Having been a teacher at the Army Public School, Dagshai, between 1999 and 2003, I've a bagful of memories, some sweet, some bitter, of the time spent working under a colonel, the principal of the school.
Coming from a civilian background, I had never known army life, let alone work under someone of the rank of a colonel. He was in his late 50s, tall, well built with dark features. He was slit-eyed and his movements were precise and swift. My friend and I had named him 'Tiger'.
My first brush with him took place when one evening I was having a walk with my friend, a South Indian guy who was another civilian working as teacher. It was getting dark and visibility was becoming low. In the hills, the air tends to become quite cool as the sun begins to descend, so I had my hands in my pockets. There wasn't even a single person on that stretch of the road when suddenly a roaring voice shook me out of my thoughts. It was the colonel walking briskly towards me. "Keep your hands off your pockets. Walk like an army jawan,' he said and disappeared in the dark leaving us surprised just as a tiger surprises his prey.
On another occasion, I was walking to my class when I had this strange feeling as if someone was watching me. I looked around but saw nothing. I looked around again and saw two eyes glaring at me. A figure walked out from the shadows of the trees. It was the colonel. He was smiling as he called me. I quickly walked to him. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and said, "I see you walking to your class and feel as if you are a professor at Oxford." "I will take that as a compliment, sir," I said. "Of course, that's how I meant it. Thank you. You can go to your class." In the next moment I left the scene thinking whether it was a compliment or a comment.
There is yet another incident I remember well. My south Indian friend and I decided to have tea at the tuck shop. Teachers as well as students used to be served snacks and tea during tea break on the school premises and nobody was allowed to go out during school hours. But, that day, my friend and I decided to have tea at the tuck shop. We didn't want to get noticed, so we made a plan that we would dash out of the school at the first bell.
I still remember how we both were literally running towards the school gate on our way to the tuck shop when suddenly Tiger spotted us. "Where to," he asked. "To the tuck shop, sir", my friend replied. "What for," he asked. "To have tea, sir," I said. To our surprise, he said nothing and went away. The next day he summoned us to his office and offered us high tea in his room.
In 2003, I decided to quit the job to go abroad. Guess, who had tears in his eyes as it was farewell time? Yes, it was the colonel. "Look, what you've done. You've made the 'Tiger' cry. I wish you success in your future endeavours," he said with a broad smile while seeing me off. When I looked at him to say good-bye, I couldn't help feeling embarrassed. He had surprised me, yet again.
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