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An era of excellence in 100 years of Matlab High School

Published : Saturday, 22 October, 2016 at 12:00 AM Count : 1861
Tapan Chakrabarty

At home, father was trying his best to take care of his family. He was around every morning and evening when elder brother, Swapan, and I studied. Having not enough money to buy a separate set of desk and chair for each son, he adapted the school's seating arrangement of two long-benches: the taller one for books and the shorter one for seating. Our bed served as the shorter bench, against which a regular-sized tall bench was placed to put our books on. At home, I felt like I was in a school classroom, where father was acting as a teacher and my brother as my fellow student.
Reading brother's textbooks
Brother was three years my senior academically. He was a very good student, being double-promoted once. Father was very fond of him. So I tried to be like him. Sharing a school-bench with him at home turned out to be a positive thing for me. I learnt things from audible reading of his texts. His books were within my reach. Being curious, I used to open them. I noted that his history book had some topics identical to those in mine. So I started reading from there and including the class-IX materials in my class-V1 tests. I tried it on a few other subjects, including English and Bengali. That worked out well. My reputation among teachers and students rose a few notches. Reading higher-level texts was also what Headmaster recommended for top students to get higher marks. So he was happy to see his pundit's youngest son practicing what he was preaching.
Father was happy too, as I, his youngest son, was the top student since class I in primary school. Because of that, my tuition fees were waived at Matlab High from class five to class ten. Maintaining the top position every year was tough and stressful, as Headmaster kept on brining another new talented competitor from another school, after I beat the one he had brought in earlier. As the competition got tougher, I tried to study harder. But my health was getting worse.
Father as a teacher
When I was admitted to MJBHS in 1960, it had already far exceeded the expectation of a rural school, under the Headmastership of the late Waliullah Patwari; superior teaching by some very dedicated and qualified teachers, including my father; and efforts by some very talented students.
Father viewed his school job as an opportunity to provide for his family. He also looked at it as a privilege to be part of an 'educational experiment' that was spearheaded by Headmaster --- an experiment to create 'educational excellence' in a rural area, stricken by poverty, and paucity of talented students and of financial wherewithal.
Dr Matin Patwari was the most successful product of that experiment since partition, by placing first in East Pakistan Board in 1950. The name Matin became synonymous with MJBHS. It also became synonymous with the word 'motivator'. He did not have to be there in person to motivate. When inside the school office to see father or headmaster, I used to scan the names of school's star performers in board exams on the Honours Board, hanging from the wall overlooking the teachers seated below. Dr Matin Patwari is indubitably the brightest star among the many bright stars of the galaxy that MJBHS is, since partition. Father used to motivate me and brother by uttering Matin, the word coming out of his mouth drenched in teacher-like affection and pride. In so doing, he was practicing one of the nine pillars of the Matlab Model of Success: motivating students with someone from the school, to whom they can relate.
At school, father was a dedicated teacher. He loved teaching so much that he never missed a day of class, until the day he could no more. He taught me Sanskrit and Bengali grammar in Class V and a major part of class VI. I did very well in both subjects, the former up to class VIII and the latter all the way to Secondary School Certificate (SSC). Bengali was my insurance for weakness in other subjects. Strength in Bengali grammar was the reason I got 80% in Bengali second paper, which was a very high mark for that subject then.
Father was one of the three eldest teachers in the school. He was also much older than the Headmaster. Despite their age difference, Headmaster and father developed an enduring friendship, out of mutual respect. Their religions or politics did not get in the way of a long-lasting and trusting relationship. Headmaster respected his pundit's dedication to teaching, and sought for his advices on health and life matters. That speaks well as to the philosophy of both men. That religions and politics are personal matters and there are other matters to build a friendship around. That was a valuable lesson they both taught me and others at an early age, not through lectures, but by examples. Their philosophy from the nineteen-fifties and the sixties is that of the civilized world nowadays.
Father's losing school property
The financial book of the school in that 'era of excellence' was a 'pond of red ink'. Headmaster could not pay his teachers well and on a regular basis. I remember father going to Matlab Bazaar and buying the least expensive fish (puti or balya) and other bare essentials and keeping track of every paisa in a notebook. Father had to supplement his school salary with meagre income from priestly functions he performed at Matlab Ghosh Para, Naba Kalash, Boalia, and Bishnupur villages. It helped that he was a very frugal man, while mother was extremely extravagant. He was also very hard working. I never saw him sitting idle, except when he was saying his morning and evening prayers. He spent his spare time growing seasonal vegetables in the yard.
Brother and I each had one shirt and one pair of pants for the whole year. Father also had no more than two dhutis and two collarless long-sleeve cotton shirts. A devout orthodox Hindu, he, however, managed to save enough to celebrate almost all 13 Hindu religious functions in 12 months of a year. Mother went all out for that.
The grandest of all them was the yearly Durga Puja (DP) in the early autumn. An incident during one DP tested the relationship between Headmaster and father. Father had borrowed from school several pieces of corrugated tin to make the roof of a temporary kitchen in our ancestral home in Bishnupur, where we celebrated DP over five days. One night after the puja, a storm hit Bishnupur, felling some tree branches. In the morning, mother went to the kitchen. She returned screaming. Father went out, called us, and we all looked around. After no luck, in a distressed voice, father said: 'How am I going to give Headmaster the news?'He still kept looking for them through villagers. A few months later, in the winter, a villager brought in the news from Bishnupur. The lost tins had been found in an unlikely place--- at the bottom of a dighi (a large pond) --- when he was punting in it. The pole hit them. It was a miraculous hit! From the wind direction and the location of the dighi, it could not have been an act of the storm. Someone must have stolen and hidden them for fear of getting caught. The messenger also named a suspect, but father was not interested, as the named person made his living by farming our and other people's land. He rushed to school to give Headmaster the news and restore the trust in their relationship.
Father as my music teacher
A singer and a song writer, father was my first music teacher. Headmaster used to hold annual prize-giving ceremony to encourage students and raise money for the school from the guests of honour: The Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) or the District Commissioner (DC). In one such ceremony, when I was in class VI, father taught me and another Ghosh Para kid Khokan a song, of which he was the lyricist and the melodist. In the function, the two of us walked side-by-side, each holding a garland, to the stage, singing 'Fullaw Mooroti Moother Savapati, / SDO Saheb Bhosia Aasen Oi. (A gentleman of jovial demeanour our guest of honour, / SDO Saheb is sitting over there.)' We paced ourselves such that, at a specified point in the lyrics, we placed the garlands over the head and around the neck of the SDO, to the thunderous applause of the spectators. We returned to the spot from where we had started, walking backwards and facing the SDO, all the while singing. With eyes filled with pride, father patted us both on the back.
A few minutes later in the function, father's eyes welled up, this time in joy, seeing his youngest child, receiving an award, an English-to-English small dictionary, for being the top student in class V final. The award was small, but its significance was not lost on him. He knew the future that awaited the top student of a top-notch school. The 55-year-old priceless dictionary still reads: 'Bears the sweet love of Tapan Chakrabarty.' It brings back sweet memories of father and Headmaster from the1961 function in the MJBHS assembly.
School Swarasati Pooja and cruel fate
Blooms of orange petals with black velvet sepals in the palash tree on the north bank of the school pond announced Swarasati (Goddess of Learning) would be arriving soon to be worshipped by Hindustudents. Palash is her favourite flower. Interestingly, the palash was the only tree in the school ground in those days. Since Swarasati Puja (SP)is normally held at a school ground, it is likely that the founders, J and B, had it planted there for the puja flowers. But for some reasons, MJBHS's SP in that era was celebrated in the yard of the late Prasanna Kumar Saha, the school's assistant Headmaster and one of the five luminaries mentioned earlier. But that did not dampen the excitement of the young minds.
To be continued...
Tapan Chakrabarty --- a MJBHS alumnus (1965), a BUET chemical engineer with a PhD from University of Waterloo, a seven-continent marathon finisher, an inventor and an innovator, and a columnist --- writes from Calgary, Canada

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