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Malay Kumar Roy

Malay Kumar Roy

Malay Kumar Roy

Memories of my boyhood years in Hazaribagh are of a time of innocence and wonderment. Of the unspoilt landscape and forests. Of the rhythm of seasons and their many moods. Of the simple joys and sorrows of the village folk and those who lived in town. Of thrilling wildlife encounters. Growing up in this atmosphere was a rare privilege, as was the privilege of having studied in Hazaribagh’s St Xavier’s school.
Our school was all a boy could ask for. Standing on huge grounds with a mango orchard and screens of graceful eucalyptus trees, it provided a solid education and sports infrastructure. St Xavier’s was run by Australian Jesuits and opened in 1952 by Father John Moore SJ who was the school’s first Rector-Principal. The vision he set for the school was one shared fully by the entire Jesuit faculty. One noticed at once what made the school special. It straightaway rejected dogma. In bringing together boys from all backgrounds – rich and poor – it rejected social distinctions.
Father Moore saw education in its widest sense and saw this as the basis for human consciousness. Education was beyond the textbook. It was about freedom from prejudice. Fr. John Moore’s vision for growing up whole, centred on ethical values, and he continuously stressed on the need for going back to India’s cultural roots and the bequest of her ancient wisdom. Fair, firm and with a deep concern for his boys, he always inculcated human empathy. John Moore was one whom boys and parents looked up to.
Then there was Fr. Kevin Grogan SJ another legend in St Xavier’s, Hazaribagh. Temperamentally, he was in a class all his own. He treated us as belonging to the grown-up world. His teaching style was easy and unhurried, nothing pedantic or showy, almost matter-of-fact. The lessons he imparted were peppered with his characteristic humour. But they were meaningful always, making his points with telling effect. It was enthralling to listen to him bring the temporal context of what he was teaching vividly alive. He encouraged us to appreciate good prose and gave us books to read. The other special thing about him was his insistence that as individuals we must be thinking persons, eager for knowledge, and ready to question traditional acceptance of things. With wry humour he often debunked the many stories History held up as true, encouraging us to question their veracity. And one advice he gave us whenever the opportunity arose was never to be too impressed with ourselves. That impression was best left to others.
Fr. Kevin Cronin SJ, who as far as I can remember was Father Prefect, was one who saw things as either right or wrong – no ambiguity there. Nothing could be too trivial. If one was taking advantage of an incorrect decision in a game, it was wrong. If one was playing truant, it was wrong. If one resorted to untruth to get out of a tricky situation, it was wrong. We used to say to one another that surely this was taking things too far. We realised later that there was a deep sincerity behind this. What he was saying was that integrity and responsibility were never negotiable – the magnitude of the issue was not important.
When I left Hazaribagh in 1962 for my graduate studies in Calcutta, the transition from the tranquillity and serenity of a small hill town to the turbulence of Calcutta was a challenge. Although I gradually settled down in the big city, Hazaribagh’s pull was there always. As a friend used to say , ” Hazaribag touches a boy for ever.”
As time went by, there was renewed realisation of how I, and others like me were so fortunate to have lived in Hazaribagh when we did. I felt that in contrast to us who were in Hazaribagh from the early ’50s to the early ’60s, when we had a close and an almost conscious connection with the earth, the beauty of the seasons, landscape and skyscape, many children today are sadly deprived of that joyful experience of growing up; an experience I am certain that could enrich their lives and in later years provide enduring comfort. I thought it made sense therefore, to share through the stories in An Elsewhere Place a time that was far simpler and uncomplicated, a time of grace, close relationships and wonder. A time that once existed, and is never to return.
Cram- notes and rat-races are inevitable in contemporary society, and unfortunately there is no ready answer to this phenomenon. Learning by rote eliminates the pleasure of reading, the thrill of discovering new worlds through books, and intellectual curiosity. And giving in to the rat-race culture could often mean consciously besting the other person to reach one’s goal. The risk is in compromising one’s integrity and the final choice is really up to the individual.
There is a deeper problem. The spiralling gadget obsession young people find themselves in can lead to alienation, a self- centric mindset that blocks out the outreach of concern for others beyond oneself. The answer perhaps is in the return to basic values of human interface and concern; this is where the role of the family is paramount.
As a voracious reader, I have been moved and inspired by many authors – Dickens, Lamb, Keats, Coleridge, Browning,Yeats, Eliot, Synge, Auden, Owen, Melville, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Maupassant, Turgenev to name a few . But these authors have nothing to do with An Elsewhere Place. The stories in this book are essentially based on memories of my boyhood days that are still vivid in my mind. They almost wrote themselves, and the language flowed spontaneously.
I first interacted with Professor Lal in the first year of my English Honours in St Xavier’s College, Calcutta. We knew at once that Professor Lal was absolutely special. He could effortlessly captivate his class. For one thing, his tall, slim frame and his mellifluous voice and perfect diction won us over, but that was the least of the reasons why we saw him as an outstanding professor. The contents of what he taught was matched by his impeccable elegance. Always staying in context, he interspersed his lessons with observations that ranged from the quirks and failings of famous authors to art and culture, libraries and museums, to films, to foods, to the varied beauty of women across the world. What this did was to draw us reflexively into the spirit of what he was teaching us. I remember once when speaking about the pain of losing a friend , he began by quoting the lines from Corey , ” They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead. They brought bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed”

About the Interviewee:

Malay Kumar Roy is the bestselling author of An Elsewhere Place: Boyhood Days in Hazaribagh.