Uncle Narinder was a very educated and learned person. He had Master's degrees in English, Urdu, Persian and Punjabi. He was more than 70 when he appeared in the MA (Urdu) examination. The invigilator took him to be the exam superintendent and addressed him as Sir as he walked in late to the examination hall. When the result was declared, his roll number had 'RL' (result later) marked against it.
The university vice-chancellor called him to his office. The V-C wanted to meet the person who had for the first time scored 100% marks in Urdu. Being a language paper, they could not give him full marks, so with my uncle in agreement, gave him 99%. The university record stands in his name till date.
After retirement from the MES (military engineering services), uncle settled in Punjab's Rajpura town. Being from an academic background, teaching had remained his first passion. He started a coaching centre for English in his house. The competence of students who came to his centre was rather low, with many of them being from rural areas. Most of the students wanted to score pass marks to get a graduation degree to be qualified for a government job.
Uncle Narinder understood their shortcomings and requirements. He was not teaching them to be university toppers. He was teaching them how to score 33% marks. It meant no poems, comprehension or grammar studies. As per the English course syllabus, writing an essay and a letter was all that was required to score pass marks. From his vast experience, he knew that the essay could be on an Indian festival and the letter could be a leave application to the principal or one to father asking for money, and there was always an option to choose from the topics.
One afternoon, on my way to Patiala, I dropped in to meet him at his house. The students, numbering around 10, were sitting on benches in a circle around him. He gestured me to be seated in the drawing room. While sipping tea, I heard the students reciting a poem which went like this: "India is a great country. It has many festivals. 'Dash' is a very popular festival. We all celebrate 'dash' in our house every year....," and so it went on, with many more 'dashes' being peppered in the poem.
After some time, uncle came inside and as we sat down for lunch, I could hear the students repeating the poem. I was really intrigued about the teaching methodology, and more so about the 'dash' they were all still reciting. On my asking him, uncle told me the students' background and how he was teaching them to score just pass marks. When I asked him about the poem, he burst out laughing and said, "It is not a poem. They are learning the essay by heart. In the examination paper, the topic could be Holi, Diwali or Lohri. Once they choose the topic, the 'dash' will be replaced by Holi, Diwali or Lohri."
After all these years, the state and fate of our nation is there in front of us, with all those students now sitting pretty in cushy government jobs writing file notings interspersed with dashes. India is a great country… my hopes are 'dashed'.