The past has an uncanny way of catching up with the present. And those with demons in their closets are most wary. This 3-part story brings to life one such tale of a teacher and his student
By Dr. Saumya Shankar Chowdhury
PART – 1
Nandan sipped his tea in silence. The incident that had occurred in the teacher’s common room in the morning, had shattered his peaceful existence in the higher secondary school where he taught mathematics to an eager bunch of mediocre students. He was nearing 40 and had been teaching in the school for the past 16 years. The headmaster, almost 15 years his senior and recently transferred from a different school, had mentioned something which led Nandan to consider a wide range of possibilities – from suicide to being jailed for fraud and impersonation, not necessarily in that order.
Nandan was not easily flustered, nor did he take any rash decisions in life. Perhaps, he had committed a few mistakes in his student life but those were absolutely pardonable. Still, yet there was one instance which rankled even now -when he had become too bold to help a distant cousin, Pradeep, pass the Xth Standard examination in a subject where he consistently failed. One might argue that there is absolutely no harm in helping a weak student to clear an exam and that too in mathematics, as not everyone is endowed with a knack for the subject.
And that episode was 20 years old. Pradeep, Nandan’s cousin had secured a permanent job in a government department on the strength of that school-leaving certificate and had shown his gratitude on more than one occasion as far as money matters were concerned. Nandan would have to break the news to him. Would he respond to his problem as he had been doing in the past? Or had the layers of time diluted the forever-indebted-to-you feeling which Pradeep never failed to profess at regular intervals.
The headmaster seldom came to the common room and if he did it was always met with amusement as behind his back most of the teachers would imitate his gait, which he insisted was the result of an accident, and not by birth. The noticeable limp was acquired after marriage, so he claimed. And if anybody cared to listen, he would regale them with anecdotes of his younger years when he played football and cricket with equal passion. And again, the school accountant would pass on the information that the new headmaster had applied for tax exemption on income under the disabled clause.
That day, Nandan who usually refrained from such excursions couldn’t help muffle a laugh as the English teacher made an obscene gesture on the headmaster’s arrival. The headmaster, who was all too aware of the jibes behind his back and seldom showed his displeasure, stopped in his tracks and pointing his index finger in the direction of Nandan, uttered, ‘I think I know your past.’ Although the comment jolted Nandan from his usual cool demeanor, he did not make it obvious in front of the nosey members of the teaching staff.
The tea suddenly lost its charm and was reduced to a dull sugary concoction, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Still lost in his thoughts, Nandan gathered his text books and as the bell rang for the last period of the day, made his way to the classroom. He had shrugged his shoulders in response to quizzical eyebrows of a couple of inquisitive colleagues.
The students stood up as he entered the class. He was greeted by the customary ‘Namaskar Master Moshai’ and loud cheers from the back benchers, for it was clear that the youthful teacher was also the most popular in the school. That day, he was to start a new chapter on calculus, a branch he always loved and which had been his special paper in MSc.
Nandan was not his usual self as the words of the lame headmaster played on in his head, but the professional that he was, he forgot the incident momentarily and concentrated on the symbols which formed the introduction to the branch for that particular chapter. With Calculus as the savior, time seemed to fly and he concluded his lecture with the promise that any student could approach him if they found any part of the lesson unintelligible. The teacher in him was satisfied but his whole being was slowly sinking into a newfound confusion, desperately trying to search for a hidden meaning in the headmaster’s words.
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Dr. Chowdhury is an avid writer, who in his professional life is a medico for the past 20 years, currently with a Central government Public Sector Undertaking. His first anthology of short stories, Barak To Doyang, was published by the National Library, Guwahati, in 2012. Besides writing, he has a keen interest in music.