An era of excellence in 100 years of Matlab High School
For teaching resources, he recruited and retained qualified teachers. To Hindu minority teachers in fear of communal riot during the tense period around the partition of India, he gave assurances of security. The MJBHS's reputation and lack of opportunities elsewhere helped the retaining. He hired competent new teachers from other village schools, being aware that city teachers would not find living in rural Matlab to their liking. The late Adhar Chandra Das, a very dedicated and effective teacher, who taught me chemistry, was one of his excellent recruits. The late Rangalal Saha was another very solid and devoted teacher.
Taking a Teacher to Task
By working hard and leading through good examples, Headmaster created a culture of hard work in the school. Almost all of his teaching staff worked hard to help him achieve his goal. Except one. Headmaster knew him. He used to walk by the classrooms unannounced to check how the teachers were doing. In one daily morning assembly, he took that teacher to task by saying: 'In my school, there is a teacher who takes ten minutes to go to a class, then he puts his feet on the desk and closes his eyes, when the classroom is in chaos.' The teacher he was taking to task was, unfortunately, given the task of teaching our class VI math. Father was not happy seeing his son's math marks take a dive.
Adding an Impactful Teacher
In class VII, Headmaster recruited the best teacher, in my assessment, for the school. He brought in Mr Abdul Latif from a neighbouring school. Latif Sir (a salutation to show respect for a teacher), in one lecture in class VII, erased the fear of math the teacher in class VI had instilled in me. He was energetic and explained math concepts better than any, walking around the class and using his hands to make a point. He made math fun again for me. From class VII to SSC, my math marks were always above 90. So were my marks in physics which he also taught. To improve our marks in physics, he suggested using English quotations in tests written in Bengali. Which I did. A lover of sports and music, he played volleyball with us in the south-west corner of the school playground.
In those days, many parents and teachers believed that studies and sports did not mix. Since sports were not a lucrative profession then, the emphasis was on studies, unless the parents were businessmen. Headmaster believed 'sports make one a better student'. Although he preached us to be multidimensional, Latif Sir was more convincing by practicing it himself. He was the teacher who had the most impact on me in all of my academic life, including that in undergraduate and graduate studies at BUET and University of Waterloo, respectively. Nobody comes close. And that speaks highly of a teacher in a village school.
Prasanna Babu's Teaching and Mentoring
In that era of excellence, Prasanna Babu (PB) was the most effective and the most popular among students, both as a class room teacher and as a mentor to many. PB was there for both decades and beyond. Latif Sir, mentioned earlier, came later to MJBHS in 1962. He taught me class IX and class X English. He was soft-spoken, wearing a white dhuti and a white punjabi. Headmaster, an astute judge of talent, was aware of PB's presence to help him achieve the goal for his school. I heard from senior students that Headmaster pleaded with him not to leave the school and East Pakistan for India, like millions of Hindus did after the 1947 partition. A master psychologist, Headmaster sensed that his pleading might not have been enough. So, for insurance, he sent several students to PB's house. That worked. How could a great teacher leave his adoring students in the lurch?
After father passed away, PB used to come to our house and check how things were. I was once the recipient of his subtle, but very effective mentoring, not in school but one year after SSC. Mother had sent for PB to make me break my 'hunger strike'. I was at Matlab College, then a college in its second year of existence, with less than satisfactory lab facilities and teaching staff. I was a mess physically, mentally, and academically. I refused to go to college.
While PS was pleading with me to start eating again and going to college, he noted something above the door. 'Who wrote that?' he asked mother. Mother pointed to me. PS got up and said: 'If he wrote it, I don't have any more to say.'
He then left. I kept on thinking. I got the message. I ended my strike. And later I changed college.
What PB read above the door was, 'Man can work wonder.' It was something I had learnt from school. It was more likely that I heard it from PB, since he was my English teacher. That day, he mentored me by not giving me a lengthy lecture, but by telling me, without telling, to follow the writing above the door. That, I think, was simple, but profoundly powerful! One distinguished MJBHS alumnus, who came to know of this story, was moved. PB's effective mentoring also changed his life for better, he shared.
Focus on Extra-curricular
Participating in extra-curricular is one of the nine pillars of Matlab Model of Success. For a village school's headmaster to emphasize it in the nineteen-fifties and the sixties, reflects on the depth of his forward-looking thinking. Headmaster even built a new gymnasium in the north-west corner of the ground. For the city students, he bought a cricket set and field hockey equipment. We had three football fields, in one of which lightning struck one day when we were playing, injuring a student. But all of our fields were flooded in monsoon, the season for football. We used to go to Boalia to watch the tense football (soccer) matches between Boalia High and Matlab High. In one such match, a fight broke out between the two teams and their supporters. I was slapped on the face by a Boalia elder for cheering too much for our team. We were outnumbered in the clash. There was a talk in MJBHS of taking revenge on Boalia fans on the next market day at Matlab Bazaar, which drew shoppers and vendors from villages within 5 to 8 km of Matlab. Annual athletics was held, in which the city students dominated. I managed to win a long- jump competition once. As mentioned earlier, I played many sports and games for fun.
To be continued...
Tapan Chakrabarty --- an 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