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On Doing It With Class

After spending the good part of an afternoon looking all over the hill side, the postman knocked on our door asking if we knew of a Mrs. Aili.

‘Never heard of her,’ said I, watching him go on his way. Then suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks, as the power of a misplaced full stop dawned on me – it could have altered my gender. I ran after him.

‘Look what they’ve done to my name!’ Peter Lugg, a friend, the legendary teacher at Woodstock School complained. Apparently, a telegram addressed to a Mr. Plugg was aimlessly doing the rounds. That is until a bright student cracked the code and steered it in Peter’s direction.

Often at public events, I inadvertently mix-up names written hastily on pieces of crumpled paper shoved into my hand. Like the time our College’s Literary Society invited Mr Jeremy Firth, an Irishman teaching at another school. He was to do a poetry-reading session. Who could  fault Professor P. N. Misra, our head of English for fluffing his lines at the crucial moment? Maybe he was having a senior moment? ‘This,’ he boomed ‘is Mr Blundel from Firth School of London.’

Most graciously, Mr Firth took it in his stride saying: ‘I am not the blunder of Firth School. I simply schooled at Blundell’s in Tiverton, a place of ancient lineage dating back some 250 years.’

Like all things great and small, the moment passed.

During my years in college, Professor Misra took me under his wing and showered me with love and affection. To the end of my days I shall remain grateful for his kindness, which was both unexpected and inexplicable, considering that all I brought to the table was the self-assured cockiness of a young man who would rather spend his waking hours peeping into Hakman’s Grand Hotel to watch the dancers set the floor on fire.

On the other hand, Panditji (for that is what we called Misraji behind his back) brought years of teaching experience coupled gently with the awareness that all of us were facing our own epic struggles. Few could teach John Milton’s Paradise Lost with such passion. In the quiver of a passing moment, Satan rose in stature becoming the leader of fallen angels and standing up to God’s authority. Given his gift for comparative literature, his magical couplets still resound in my ears. They have always stood me in good stead. Focusing on rhyme, by the time he reached the last few lines, he was lost to the beat of  their drum, quite forgetting his dentures –  we hung on to the edge of our benches as he came perilously close to spitting them out.

Years passed by until one day, by chance, I met Gitaram Joshi, an officer of the Indian Revenue Department, who opened the doors to the past.  ‘Misraji’s home,’ he told me, ‘was the first port of call for all anyone coming to study in the Doon,  especially those who came from Jaunsar-Bawar. For them he always had an open house with doors wide open.’

While he was living there a telegram arrived one day. It brought news of Misraji’s father having passing away in Allahabad.

‘I decided to go the extra mile, trying to be helpful; trying to make things easier by getting him a ticket on the train. I packed an overnight tiffin for his onward journey; packed his clothes into a bag; fetched a tonga to see him off on the train and made sure that he was comfortably seated in his compartment.’

Done and dusted! Or so Gitaram thought making his way home. He arrived to find Misraji had got there well before he did. He was seated on his favourite planter’s chair in the veranda sipping his cup of tea.

Seeing the stunned look on his face, he said: ‘Why go through this farce? I never did get along with my father all the days of my life, having left that house as soon as I was old enough to be my own man. Why start a new chapter now?’

In life, often some roads become the roads of no return.

The article was first published in Garhwal Post