By Paritosh Chakma
I completed my High School studies from Udalguri, a small picturesque town in Assam. Then it was an underdeveloped sub-division under Darrang district, but now it is the proud headquarters of Udalguri district under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District Council. It is believed that the name Udalguri derived from a tree “Odal”.
There were three English medium schools then: Ramswaroop Agarwalla Memorial English School, Sacred Heart and Diamond English School. I studied in the school with the longest name.
I was considered a bright student, which I don’t think I was. The teachers loved me because I toppled a seemingly invincible student (who used to always come first in the class since Class I) in the first Annual Examination I faced in the school. I believe the teachers were happy to see the change in the hierarchy within the classroom, and because they wanted some competitions to happen.
But except the school principle, none could actually understand why and how a student from Mizoram, where they believed people earned a lot for a comfortable living, had to come to study in a small town. Even my friends thought my parents were rich enough. That was because very few affluent families of Udalguri could send their children to study in Guwahati or other towns. But that was not the case in my case. My parents found the school in Udalguri because they could not afford my education in Aizawl or Shillong or Guwahati. Yet, I had no regrets. I was too happy to go to school, an opportunity which hundreds of children of my age in my community did not get. Because, either they were poorer than me or not as lucky as I was.
Prafulla Basumatary, the school principal, knew my problems and took great care of me. He was a gentle human being with a smiling face. He was my best teacher. He loved me, and I think he had a special corner in his heart for me. He even invited me for dinners or sometimes, I went uninvited and spent the nights at his house. Even his wife, a teacher herself in another school, was kind to me. I ate meal, watched TV and used their bathroom like I did in my own house, about 800 kms away in a tiny village in Mizoram.
Prafulla sir always encouraged us to study hard and excel in co-curricular activities. He encouraged us to subscribe to the Cub Club of the Sanctuary Asia magazine, made us read Tinkle comics and participate in quiz competitions. I used to write poems and many of them got regularly published in the Times Club, a children magazine that came with the North East Times every Saturday (if I remembered clearly). I was once the editor of the school’s wall magazine which I and my friends named it “The Dawn”. In Class X, I was selected the President of Students Association of the school. It was done by selection. I remember my class lady teacher proposed my name and none objected. I gave an emotional speech after my appointment. But I was never a great speaker.
I have several other indelible memories – both pleasant and unpleasant ones. Once I had to steal for the sake of education. That was the time when I had no money to buy notebooks to do sums. After playing football in the school ground, I saw some old notebooks stored in the store room. Those were attacked by fungi and the school book-stall had to reject them. So, I was tempted to conceal a few of them into my shirt behind and I brought them home. Those were small in size and the pages were lined. I cleaned them and one I used as rough copy and another one to do sums in the classroom. I used the other one to do my home-work. But our Maths teacher was not happy. He ordered me to do the homework in a good quality exercise book having no lines, and whose breath is longer than the length. I didn’t have money to buy them but I said “OK sir”. Next day, again he asked but did never understand my problem.
Prafulla sir, however did. Once in the winter he took me to the market and bought a sweater for me. As I tried the sweater on me, he exclaimed, “There you are; you are looking very smart now”. I shyly smiled back and he asked the shopkeeper to pack the sweater for me.
One of my best friends was Uttambir Basumatary, now a lecturer in a college. He liked quiz competitions very much, and cultural shows. Once in a Bodo cultural programme, he did not have friends to participate in a quiz competition on Bodo cinema and culture. He took me and another friend though we knew nothing about Bodo films, songs or singers. But he gave us some quick updates. We three enlisted our names before the panel. To everybody’s surprise our team won at last. In fact, I answered two of the questions on Bodo films.
Prafulla sir’s wife Ms Basumatary was a lovely lady. I was the only outstation student in the school at that time and received money from home by MO. My father used to send the MO to Prafulla sir’s home address. But that year one Manipuri boy also got admitted in the school hostel and his father happened to send an MO. When the postman came to deliver the MO, Ms Basumatary even did not look the recipient’s name to confirm. Thinking it was my money (Rs 3,000) he gave it to me. After one month or so, the angry father of the Manipuri boy filed a complaint. Then, the mistake was realized but by that time I had consumed up the money. But Prafulla sir never asked me to repay; he paid from his own pocked to the boy. I still owe him the money.
That was over a decade now. But I haven’t forgotten good hearted Prafulla sir. He is a real inspiration for me and shaped my philosophy of life to a large extent. I aspire to become an IAS officer one day and help the masses, particularly living in rural areas without the basic facilities. Then, I hope to pay back to my teacher Rs 3000. No, I won’t pay any interest to him. Neither will he ever ask for any.