This is the third part of the series of my mom's memoirs on her teaching days and deals with the difficult days which struck our family when my father passed away.
The links to the earlier posts on the series are here:
I went to join the B.Ed Dept of my new college(under Calcutta University), on the designated day, asking friends about its location. This time there was no ‘papa” to accompany me.
The college is situated just one bus-stop after Howrah station and is one of the oldest girls colleges in Howrah, offering multiple courses. Girls from far off places come to the college and it is reputed as the ‘Presidency College of Howrah’ for its excellence.
As I entered the college, I fell in love with its ambience. It is situated on a huge plot of land, having greenery all around. What I liked most was a small pond where ducks were swimming.
After entering the college, I went to the office to find out the Principal’s room. At that time, I saw a white dhoti-clad gentleman, who came up to me and said, ‘so you are the new recruit in B.Ed Deptt for teaching English Method! I thought so. You look like a professor.’ After that he left while I kept wondering what was so special about me that made me look like a professor.
From the office, I went to the Principal’s room to report for my duty and was very surprised to find the dhoti-clad gentleman sitting at the Principal’s table. He smiled at me and asked me to go to the B.Ed staff-room after all the formalities were completed.
I walked over the corridor and entered the small B.Ed staff-room where I sat for the next twenty five years. I met the HOD, wearing a red bordered white saree, with a very pleasing personality. As we talked, I noticed two dhoti-clad gentlemen entering the room with attendance registers in their hands. One gentleman sort of half-smiled at me whereas the other one did not even so much as look at me. My heart sank as I realized that I was not accepted. Later I felt that probably they were apprehensive of the fact that an outsider, from a different university, would not be able to keep up the tradition and standard of the department, for which they had worked so hard over the years.
It took me many years to win their hearts by proving my sincerity and dedication to the department. One they were convinced, they were all ‘gaga’ over me and extended all sorts of help to me when I became the HOD. They were both workaholics and what they said were the last words in the department.
I also met another lady who joined the deptt on the same day with me but she was known to every one as she had worked as a part time teacher in the deptt before being appointed by College Service Commission. It was a small department with five full-time lecturers (including me) and a few part time lecturers.
The early days in the college were pretty trying for me as I found it quite difficult to adjust to the mainstream of the institution. It could have been because of the difference in cultures as I came from a completely different environment. Novice as I was, it also took me many years to realize that the college was the stronghold of a particular political party. However, I must admit that I had never been victimized for not belonging to the party.
As I was trying to grapple with the college life, a tragedy struck me in my personal life as my husband passed away within seven/eight months of my joining the college. I became numb with grief as well as shelterless with my two very young children. At that time, my parents took us in and gave us shelter, love and support.
Staying with my parents meant travelling for a longer time as they lived farther off. It took me a total of three and a half hours to commute from Kolkata to the college by bus and sometimes by launch.
After about two years, I bought a modest two bed-room flat near my parents’ house, staking everything that I had. I also took K off from Calcutta International School and admitted him to nearby Assembly of God Church School.
During all these years, my students were my oasis. I loved teaching them and it gave me a kind of satisfaction that made me forget my grief, at least, for a brief period.
With the growing pace of time, I too, tried to cope with the realities of life and got involved in the curricular activities of the B.Ed courses in the college. It, being a training course, is different from other undergraduate degree courses.
It seeks to teach the would-be teachers the skills and methods of teaching different school subjects as well as give a comprehensive view of “Education” as a subject of study.
In the short course of one year, apart from theory, the trainees also undergo a month’s ‘practice-teaching’ in schools so that they can have hands-on-experience
Finding schools for practice teaching was not an easy job for the deptt. Not all schools were willing to provide schools for one whole month as it disturbed the schedule of the school. Usually, the H.O.D had to go to each and every school, accompanied by one or two of the deptt., to request and sweet talk them into providing schools.
There was a joke doing the round in the B.Ed staff room that HOD was like the ‘father of a bride’, going around with folded hands requesting for schools.
Schools for practice-teaching were spread all over Howrah and Hooghly districts as we wanted the schools to be in the vicinity of the students’ locality so that they could spend the whole day in the schools.
Our duty, as teachers was to go around and supervise the teachings of the students. We used to have a duty list according to which we had to visit the schools. Visiting the schools every year for such a long time, I came to know Howrah like the palm of my hand.
On some days, we had to go to schools in Hooghly district. Most of them were situated on both sides of the railway tracks of the local trains.
In the beginning, I used to be very scared as I was not very much accustomed to travelling by local trains. After getting down from the bus, I had to stand in long queue at Howrah station to buy tickets for local trains.
We had to go to schools in Bellur, Bally, Uttarpara, Hind Motors, Konnagar etc. Identifying the right platform to board the train, in such a big railway station, and also getting down at the right place was a big challenge to me. The trains used to be crowded at any time of the day as they are the lifeline of the whole district.
After getting down at the station, I used to go to the rickshaw stand, quite often, crossing over the railway tracks instead of the overbridge, at the risk of my life, for fear of being late.
On reaching the school, I used to be welcomed by the teacher-trainees of our college in such a nice way that all my pains of travel seemed to be compensated. After meeting the students, I used to go around to supervise their classes. I would be sitting at the back of the class, correcting their lesson-plan copies and commenting, in their comment-books, on their method of teaching, black-board, work etc. We made them teach in real-life situations so that they would not have any difficulty later while working as teachers in their respective schools.
During tiffin-break, I would meet all the students again discussing their shortcomings and offering suggestions to improve. After a while, they would come up with a big plate of the choicest sweets of the area, contributing money from their own pockets, and insist on my having them as if I was a V.I.P guest in their house. I would, however, take one or two sweets and give them the plate back to share among themselves.
Usually we had to visit two schools of the same area in a day. So after the tiffin-break, I would start for another school.
While passing through the localities, quite often, I would see men taking bath and women washing clothes under the tubewells. Some times an unmindful maid would throw garbage from the upper floor which would fall right in front of me.
In the second school too, the same activities used to repeated. In the last period, the trainees would come up with a plate of sweets along with a cup of sugary tea from a local shop. They would not take ‘no’ for an answer though I did not want to have any more sweets. After saying ‘good-bye’ to the Headmistress, I would rush to the local station.
The train, on the way back, was also as crowded as the morning one. The vendors carrying different types of wares such as huge chunks of ‘chena’/cottage cheese; live fish in water-filled aluminum ‘haaris’/’pots’; seasonal vegetables in ‘jhakas’/straw baskets would sit just in front of the gate of the compartment, making it difficult for the passengers to get up or down.
Inside the compartment, the hawkers would get up selling oranges, bananas, lozenges (in glass jars), spiced ‘ajowan’ or ‘amla’ booklets for learning spoken English, pens etc. Sometimes I would buy some ‘knick knacks’ from the train, which would make my sons exceedingly happy.
The hawkers would sell their goods calling out in peculiar melodious voices. Their tuneful voices, combined with the swinging motion of the train, would take me away to another world.
It is true that it used to take me more than five hours a day to visit the schools but it used to give me a kind of happiness on being able to see so many places and learn about the suburban life. Had I done a desk job, I would not have been able to get such vast experiences. Visiting the schools, I came to realize that West Bengal was not only Kolkata but much beyond that.
After a month’s training, we would all go back to the college and regular classes would resume.
Any story of this college is incomplete if I do not say a few words about the ‘Mangla Haat’ in the area surrounding the college.’Mangla Haat’ is a make-shift market that is held on Tuesdays/’Mangalbars’ only. The hawkers mostly sit on the pavements and sell everything that you can think of. This ‘haat’ extends for about one kilo meter and creates tremendous traffic jam in the area. We found it very difficult even to walk over to the college from the bus-stop. We used to dread going to the college on Tuesdays specially before Durga Puja.
B.Ed course, though a short one, is packed with activities. In order to train the trainees to organize functions in schools when they become teachers, quite a few programmes had to be arranged by them. The most prominent ones being ‘The Teachers Day’ and ‘Re-union Day’ the trainees produced excellent dance-shows, dramas etc. only at a fortnights notice.
They also learnt to arrange for flowers, food packets, music-hands, gifts for teachers and ex-students, of course, under the guidance of the teachers. Both the teachers and the students enjoyed themselves very much on the days of the functions as these added spice to their routine lives.
I also used to look forward to the U.G.C sponsored seminars, workshops and Refresher courses held in different colleges and universities as they provided an outlet to the world outside and enabled us to keep ourselves abreast of the latest trends in the subject.
As days passed by, I started taking more interest in the day to day activities of the college and also started taking initiatives in organizing functions and improving the educational standard of my students.