Arun Kanti Chatterjee :
Recent growing incidents of violence on many school and college campuses leading to the manhandling of teachers sadden me very much. We are terrified all the more when we hear the news of students entering their campus with guns and engage in a shooting spree. But it gives me the rare opportunity to occasionally look back to the fifties only to lament how the excellent relation between the teacher and the taught or even his parents has gradually become a thing of the past.. Let me try to relate a story in flashback.
We were then residing in a small town in West Bengal where my father was principal of a local college. Young and upright he was as much close to his students as he was strict in enforcing the rules and regulations of the institute. He could not compromise with any malpractices which the students and their parents accepted gracefully. So when the news spread like wildfire that he would be punished by one examinee, incidentally a final year student of the college who had sufficient political and financial clout with huge followers in the town, that everyone was shocked and anxious for his safety. The said student was the son of a senior physician of the locality. My father during the course of a sudden invigilation had caught him in the act of copying expelling him from the examination hall- an incident that reportedly enraged him to take revenge on the teacher.
The news dealt a severe blow to our family as my mother, a nervous home maker almost fainted hearing the ominous News. We three brothers were below teens and could not understand much the implication of the same. But as we had already been initiated to the detective stories I took up the gauntlet to give the necessary support to my father by brandishing the toy revolver at once. My father was, however, seen to be unruffled despite the hot discussions around him and he chose to ignore the whole thing, much to our surprise. Our immediate neighbours who were very close to us and fond of my father could not rule out the possibility of a sudden attack during his long rickshaw journey to his college and back. So they advised a local young boy to accompany my father for a few days as an escort. Although my father strongly resisted such a plan he had to accede to it subsequently as my mother kept on building pressure to at least provide a minimum security during such a crucial period.
A few days flew by without any incident but we could not rest assured that my father was safe. On the contrary our psychological fear drove us to a point when my mother began to have nightmares about such a portentous happening. We stopped going to school to give my mother company and muster sufficient support from our peers who vowed to give the enemy a lesson of his life time. A few of them collected stones as a standby should other materials for the impending fight fell short of the requirement.
My father was extremely popular with the students. Unlike the present day coaching practices he would sit with any student any time to help him or her in studies without charging any money. He would take part in Cricket, Badminton or Table tennis with them and morning jogging with many students was a daily ritual. Despite his very busy academic and non academic schedules he would never think twice before deciding to go to a hospital to see ailing students. Accompanied by my mother he would be seen even to visit burning ghats to console the parents of a deceased student. Thus he did not allow any barrier to grow between him and his beloved students who on their part would treat him like a highly loved and respected teacher.
A few days later it was a Sunday morning and my father was busy in his study room. We heard a thumping noise on the stairs. As we lived on the first floor of a two storied building we felt that a few persons were coming upstairs noisily. We were scared stiff at the thought of a sinister design on the part of the accused who had planned to attack my father. As the news reached my mother she became mum and hid herself away in the prayer room in search of safety for her husband. I took a position near the door leading to my father's room with my pistol tucked away in my pocket when my elder brother positioned himself near the stairs to gauge the oncoming activities . The visitors almost had reached the entrance to my father's room when suddenly my elder brother gave me a nudge to immediately proceed further near my father and he followed their steps minutely to thwart any attack on my father by hook or by crook. Armed with a hand fan, scale and my favorite gun my father had gifted me on my last birthday we got ourselves in all readiness to nip any untoward incident in the bud. Surprisingly,my father, a remarkably poised gentleman,however, remained very cool and only glued to his papers and until a hefty figure fell on his feet he seemed not to care a bit. We found much to our bewilderment an old gentleman commanding the accompanying young person in a high pitched tone to immediately beg the teacher's pardon or face dire consequences. My father was a bit startled as he was not prepared for such an unseemly incident as the student told him weeping "Sir, believe me, I have the highest regard for you and it is only the handiwork of a few of my adversaries who have spread such a malicious rumor only to tarnish my image in the town and as soon as my father has heard the news he has advised me to see you forthwith and make amends. He will not spare me unless you pardon me," Not satisfied with his son's words the visibly irate father had decided to give him company to see for himself the veracity of the news. Sensing the gravity of the situation my father soon hugged the student saying " I know my students who may do something wrong but can not cause any harm to me and if I am in trouble they will do everything to save me. So when the news reached my ears I simply ignored the matter". Soon the physician guardian joined and quipped " You are not only a very revered teacher of the town but also our pride possession. So when I heard the filthy rumor and sensed that the whole town was fuming, I decided to lose no time to act as a guardian of my son and defender of the prestige of our esteemed institution. We are with you in your proper administration of the college."
Last but not the least although the worthy teacher and the physician had died long back and the student was an important figure of the town before his demise he would fondly remember those days when he had gone astray and later retraced the steps shown by his accomplished father and his favorite teacher. But the most tragic part of the drama was that we were deprived of the scope to test our gun, pistol and other ammunition at the unexpected turn of events and sudden fall of the drop scene!
(Arun Kanti Chatterjee writes from Kolkata)