Nutrimentum spiritus (Food for the soul)

My primary schooling was at Sri Kamala Nehru Makkala Mandira. The school was housed in old houses, some of them bungalows, others not, dotted about the Yediyur circle area and even in Tata Silk Farm. This was a lower-middle-class kind of school. However, that characterisation belies the nutrimentum spiritus (food for the soul) that was dispensed there. By luck or by design, the school had some amazing teachers. I certainly was lucky they were in my life.

Classrooms were held in the patio (suitably partitioned with a plywood “wall”), in the bedrooms, under staircases, on balconies, in “servants’ quarters”. 

In classes one and two, I studied Tamizh as my second language. Choices available: Kannada, Urdu, and Tamizh. Even the medium of instruction was available in English, Tamizh, and Kannada. In primary school, I remember paying the scandalous fee of Rs 6 per month! J

In class 4 ‘A’, our class teacher was a Miss Waheeda Begum. She was a tough disciplinarian and we didn’t mess with her. She was also a very good teacher. She it was who taught me the meaning of the word “lest”. She it was who taught me the three degrees of adjectives in English.

However, as I have always maintained, more meaningful education happens outside the context of the syllabus and curriculum.

Her peer, class teacher of 4 ‘B’, was a Miss Vijaya. The Misses Vijaya and Waheeda were great buddies. And they had devised a scheme into which I was inducted from ‘A’ and Sridhar was inducted from ‘B’.

Waheeda would say to me, “Take this book and give it to Vijaya.” Of course, Vijaya would be in class, teaching. I could not just barge in. I had been taught to knock lightly on the door, wait for a “Come in!” from Vijaya, say “Excuse me, Miss. May I come in? Waheeda teacher asked me to give this book to you.” Vijaya would then say, “Yes, come in.”, take the book, thank me, and with a knowing look, dismiss me.

Return to ‘A’, knock knock, “Come in!”, “Excuse me, Miss. May I come in? I have given the book to Vijaya teacher.”, “Thank you. Sit down.”, and off I would go to my seat.

When two or more people are in a conversation, never just barge in. Wait for a pause, say, “Excuse me.”, and then join in with what you want to say. Likewise, when leaving a conversation, don’t just walk away, excuse yourself politely and leave.

Frequently, Waheeda and Vijaya would contrive situations for either Sridhar or me to practise these social skills.

Suddenly, Miss Waheeda vanished. “She is on leave for one month”, we were told. Just as suddenly, one day, she reappeared. We were all excited. After assembly and prayer, we ran to class, ready for her. She walked in and announced, “I am now married. My name from now on is Waheeda Riaz, not Waheeda Begum.” As she said this, she wrote her new name on the blackboard.

We were appalled! One girl sitting behind me (I remember her name, but won’t mention it) said to her neighbour (another girl), “Thhooo! She got married!” Hilarious as it seems now, it seemed to capture the collective mood of the class at that time. It was some kind of betrayal!

10.30pm. March 8th 2013. 

I was riding my two-wheeler home on the diagonal road leading from the west gate of Lal Bagh towards M N Krishna Rao Park. 

I saw him walking on the side of the street looking back every few steps. Distinctly the look of someone hoping to catch an autorickshaw. But wait! I know this guy. His name is also Chandrashekhar. He was my classmate in primary and middle school. Only his initial was S, while mine was B. 

I stopped. He walked up. I said, “Chandrashekhar!” He, too, instantly recognised me despite my helmet and glasses. “Chandrashekhar!”, he said. The last time we met was forty years ago! 

I offered him a ride home on my two-wheeler, and he accepted. 

For some years now, I have increasingly been relating to divinity as Teacher. Since this began, I have been noticing my increasing desire to acknowledge my teachers and say thanks for all they have done for me. 

A few years ago, with the onset of the Teacher idea in my mind, I felt I should trace Mrs Waheeda. Who would know? She had lived in a house near the mosque near Vijaya College. Perhaps they may have records of her? I must go and find out. I’ll do that one of these days.

That’s how it went for several years. Occasionally, I would drive down the street where she lived hoping to recognize the location of that house which, of course, no longer stands. 

These, I shared with Chandrashekhar as we rode along. Then, he said the most amazing words. 

“Mrs Waheeda lives very close to my sister’s house. I will show you her house!” 

This he did, but it was 11.30pm. Hardly the time to be dropping in on anyone, least of all a revered teacher. 

So, with a few fruits in a bag, we landed up at her place on March 24th 2013. She is in her 70s now. She couldn’t recognise me. It had been over 45 years since we had last met. I offered her the fruits and touched her feet for her blessing. 

I told her all that she had taught me and how it had influenced my life. I thanked her. I told her that I am also a teacher now and I have been passing on her etiquette lessons to kids whom I teach, too. She was genuinely pleased. But still hazy about who I was. 

“There was one Chandrashekhar who went to America. He wrote me a letter from there many years ago. I still have it somewhere. H’mmmm… Yes! It was B. Chandrashekhar. So, it WAS you! Yes, yes.” 

The author (left), with Ms Waheda S (24 March 2013). Pic: Ms Waheeda’s son

I have no recollection of writing a letter to her, but it would not be surprising for me to have done so. 

No matter. We reminisced. A joyous morning!

About Chandra Shekhar Balachandran 0 Articles
Dr Balachandran is Founder and Director of The Institute of Geographical Studies, Bangalore - http://tigs.in.

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