Requiem to a teacher

I wondered if he ever realised that he had accomplished great things unknowingly.

He appeared at peace with the world in death as he did in life. Listening to his life story as it was told by colleagues and friends in that lovely chapel where his body was laid out, I felt that it was not possible to capture the essence of his being in mere words.

He wasan educationist par excellence. An administrator of many institutions, and a founder of unique schools. And, not the least, a teacher to many pupils, ranging from children to those in their sunset years.

I met him in the year 1978 in his modest office room from where he managed the affairs of a great institution. He was like that. A man with no pretensions of self-importance. He had great ambitions only for his school – and its pupils. He had a Man Friday – a man like himself whom he trusted implicitly - to run that school which depended more on the goodwill of its parents. He would mingle with the boys and share their fun. He knew every one of them by name.

“Do you think you can script a play for me,” he once asked. He wanted to celebrate the 125th anniversary of that historic institution, with a musical play on the life story of another great educationist –Ignatius of Loyola. He emptied the “fine collection” box on his table and said “This is all I can afford!” I wrote the script and we set about looking for someone to transform it into a theatrical experience. The event was the hallmark of his stewardship. It carried his matchless style.

When he retired from his duties as a principal, he went to Nagaland and Manipur where he established one-of-their-kind institutions. Adult literacy programmes, schools and workshops for the tribal people. I still remember his childlike excitement as he described these experiences. We would meet in some unpretentious eatery where he would unfold with shy pride and no trace of ego the stupendous work he had undertaken.  

I sometimes wondered if he ever realised that he had accomplished great things unknowingly. I used to visit him these last few years in a secluded retreat where he reminisced about that old school and his students whom he recalled by name. He forgot his present disabilities while remembering those happier times. Never once did he complain that he was imprisoned with a terrible loss of vision. The last time we met, we shared a meal together. I ate with him at a long plain wooden table, and he talked about the interesting experiences in his tryst with education. It was like the old days again.

It was not surprising that students, teachers and  colleagues of old all came to bid a fond farewell to this remarkable Jesuit priest for whom “fide et labore” were not just three words. He knew how to live them.

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