I have fond memories of the teachers who left a permanent imprint on my personality. I would like to pay a tribute to them on Teacher's Day.
There was no school in my village or nearby. The only "primary-pass" person in the village was Maulvi Abdulla, who was incharge of the mosque, but for a living owned an oil press. I was among the six boys who were sent to him to learn three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).
He taught us Urdu and arithmetic; in Urdu, he paid special attention to our handwriting, and in arithmetic, he emphasised on tables which helped us do even difficult sums orally. He taught with affection and dedication and developed in us the love for learning. Thanks to the firm foundation he laid, I always scored high marks in Urdu and 100% marks in arithmetic. He was not a professional teacher and the only pupils he ever taught was our batch. I am grateful to him for initiating me into a lifelong quest for learning.
Another teacher who whetted my appetite for literature was Master Zaffar Hussain, who taught us Urdu in the middle school. He was a poet of some standing and even at that stage, encouraged us to read Ghalib, Zauq and Iqbal.
He meticulously taught us the correct enunciation of Urdu sounds, which are foreign to Punjabi speakers. I owe my fondness for Urdu poetry to him. It has been a perennial source of pleasure for me. Alas! Partition gave a setback to Urdu and separated us from inspiring teachers like Zaffar Hussain.
In April 1947, I went to RS Khalsa High School, Jaspalon (Ludhiana) to get admission into Class 9. When I approached the teacher incharge of A section, he asked me about my marks in the vernacular final (Class 8). I said, "315". He thought the marks were low, so he said to the teacher incharge of B section, who was passing by, "Master Kartar Singh, this boy has scored 516 marks in Class 8, and wants to join my section."
Master Kartar Singh caught hold of my hand and took me to his section, remarking, "Why should all bright students go to A section?" I wondered why the incharge of A section told a lie. After school, I narrated this incident to a classmate, who was of a mean nature. He reported it to Master Kartar Singh, who taught us English.
After the roll call, he asked me to translate a few difficult sentences into English; luckily, I translated these correctly. At this, he remarked, "It does not matter if he has scored low marks, but the boy is intelligent." This established my rapport with Master Kartar Singh and increased my interest in English, in which I later did PhD and became a university teacher.
I was fortunate to be taught by Dr Jaswant Singh, who was principal of Brijendra College, Faridkot. He asked thought-provoking questions and encouraged students to think for themselves. He had a doctorate from the US and applied many of the techniques he had learnt there. He was a votary of democracy.
When we were to elect our class representative to the students' union, he gave each student a signed slip and asked him/her to write the name of the student whom they wanted to be their representative. For us, it was a novel method of election. I was elected to the students' union, which was given freedom to chalk out student activities. I have always practised the precept he taught us: attitudes are more important than facts.
American writer Henry Adams said: "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. My teachers are no more but their influence on me will remain till my last breath."