Apart from our parents and immediate family the people who have the greatest influence on us are our teachers. But as we move on in our life pursuing higher degrees, careers and our ambitions we tend to lose touch with our teachers, who have had such a great role to play not only in our academic life but also in the way we think.
We all have had several teachers in our lives who have given us the wings to fly and have taught us to take on the world but there was one teacher who taught us how to love, and that was Jashodhara Hanafi. There is no denying the fact that some teachers in South Point School were more popular than others and she was one of them. There were plenty of students in our school, who had not taken a single geography class from her but they knew her, generations of students talked about her and if I may have the liberty to say so, she was kind of a legend in the long corridors of South Point High School, Kolkata.
Why? She was a brilliant teacher, yes. But as my friend Indranil Halder has written in his book Warrior In The Sanctuary, most students, especially the boys, had their eyes pinned on the silver key rings that hung from her waist and made a jingling sound every time she moved to write on the blackboard. The guys, who had made it a point to move to the front benches for her class, sighed with every move. The girls on the other hand were busy admiring “aunty’s” (that’s what we called the teachers in school) fascinating wardrobe of stylish sarees, her string of lovely danglers and her perfectly-plucked eyebrows.
When I look back and think of those geography classes I sometimes wonder, “Did she know what was really going on in the class?” To say that she did not would be insulting her intelligence. But she remained unperturbed, never got angry at the back benchers whispering, smiled and taught us chapters from the geography book that was impossible to forget.
She was extremely affectionate towards her students and this was something about her that I found more attractive than anything else. In a class of 60 it was not possible to arrange for return gifts when she was showered with so many on Teachers’ Day, but she at least tried. A gesture, I am sure, my classmates will always remember. She bought the entire class ice cream twice during our Class X session. Once, if I remember right, was on Teacher’s Day and the second time was on the last day of our Class X year. It was a small gesture but she was the only teacher to have thought about it. She watched us as we all devoured the popsicles and posed for photographs in our sarees (which we were allowed to wear on the last day) and obliged us as we wanted to click her too. She smiled, her dazzling smile, and looked at us lovingly, happy to have made us happy. My admiration for her grew manifold.
She continued to be my teacher in Class XI-XII. With time I realised aunty had an uncanny ability to gauge the mindset of the people setting questions during exams. If we prodded her for suggestions she would come out with it. But I often dared to take it too far. I walked into the teacher’s room during lunch hour handed her the geography text book and told her cheekily, “I will only study the parts you mark. So can you please mark it for me?” After a tiring morning session she was probably biting into her sandwich then but she would accept the book, and the boring task with a smile – her lovely smile.
I actually got into the habit of studying only what aunty marked, the rest I left out. So just prior to the geography exams during the Higher Secondary exams when I saw that my classmates were fervently going through a 20-page chapter of which I had just studied two pages, for the first time I felt a knot in my stomach. “School exams were fine. But what if aunty goes wrong this time?” I thought. I entered the examination hall nervous. There was one question from that chapter and it was from those two pages I studied. Till today I don’t know how aunty did it. But she did make my life easier by marking my fat books, a task she could have happily refused to do, because it did not come within the purview of her duties. But she always did it, with love and with a smile.
Actually Jashodhara aunty came to my rescue more than once. Although she never told me this herself, I found out. In Class X, the naïve and headstrong girl that I was, I got embroiled in something that I should have stayed away from. A female friend of mine was regularly writing love letters to a class friend of ours and he was reciprocating. But when his mother discovered the letters he washed his hands off the affair and put the entire blame on her. His father was well connected and ended up in the principal’s room with the letters and my friend was asked to leave the school. I was so upset about it that I actually confronted the guy for giving my friend so much grief. And the result? The guy went and told his father again and I couldn’t find my name on the first list of admissions in Class XI despite having the marks. Later I found out that it was Jashodhara aunty, my class teacher of Class X, who had stood up for me at the teacher’s committee meeting and ensured I got admission in Class XI. But she never for once told me about it.
After I left school I sent her a card every Teacher’s Day. But as the years passed by and I got tied up with our so-called busy lives there were years when I never realized when September 5 came and went. Till one day on a pre-puja shopping spree at a saree store I heard a familiar voice. Yes, it was Jashodhara aunty and without thinking, instead of touching her feet, I just hugged her. She hugged me back with the same child-like excitement. She was with our PT teacher Kabita aunty and both were indeed happy to see me. We exchanged numbers and I promised to call them and take them out for lunch post-puja.
A few days after puja I got a call from her daughter telling me she was no more. She had an accident on a holiday in Delhi. I had to hang up to take deep breaths and called her back. How did she get my number? “Mom had your visiting card. I found it. She always told me she really liked you.”
I hope she knew I loved her. She was one of the few teachers, who could love her students – unconditionally.
(I had clicked this photograph of Jashodhara aunty on our last day of Class X but thanks Arpita Mukherjee Mitra for scanning it and uploading it on Facebook. I have downloaded it from there.)