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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teacher's Day

Tomorrow is Teacher's Day. For all you know, it may be Teachers' Day as well (grammatically challenged bloggers are often faced with dilemmas like this).

I thought this might be a good occasion to sneak in a quick blog post. I had thought of writing about a couple of my favourite teachers and professors, but since I found this sprawled across The Telegraph today, I thought these legends should be the ones I should write of tonight. Or rather, about one of them.
Click on the image for a bigger and clearer view
My first introduction to Professors Atindra Mohan Goon (not Gun, as the article above suggests), Milan Kumar Gupta and Bhagabat Dasgupta were in Class XI: we were asked to study a algae-coloured book called Basic Statistics, which, despite not containing as many "worked-out examples" as the green and orange ones written by Nani Gopal Das, was probably my first handbook of statistics.

As school uniform gave way to jeans and Azhauruddin to Tendulkar, the trio played a greater role in my life: they had actually co-authored four of the books we had read as undergraduates. Professor Gupta actually taught us in his unmistakably inaudible voice in our second year. Professor Dasgupta we did catch a glimpse or two of.

Professor Goon, however, was a different story altogether. He was the Head of the Statistics Department when I took my first meek steps in the historic college. He taught us Linear Algebra from a book written by - well, Professor Goon himself. I also took private tuition from him in a group of seven - all of them my classmates.

I will be narrating a few incidents here. Do not be misled, dear reader. Of course I have immense respect for him. However, in addition to being a legend, he was also a character of the supreme kind. Let me narrate the incidents.

Some of the incidents might be lost in translation. I will provide the Bangla script and translation wherever possible.

Professor Goon, as we got to know later, had a few "pet" students every year. In ours, he had one favourite student: P, the batch-topper. He also had a couple of targets - A (often referred to as K in Presidency College) and, er, myself.

A was possibly Professor Goon's least favourite students. A (K) was also one of the champion carrom players of the college. On a bright, distracting autumn morning, passion took over moral responsibilities, and A (K) lost track of time.

A (K) did the unpardonable: he ended up being late in entering the great man's class. Professor Goon's reaction was a mixture of scorn and elation (at having a chance to have a bash at his "target").

So he went - "আজকালকার ছ্যাল্যারা, পড়াশোনা করব্যা না, হিন্দু হস্টেলে থাকব্যা , ক্লাস শুরুর আধঘন্টা পর পান চিবোতে চিবোতে ক্লাসে আসব্যা..."
(rough translation: Look at today's kids! They don't bother to study, they live in The Hindu Hostel, they turn up half an hour after the class has commenced, that too with paan in their mouth...)

Things I should mention here:
1. A (K) did not live in The Hindu Hostel. Ever. He lived in South Kolkata, and we took the same metro to college every day.
2. A (K) was not chewing paan either. He seldom did so, and never in class.
3. Professor Goon never found out what A (K) was really guilty of, though. A (K) usually nicked whisky from home in small empty bottles meant to contain homeopathy medicines and consumed them during Professor Goon's class - something that The Legend could never find out.

As I have mentioned before, his other consistent target was me. On one of the days, he finished teaching five minutes before the bell rang.

He now had five minutes to spare. I clearly remember it was the class immediately before the lunch break. He had a choice between having to spend the five minutes somehow and letting us go. He chose the former.

He picked me out. And gave me a verbal bashing on how incompetent a student I have always been, and what a disgrace to the department I am.

Things I should mention here:
1. He had not asked me any question on that day. Any.
2. He had not asked me any question on any previous day either.

This is not my story. Professor Saibal Chatterjee, one of the greatest professors I have had a chance to come across, told us this on a very wet August afternoon when it was absolutely pouring down outside, rain pattering down hard on the ancient windows of the classroom.

SC was in the mood. He was supposed to teach us kurtosis or something equally mysterious, but he ended up teaching us the philosophy of statistics instead. It was supposed to be a double-class, but time somehow seemed to fly: even the hypnotic aroma of the rain-soaked flora adjacent to the Baker's Laboratory could not distract us from SC's class that day.

This is SC's story. He confided this to us just before dismissing the class for the day.

This is about his student days. Yes, Professor Goon had been the ubiquitous Head of Department. SC and his classmates, being fresh out of school, had been taking full advantage of their new-found liberty and had  decided to bunk classes and have a long chat at Indian Coffee House - that place of urban fairy tales that has witnessed a lot of twentieth century dreams and romances blossom or wither or both (not necessarily in that order).

SC's gang was having a lot of fun, it seemed. Until someone filled in Professor Goon with the information. The great man walked out of the Department of Statistics, then out of Presidency College, crossed College Street, made his way up the stairs and located his students.

He walked up to the table; then, with determined hands, he grabbed each student by his ear and led each one out of the door; one by one. With the entire Indian Coffee House as witness.

No one ever dared to bunk a class again. Or had the cheek to visit Indian Coffee House again.

We also took private tuition from Professor Goon. On Wednesday mornings, possibly - at an unearthly hour of seven in the morning or something equivalent.

We were a group of seven (this number had nothing to do with when the classes began). The great man sat at the head of the table. P (mentioned above), our batch-topper, his left. I was late on day one, and hence was made to sit on his right (can you imagine my plight, given Incident Two?).

P had an elder sister. On one of the more idle days Professor Goon ended up chatting with P (with the rest of us listening in).

Professor: দিদি এখন কী করছে? (What does your elder sister do these days?)
P: স্যার, দিদি কাটাকলে পড়ছে। (Sir, she studies at Katakol - the name of the bus-stop where Calcutta University has its Department of Economics at Post-Graduate level)

One could see the dilemma taking shape on the wrinkled face of The Professor. On one hand, he could not let anyone go free after referring to Calcutta University as Katakol (that would be blasphemy of the highest order in his books); on the other hand, he could not get himself to shout at P.

He needed a solution, though. He stared at me. I could see a feasible response stewing in those eyes. Then, after a pause for what seemed like an eternity, Professor Atindra Mohan Goon uttered, eyes fixed on my hapless self:
আজকালকার ছ্যাল্যাদের মনে র‍্যাস্প্যাক্ট নাই। ইউনিভার্সিটি বলত্যা পার‍্যা না। কাটাকল বল্যা।
(today's students do not have any respect; they do not say "University" - they say "Katakol" instead.)

I shudder to think what might have been the reaction had I committed a sacrilege of the same volume.

We went to the tuition at seven, and were supposed to be released by nine. However, once a month, a calling-bell rang at a quarter to nine, and immediately Professor Goon sprung to activity; he usually terminated classes for the day and asked us to leave immediately.

Naturally, this struck to us as mysterious. We had to find out who it was that robbed us of valuable lessons in Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem and similar basic necessities.

On one of those careless mornings The Professor had kept his front door open. And we saw. And we knew.

Each and every window of the huge living room was open. The room was bathed in summer daylight. At one corner of the living room stood a rather meek-looking rice-seller. Rice was spread all across the room. And our Professor, virtually on all fours, was making his way through the ocean of rice, possibly looking for the tiniest speck of gravel.

We should have guessed that. It should have been obvious to us.

The year was 1996. I was not a natural school-bunker, so this was going to be the first time I was about to enter a relatively empty Book Fair - at about two in the afternoon on a weekday. The problem was, a lot of my classmates wanted to go as well.

Professor Goon's temper was (in) famous; and so was his absolute hatred at oddities like bunking classes. Still we braved it. We knocked. We entered.

Sir, can we take the rest of the day off to go to The Book Fair?

A thick volume of what looked like a Biometrika lay very close to his right hand. I hid behind someone. I figured out that though he had aged he probably still had it in him to throw a book across a room.

Instead, he smiled. And nodded.

Never has a Kolkata February been as glorious.


  1. Asadhaaron... last golper touch ta darun... Prof. Goon somondhe anek golpo amrao shunechhi... tobe amar soubhagyo hoyechhilo Prof. Bhagabat Dasgupta r bari jaoar... reunion-e nimontron korte... tokhon sobe 2nd year, mone achhe besh nervous hoye gechhilum... kintu onar eto bhalo byabohar je shesh abdhi mugdho hoye onake pronam kore firechhilam!!

  2. hmm...were you a naughty student?
    and now don't ask me to define this adjective.

    1. No, I was never a naughty student. Moreover, this was very early in my college days - when Professor Goon had no idea about the kind of person or student I was.

      It was dislike at first sight, I suppose. One-way, though. :)

  3. How very nice memories - "Dear reader" likes!

  4. Chamatkar. ei saber ekta collection ber kore naam de .. "Romanthan, othoba Bhimroti-.." .... dara dara, ei naam ta neoa hoye gechhe. onyo kichhu nis, tobe modda katha uponyas ta ar likhis na, bahut dhairjyo laage. kolaz ei katiye de.
    tobe katha jokhon tulli e. bunk kora khub bhalo habit, sharir o mon jhorjhore thake; atleast mon to thakei. ta se sab purono onek katha mone pore gelo. details bole e-promaan rakhbo na. tobe aj sundar brishti brishti bhab apatoto gharei achhi.

  5. গুন গুপ্ত দাশগুপ্ত-র কথা পড়ে নস্ট্যালজিয়া উথলে উঠল। ভালো লিখেছ। আমার দাশগুপ্ত-র ছোটমেয়ের সঙ্গে আলাপ হয়েছিল একবার। তার মুখে এঁদের টুকটাক গল্প শুনেছিলাম।

  6. mon bhalo hoye gelo porte porte...

  7. The third story reminded me of a story of KRP in ISI Delhi, which I had observed. KRP had a class right after the lunch break from 2:00 PM. There were only four students, and all four of them, for different reasons of their own, decided not to attend. I was a M II student and had that period off. I was sitting in front
    of my room on the corridor with some other people (don't remember who all were there) and suddenly see that KRP marching towards the hostel. Those who know ISI Delhi, will know that the hostel building is next to the class rooms. Quickly, we went down to see what's the matter and realized that he had come find his missing students. So we called them and then they went to the class with KRP. Later we heard that KRP was upset that they were trying to take away his bread and butter which is teaching.

    1. This is hilarious. We had almost an identical incident with TP. There were eleven of us, and it was an early January 9 AM class. This meant it was extremely cold and foggy in Delhi, and no one was willing to attend TP's class.

      TP usually didn't mind even a 10% attendance, but the zero count probably irked him. He came to everyone's room, and made us attend the class.

      We weren't amused. Or maybe we were.

    2. We were in Delhi for CSO. Our class had two groups. One group had gone to New Delhi Station to book return tickets (in those prehistoric days there was no such thing as internet!!). They were to to go to CSO after booking tickets. The other group on their way to CSO, decided to go for a movie, assuming that the first group would be present. Unfortunately there was huge lines in the counters and they could not make to CSO. The only student present was Lalit Mehta, who used to commute from his home in Delhi. The CSO officials called up ISI and SK Mitra took it as a very serious offence. He came down to the hostel and found only me, who was having a high fever and probably only one with a valid excuse. I was blasted for about 10 minutes (seemed like 10 hours) and he left. I was hoping that the actual guilty party would receive something worse, but that never happened!!

  8. Nice Post for this auspicious day..Thanks for sharing...Happy teachers Day

  9. Hey teachers, Happy Teacher's to all of you! May God Bless You for taking the world, Indians in particular towards to better-educated, brighter and powerful tomorrow.
    As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rightly said
    A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.

  10. hne hne :D

    A (K) ar P akbar Goon er class doob mere cinema o dekhte gechilo moonlight e ..

  11. All across the world, Teacher’s Day celebrations are undertaken to commemorate the teachers for their efforts. By having celebrations on Teacher’s Day we convey the message that we care for our teachers. Celebrating Teachers Day is recognition of the devotion with which teachers undertake the responsibility of educating a child.

  12. onekdin por tor ei post ta porlam..khub bhalo really bhalo student chhili, tai ekhono tor teacher der sobkichhu mone rekhechish...proud of u !

  13. Ha ha, great stories.

    I too was exposed to Goon, Gupta, Dasgupta (Basic Statistics, since I was not ad vanced like some of my classmates to be reading Fundamental Statistics) for statistics as an additional subject. This first introduction left a really bad taste in the mouth, so much so that I decided to tolerate the taste of chemistry as a "pass" subject in college, and stayed out of the top floor, despite being told of the department of Prof. Goon. The thing that rankled about my high school introduction to statistics was that there seemed to be a huge emphasis on set of rules (or conventions), which might well have been stated in an authoritative fashion like so: "Thou shalt construct class intervals thusly ... ". This may not have been so much due to the book, but to my reaction to it and how things were emphasized in class.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, sometimes slamming a door shut is not enough, some things creep back through the window. Through a series of other events a few years later, books like Kendall and Stuart came to become a staple part of my bookshelf, and this time I had no necessity to pay heed to "rules".

  14. oshadharon.I really love the flow of whatever it is you use to write..waiting for a book..sure to happen.

  15. teachers day is celebrated by every individual across the world. But teachers day one of the beautiful days of students and teachers..Thanks for this beautiful post