Spice of Life: Teacher who walked the extra mile with us
Soon, he figured out places frequented by students and caught them just as they would unsuspectingly step in. He knew where to hide and lie in wait, hence we called him Bond, James Bond.
That morning assembly at Punjab Public School, the boarding school I attended at Nabha many years ago, will remain etched in memory. Our enthusiastic headmaster, Manjitinder Singh Bedi, surprised us with the announcement: “It’s encouraging to see improvement in the spoken English of students of Jamuna House. Congratulations to housemaster Shaju Antony for his efforts.” We were thrilled and Antony sir deserved the accolades.
An English teacher from Kerala, he made the best use of his time and ensured we did, too. Some students found him too strict and prayed for his transfer to another House of the school. Every morning, even before our rouser bell, he would write down two new words with their usage in sentences on our notice board. He could test anyone at any time about the words so we made it a point to take note.
With all newspapers available in our study room in the evening, it was a ritual for him to ask us about current affairs. Most of us carried a pocket diary along to jot down words and facts. But, the most important rule for us was to communicate in English, even if it was incorrect. He had chosen some students to apprise him of the list of their contemporaries who avoided English. Like spies, we would keep him updated and for a long time, I was successful in keeping my role secret.
He joined us during cupboard and washing inspections and just before bed-time as he was an expert in detecting stains. In the morning, he wanted beds made the Japanese way. His fear, though slowly, fuelled in us the Japanese spirit that showed up in our neat and clean attire and shining shoes.
At times, the methods he employed were funny. For instance, to wake us up instantly in winter, he would switch on the fans, while in summer, he would simply turn them off. It worked! He knew many students climbed the hostel wall on Sunday to visit eating joints and phone call booths in the nearby market. Soon, he figured out places frequented by students and caught them just as they would unsuspectingly step in. He knew where to hide and lie in wait, hence we called him Bond, James Bond. Many recall his villainous smile. Upon catching a student in mischief mode, it felt as though his mission had been accomplished. The student had no choice but to face the music.
In the classroom, his lecture on the plays of Shakespeare felt like we were attending theatre. There was something in him for even students who had never imagined being on stage, found themselves there. Some children participated in debates, while others took part in in-house shows. No wonder, most of us who may not have liked him back in the good old days, desperately miss him now. Thankfully, social media keeps us connected.
A few months ago, I visited him and his family in Texas, where he now lives. I enjoyed his hospitality. Every day, we recalled memories from the Nabha days and I couldn’t agree more, when he said, “I may have been strict but my intention was to make you all do better.” And, so should it be every teacher’s intention.
The writer is an Amritsar-based freelance contributor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org