Teacher's Day: 'He gave us wings'
We had invited you, our readers, to write about your favourite teachers and we've been inundated with your responses. Here is one more:
Bharat B Garg from the Batch of 1994 of Sarvhitkari Vidya Mandir in Mansa, Punjab writes this touching tribute to his principal Niranjan Singh Singla:
It was the early ‘90s and I had just joined Sarvhitkari Vidya Mandir in Mansa, Punjab.
The school was reaching new heights under the able guidance of Mr Niranjan Singh Singla, the principal.
Mr Singla was a retired English teacher from government education services who had joined Vidya Mandir just a few years ago.
Almost always in a full-white suit, a strong perfume and immaculately polished shoes, he walked with a shining wooden stick in hand.
Those were times of spare the rod and spoil the child.
So, a lot of us would often be at the receiving end of Mr Singla’s beatings.
One summer day, the boys from our returned after a game of soccer during the lunch break.
We were sweating profusely and our faces were red.
Everyone was having a great time especially because we had a free lecture immediately after the break.
Like all the times when there is no teacher, there was much commotion till Mr Singla entered our class and we all fell silent.
It was the quiet before the storm.
Singlaji smiled mysteriously. It meant all hell was going to break loose today.
As usual the smile was followed by a question, “Soor deyo puttro, kyun muh mudkay naal lal kitta” (“Piglets, why are your faces so red and sweaty?”).
One of my poor classmates made the mistake of answering: “Sirji, bahr football khed kea aye haa” (“Sir, we have been playing football outside”).
The next thing we all saw was Singlaji’s right hand swung into air and a huge slap sound was heard in class along with a sentence “Huh! Jit ke lyon gey mere layee world cup ih” (Huh!! Are you going to bring me the World Cup?).
Most of us got walloped that day.
The other instance when a student was beaten black and blue was when he asked a genuinely innocent question.
As normal practice, every student would carry a rough note book which would be common for all subjects and ‘fair’ note book for each subject.
Singlaji requested this student to bring his note book. Out of habit, student questioned “Sir, kachi kapi le ke aawa ya pakki” (“Sir, shall I bring rough or fair note book”).
Singla Ji threw his wooden stick on this student in full anger shouting “Yeh,kachi pakki kya hoti hai” (“What the hell is fair and rough?”).
Then he pounced on this boy as if a tiger has found the prey and beat him read and blue. The boy sharing his bench was shivering.
Another of our classmates got a beating of his life once during the morning assembly.
He dared to ask his fault.
Mr Singla told him that he was not in proper uniform as his school belt was missing.
The student picked up his un-tucked shirt and showed his belt to Mr Singla to which he said “Oh koi na puttar! Ho janda kade kade” (“Oh son, no worries! Shit happens.”).
Having said that Singlaji could also be very kind. He was also my neighbour and he would always motivate me to do things correctly.
He blessed me and encouraged me. My father wasn’t very educated and he would often ask Singlaji how I was doing in studies. He would assure my father saying the same thing every time: “I know he will do great in his life”.
I graduated from high school in 1994 but I kept in touch with him.
Till 2005, Singlaii never missed his hard routine.
It started as early as 4.30am by cleaning the road in front of his house, sprinkling water to settle down dust, going out for morning walk and practicing yoga on roof top.
Neither my family nor I stay at Mansa any longer. I shifted to the USA four years ago but in June this year, I visited Singlaji. He was as charming as ever. And as always eager to know.
Singlaji asked us about the American society, its culture and why Americans drank so much, the merits of an open culture and American English.
He expressed his concern over parents over pampering their children and the fact that the quality of students had diminished. It was a fulfilling meeting.
By this time, Singlaji had stopped his rigorous routine. The walks had stopped. I asked him how old he was. He smiled his mysterious smile and asked me to guess.
I said: 85?
He smiled and said I was right.
After sometime I sought his permission to leave. That was to be our last meeting.
Fridays mornings are usually full of excitement and happiness. It starts with e-papers, a cup of tea and going through Facebook updates.
This Friday morning is gloomy and different.
For a few minutes, the brain went numb and my eyes moistened. One of my classmates sent a long message on Facebook. Singlaji was no more.
Incidentally, my wife was also Singlaji’s student.
I began getting ready for work and as a daily routine my family and I prayed to God.
Today, we also prayed for Singlaji.
Singlaji taught me to fly as he taught so many of my other classmates too.
He gave us wings.
He never differentiated between rich and poor. His blessings were for one to all.
It is likely that every house in the city of Mansa would have at least one person who was Singlaji’s student at some point. I am sure each of those people will have their own Singlaji story. This one was mine.
I can never repay his debt.
The kind of bond I shared with Singlaii can never be expressed in words. His memories will always make me laugh and cry.
When I rewind my life, there are numerous incidents which I recall and laugh on them everyday.
Sometimes, I share these incidents with my six-year-old son. He bursts out laughing at these stories. These are his bedtime stories, these are my memories that I pass on to him so they may live with him.
Dear Sir, you will always be deeply revered and truly missed.
Rest in Peace Singlaji!
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Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters