions in my textbook and I would write them down. While revision, he did not expect me to vomit his answers. He encouraged me to write my own. This habit had stood me in great stead in higher classes. I have seen many of my friends struggling in the exam hall while writing answers to longer questions. If they forgot one sentence, they couldn’t write anything after that. Fortunately, I never faced that sort of problem.
Until my fifth grade, my Uncle lived a kilometre away and visited us every evening to teach me. He usually arrived at 7 p.m. to teach me and continued until 9 p.m. If by any chance he were late to arrive, I prayed, “God, please make Uncle stay at home today! Please let him not come. Please!” I chanted this repeatedly while standing in the balcony, waiting to see if God listened to me (As you can guess from this, like every other child, I was hardly fond of studies at the age). Sadly, that rarely happened, as rare as perhaps once or twice in a year. Punctuality was another of Uncle’s remarkable traits.
Once one of my cousin brothers and I were staying at Uncle’s. Uncle told us a story about an ant and a dove (the one in which the dove initially saves the ant from drowning in a river and later the ant returns the favour by saving the dove from the arrow of a hunter). He wanted both of us to translate the story in English. I started it with enthusiasm.
With the first draft, I thought I was finished. Little did I know how far from it I was! Uncle had many suggestions for improvements in the first draft. I incorporated those in the next draft and then, he had further suggestions. In total, I think he made me write the story at least thrice! Once he even said that he liked the previous draft better (imagine my frustration!). I was thoroughly bored and exhausted with the exercise. But now that I think of it, I realize that Uncle had already given me the training required to become a writer: write, edit, rewrite and never be absolutely satisfied with the final product. There is always room for improvement.
As I have grown up, my relationship with Uncle has changed. He is in his seventies. Now, I am not afraid of him. Now, I don’t pray to the gods to keep him at home. He accompanied me during my admission in college as well. People thought he was my grandfather!
To this day, Uncle would remember some story that he had read out to me during my school days and ask me a question. When I would say I don’t remember what happened, he’d say, “That’s too bad! I remember everything.”
Of course he does. He was always known for possessing a good memory. In our childhood, we called him an elephant for his memory!