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Some indelible memories

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K S S Pillai

Though long retired, some incidents of my career as a college teacher make me chuckle at times.
When I joined the agriculture college in Navsari, a stone’s throw away from Dandi (Salt Satyagraha fame), in the late 1960s as a lecturer in English, it was in its infancy. While its buildings were being readied at another site, it was functioning from a hired old building in a sprawling plot of land with several mango trees. Teachers and other staff members were accommodated in whatever space was available in the building.
Temporary sheds were used for lectures and practical classes. Lecture halls were such that anyone could enter or exit them when the teacher turned to the blackboard. Classes went on up to five o’clock in the evening, but swarms of mosquitoes used to invade the halls after four. They would then reverberate with intermittent sound of students smashing the blood-suckers.
One day, I had a visitor as soon as I reached my residence nearby. It was the father of one of the fresh students. Since I was new to the state, I had no knowledge of the Gujarati language and the gentleman, who did not know much of Hindi, talked to me in halting Hindi mixed with Gujarati.
“I attended your class today. You speak English like the actors in English movies.” I was elated to know that. Then came the shocker: “I couldn’t understand a word of what you said. I’m worried how my son, who is a first-year student, will pass. He has studied English only for four years, that too in a village school.”
I assured him everything would be taken care of, but he did not seem to be convinced. A corollary was that he, a farmer owning a large orchard, started gifting me basketfuls of mangoes of different varieties every season. My wife would reciprocate with packets of South Indian dishes. These tasty exchanges ended abruptly when his son passed out of the college.
Those were the days when serving teachers, after certain years of service, were deputed to other agriculture colleges to improve their educational qualification. Our college also had many such students. They had studied in Gujarati medium and their knowledge of English was pathetic. There was a rule that the registration of a student would stand cancelled if he failed in a subject four times.
Late one evening, I had such a post-graduate student as a visitor. He had failed in English three times and told me frankly that unless I helped, he would fail the fourth time as well. A little after he left, I found, to my horror, that he had left a full bottle of whiskey under the day’s newspaper. Gujarat was, and is, a dry state, and the possession of liquor was a criminal offence. For a moment I had a vision of the disgruntled student tipping the cops about my possession of the banned stuff. Luckily, my neighbor was a worshipper of Bacchus, and he came to my rescue, with twinkling eyes, by taking the offending bottle off my hands.
The English course for post-graduate students included a viva voce test after the written examination. Once, after finishing the test, I found that one of the students had remained absent. I was informed by the other students that he was present outside, but was too frightened to face me. I had to ask a couple of students to ‘escort’ him to my room. He was in such a state that I was afraid he would collapse any moment, or worse. When I reported the incident to my wife and children afterwards, they accused me of being cruel, and warned me that I might, one day, find myself behind bars for abetting suicide.
Later, I realised why my wife was sympathetic towards the student: while in college, she had failed in English several times!
(The author is a retired professor of English. Apart from Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have been published by various national and international publications)


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