A stunning slap. One that made me see the proverbial stars in broad daylight. That was the first thing I remembered when I met my schoolteacher - after 23 long years. The sledgehammer of a hand which had unleashed that slap now lay limp on his knee. Once strong as an ox, he now sat crouched on a sofa, harmless as a lamb. The Bullet he used to ride with great pride had been replaced by a walker.
It was hard to believe that this ailing and ageing man had been an integral part of my wonderful teen years. With a dramatic flourish, he had taught us William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin. He was the one who had first treated us adolescents like adults. On my first day in Class 9, he had straightaway declared, "Now you are big boys. You will learn about sex, kisses and the nine months." We already knew a bit about these things, but it was a welcome surprise to hear it from the teacher's mouth. I'm sure our Sister Principal would have raised hell had she heard all this. And so too would have our parents (but we took care never to tell them about what he taught us 'off the record').
Here was a rare teacher who was unconventional and entertaining, but merciless at times. In his private life, too, he was no saint, going by what we heard from our seniors. Warts and all, we all loved, respected and feared him.
His memory was now so hazy that I found it hard to make him recognise me. His wife told me that the school he had served for 30 years had abandoned him in his hour of crisis. She showed me a show-cause notice asking him to explain his "deliberate" absence from school. What's worse, they had already kept a "much cheaper" teacher as his substitute. I suddenly felt hatred for my beloved alma mater, which had treated like dirt one of its most precious resources. Was this the same school where I had spent several glorious years?
On being prodded, my teacher's wife told me how tough it was for them to make ends meet due to his leave-without-pay and the hefty medical bills. Rather than offering financial assistance, I promised help in facilitating an amicable settlement with the school authorities.
While leaving his house, I wondered why it had taken a paralytic attack (and Facebook) for me to visit him after ages. I felt guilty for having all but forgotten him all these years. And as I recalled his booming voice saying "Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar", I knew that the onus was on us, his hundreds of ex-students, to save this hapless 'Caesar' from the brutes of the world.