“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well,” said Alexander the Great. So many teachers have influenced me during the course of my school, college and university education, but the one for whom I will always have a special place in my heart taught me English language at DAV College, Chandigarh.
Though I was a voracious reader since my boarding school days and had grown up reading classics, they were mostly in Hindi. Despite it being an English-medium school, I confined my extra-curricular reading to Hindi. English language did not much appeal to me though I did well in my language exams.
It was after finishing school when I returned home and subscribed to an English daily that I developed a liking for the Queen’s language. There were many good teachers in the college ready to shower their pearls of wisdom on you. But I found this gentleman, who taught me for a year, a cut above the rest.
He didn’t set much store by fashion and arrived in the class wearing simple clothes with a bag slung across his shoulders. Not caring about our attendance he charmed most students to his class with his unique style of teaching. He would open the book to a Katherine Mansfield story, read the words, accent and all, and then explain their import in Punjabi. One thing I could never fathom was the effortless transition he made while teaching. One moment he would be reading the prose in an Oxonian accent, and the next he would translate it in chaste Punjabi as if he were someone from the hinterland.
Wonderful stories explained by an equally wonderful teacher transported us to another world and we would often miss the bell. Whenever he would come across an especially well-written passage, the master would tell us in his inimitable style, “You don’t have to go to Oxford to learn English as these very books contain all its nuances.”
The man also had a wry sense of humour. While explaining something in Punjabi, when he would suddenly realise that we had a Kenyan student who sat in the first row and looked totally lost during such times, he would tell him not to mind it and heartily shook his hand as if to make up for the oversight.
I always looked forward to his class and did my homework beforehand. Nothing gave me more pleasure than correctly answering one of his difficult questions. At one time when he wanted to recount the last stanza of Francis Thompson’s poem, ‘Daisy’ and fumbled for the words, I who had learnt that by heart prompted the lines. He was pleased as a punch and paid me the ultimate compliment by saying that one of the days he would take down the exact words from me.
Later, I lost touch with him and the last I heard of him was that he had retired. As I write these words this Teacher’s Day, I can say with conviction, Mr Kuldeep Jaidka, that English took its E from you and you were a major driving force behind my falling in love with the language.
The writer is assistant news editor, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh