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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

It bugs me, this

I grew up in a difficult family, and so I had a difficult childhood. Materially we were comfortable till I was in my mid-teens, when my father lost his cushy job with a public sector company, and we discovered he had never saved anything at all for a rainy day. The decade that followed gave me a taste of hardship and poverty first hand, and loneliness too – it went so deep that I have since then always had a profound contempt for people who have known such things only from books and movies, and a special respect for those who have fought their way through these things to a better life, be they day labourers or tycoons. Meanwhile, my academic career, after going excellently upto a fairly advanced stage, suffered a sudden big jolt: that is something I shall not discuss here; only let it be known that had things gone ‘normally’, I’d probably have been a senior World Bank official or an advisor to the Government of India today, as so many others, much less well endowed, have managed to become in my own time. Not that I am sad or envious that I didn’t – I know far too much about such positions and lives to find anything desirable or admirable about them, no real power, money or fame – just saying. My budding career in journalism, too, I quit early, because it paid very poorly in those days (I was desperate to fend for myself and find a little comfort and dignity in my life), and because I tired quickly of talking about what other people were doing and saying. My own life and work was not that unimportant; I had things to say of my own, and I wanted to work primarily for myself, and for the sake of people I personally cared for, and bring about little changes for the better that I could see with my own eyes.

Very few people, not excluding my parents, have ever done anything significantly good for me. The man I shall forever be most indebted to – after my grandfather and Sudhirda, that is to say – was Father Adrian Wavreil s.j., then headmaster of St. Xavier’s School Durgapur, who hired me as a teacher in June 1988. The rest, as they say, is history. I had taught privately ever since I was 17, and I now discovered that teaching was my calling and métier, and plunged into it with all the energy and enthusiasm I could muster. God gives us opportunities and challenges; what we do with them defines who we are. I began to flourish early in my job, as much in pecuniary terms as in terms of pride and self-satisfaction. That was back in the early ’nineties, and it has been up, up, up all the way, though in a quiet, plodding, unspectacular manner. I haven’t been seriously ill for more than 25 years now, and taken ‘medical leave’ for three days only once, God be thanked. I built a house with my father, married off my two sisters and got married myself, had a daughter and brought her up happily. I helped my wife and father in law through major medical crises. I got my own two-wheeler bought with my own money only at age 26 (a few years before that even buying a bicycle would have meant several months of hard saving), and went on to a second-hand car first, then a new one. We began travelling often, and comfortably every year (juxtapose this with the fact that I first ever travelled air-conditioned class by train with my own money only when I went on my honeymoon!). I bought my wife a house of her own, and have decked it up comfortably to her satisfaction. I am nearly done setting up a fund that will take care of my daughter’s college education. If I live more simply than I could afford today, that is only because I deeply regard it as a good virtue, nothing else. Much of this has been done in a ‘jobless’ state, too, and I shall go on insisting that almost the entire urban Bengali middle class – that small part of it which reads me and meets me, that is – will do well to keep it in mind that that alone, besides a lot else, puts me poles apart from them, because they cannot imagine existing without ‘secure’ salaried jobs, all talk of self-worth and self-respect be damned when it comes to the crunch. All this done, too, without demeaning myself before anybody, without ever asking for a favour, without ever offering or taking a bribe, without ever stabbing someone else in the back for my petty immediate advantage. And now, if I can work just ten more years as I have been working all this time, I can retire comfortably…much of my life is done.

All this has kept me more than moderately ‘busy’, as most people understand busy-ness in this country. Now what I want to underscore is the fact that I still have always ‘had time’ for far more. From reading widely on every subject under the sun to writing almost as much (and never utter trivia), from watching thousands of movies to giving my daughter and wife the time of their lives, from doing the meanest household chores to charity to counselling old boys and girls on a more involved and intimate footing than most professional counsellors can dream of, from walking and swimming and pranayaam to helping out people with their doctoral theses. Yes, it has made me well-known to a lot of people, some of whom regard me with awe, some with disbelief, some with exasperation, some with the meanest jealousy. Yes, it has somehow never won me the kind of fame and wealth that could have allowed me to do all that on a much wider scale, for other people’s benefit more than my own: that I ascribe to karma and  nothing else. Yes, it has caused me much frustration and bitterness, seeing how little people remember with affection and gratitude once they have got what they wanted from me. And no, I am not sorry about the way I have lived, because it has helped me know myself as well as a lot of others most uncommonly well – indeed, as I often tell people both young and old, ‘I know you better than you know yourself, as you will perhaps realize someday…get back to me when you do, and then maybe we can spend more meaningful time together’.

What upsets me today, then? Well, to put it in short, the fact that I still haven’t been able to ‘cure’ myself of a certain weakness that people continue to take advantage of. As my wife diagnosed a long time ago, I tend to let people get very close to me – people who are lonely and confused and tired and sad, and show a need for my company and counsel – and sooner or later, they invariably start abusing the privilege, either because they never valued it enough, or because their ‘need’ has been served, or they are by nature too flighty to value a serious relationship, or too scared to get closer beyond a point, or whatever. And then it leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth: why on earth did I give so much of my time and attention and affection to this undeserver? This is a strange thing about my life: I have never really needed anybody to live my life my way, in the sense that I can live pretty well physically as much as mentally all on my own (I said earlier I owe very few things to anybody but God), yet I tend to get involved very intensely when I do, and I expect the same kind of sincerity and intensity in return, and I am disappointed, often very painfully, again and again. Yet I still have trouble accepting that human beings are essentially shallow, and I must not expect much from them. Maybe that is the last step of wisdom I still have to climb… to really accept that everyone counts upto a point, but nobody really matters. After all, somebody is going to burn my remains anyway, for their welfare, not mine – a rotting carcass is a threat to public health. So why should I care?

What rankles even more is that many of the same people can somehow find time to gush over celebrities, even write glowing tributes about them if they are literate, notwithstanding the fact that those celebs never really touched their lives in any meaningful way. I remember the raucous public mourning by drunken lumpens when Satyajit Ray passed away, I recall a female pupil mourning theatrically when Shah Rukh Khan as Devdas died in the movie which provoked her dad to wonder aloud whether she’d cry as much when he died. Now it’s happening all over again with Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy and Rituparno Ghosh’s death – nothwithstanding the fact that the latter’s biggest claim to fame was his penchant for cross-dressing and some in-your-face verbal mannerisms, who probably killed himself early through a lot of unnecessary medication and surgery (face it: where would Stephen Hawking be without his blessed motor neuron disease?), and he was, in his own words, not to be counted among the world’s five hundred greatest directors, so the less I said about that the better. It is a teacher’s fate rarely to be acknowledged publicly with that kind of respect, affection, gratitude and sadness at parting, I suppose. No matter how extraordinary an impact s/he made on real lives. And maybe that’s the crucial point: a teacher belongs too much to the real world, whereas tycoons and popstars and movie personalities are like the djinns and fairies and princes of old – about those we can gush to our hearts’ content, but how can we emote like that about real people, especially while they are still alive? What will people say? It would be sooooo embarrassing! Maybe I’ll have to die and come back to read the obits. And what makes it all the more painful is the fact that a tiny handful do write and talk in worshipful tones, to the extent that I have to tell them every now and then to pitch it down a bit! Their existence, by contrast, underlines the truth that real love, love which is not afraid but proud to make itself known, is so rare in this world, though so many pretend…see, once more, the post titled 'A girl who admired her teacher' along with all the comments: it is there on my most-read list.

So maybe I’d become a happier man if I really told the whole world, at fifty, ‘Pay me if you want to talk to me’? Or would I? And would that make me a better man to know? Could I have been of so much ‘use’ to so many people if I had become that way in my mid-twenties? If I really did cut off my email connection and took on a new phone number that only my wife and daughter and doctor would know and put a gatekeeper at the door to stop people I don’t want to see from coming in, would that be a nicer thing for everybody who feels it is important to keep in touch with me, yet would never do a few things that make me happy?

P.S. June 06: Well, we all live in a democratic world, a world of free personal choice. Only, as I never tire of telling people, that, without being balanced by other conditions, cannot make for warm, happy relationships. Your choice to play footsie with me, my choice to ignore you - that's democracy. Even my wife was telling me this morning that she hates it when I stop talking to her. Only, like just about everybody else, she can't remember for long that there are conditions: I am not a robot you can press to amuse you at your convenience. You need to give me things, too...


Unknown said...

It is no wonder that most of the people,who haven't developed any sort of taste for cinemas will be mourning for Rituporno Ghosh. Afterall shedding tears and paying homage to him in front of the cameras at Nandan would make them happy for the fact that they would be able to see their own faces in the television during the evening in the various news channels.I bet that more than half of the people who literally rushed their way through Nandan to pay a last visit to their "BELOVED" film director hardly know the names of the films that he had directed.I remember once you had told us in our class that people who actually make a difference through their work go unnoticed most of the time.How many of us actually know the names of scientists who invented anesthetic medicines,and such other drugs which have made surgery much less painful in the contemporary period? yet people are contended and happy with the item songs that are displayed today. This brings onto my mind another thing that you had mentioned-"When professor Amartya Sen had received the Nobel prize,many drunk street loafers celebrated the fact that the foreigners have acknowledged a Bengalee for some or the other reason,without even knowing a bit about his works. It is no wonder that masterminds of a country-the politicians treat countrymen as herd of cattle,because that is actually what they are.

yours faithfully
Soumallya Chattopadhyay

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for responding so soon, Soumallya. Hadn't heard from you in a long time.

The word should be 'contented', not contended, and 'cinema', not cinemas: I do expect my old boys to take a little more loving care of the English language! Also, not Ritu-porno!

My grudge is not so much against Rituparno Ghosh as such - never considered him a very significant figure in any sense anyway - but the fact that, as you rightly say, people who have made far greater contributions go unrecognized simply because their work is so hard to understand or so 'uncool'. Also, this 'tela mathay tel dewa' disease - we get so excited about joining the chorus of homage paying merely because everyone is doing it, it is so currently fashionable yet safe! And finally, something very personal: we teachers work at something incredibly difficult, and unlike so many 'cool' people, we get so little thanks for it. That hurts. I know even better than before why so few people with brains as well as consciences want to become teachers. I mean, even John Abraham would be mourned far more loudly by far more people than I would....'he showed us like nobody before that one can be proud and manly and adorable by posing in one's underwear'. Which teacher can possibly match up with that sort of 'greatness'?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Two hundred visits in a day. Good, at least, that people are getting to know what makes me deeply angry, or deeply sad. Have just been ticking off an old boy on the phone, telling him I have had enough of wishy washy declarations of love and admiration and fealty in private. And heard a damn sight too much of the same litany of excuses why they can't go public... too busy, poor net connection, hadn't visited your blog for a long time, crisis at home, can't think of what to say, find it very embarrassing, and so on and so forth. It's so cheap, I told him too: going public means committing yourself to words you have said, things said in private can be denied and forgotten any time, at one's own sweet will. I also told him that if one out of every ten ex students who had gushed so much once upon a time about how much they love and admire and respect me had gone public with it, I would have been a famous man now. And if folks cannot figure out why that should rankle at the fag end of my working life, they have only their peanut sized brains and non-existent consciences to blame for it...

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,
I realized my mistake during the first minute of my phone call to you.I had missed the most important point of your essay and I am deeply ashamed of it.

Sir,I didn't mind your scolding at all. You're of my father's age and since I've known you for over five years, I've developed more of a fatherly feeling for you- out of sheer love,respect and admiration.

In fact-it is the first time that you've scolded me- and I liked it. The conversation between you and me prompted me to write this letter. So, I started writing as soon as the phone call ended. In this letter I'll try to convey my feelings and thoughts in the most loving manner possible.

The first paragraph of your essay has a bit similarity with my father's life. My grandfather died when my father was in college. He too taught his juniors in order to pay his college fees. In my life so far, I have never seen him flaunting and he has always taught me to lead a humble life and be happy with just-the-sufficient according to one's needs.

In fact, Sir, I love you because you have a few similarities with my father- those similarities which I love the most. Moreover some thoughts of yours match with mine. When I first attended your class-I was amazed by your speech, your enthusiasm, your dedication, your love for students- the more days went by, the more I was attracted to you.

Sir, you developed self confidence in me which helped me a lot in the forthcoming years. Today I thank you for all that and I think this letter might be a kind of 'gurudakshina' for you.

Sir, whenever I read such posts on your blog- I really feel sad for you, but I never even manage to write a comment acknowledging that. Sir, please forgive me for my actions. But today I endeavored to describe my feelings for you publicly over the internet.

I have faced similar circumstances as yours but on a much smaller scale. I also tend to allow my friends get very close to me while I share my happy and sad moments with them. But what hurts me later is that they forget me as soon as their immediate need is fulfilled or they find someone or something "more interesting" to spend their time with.

Sir, I just get amazed by the fact even after so many disappointments with your ex-students, you still love and care for the existing lot.
That provokes me to value our relationship more carefully than ever because Sir- I don't want to lose you in my life.

Sir, I really apologize from my heart for being so foolish to call you and discuss the matter, while your main point throughout the essay had been NOT TO DO THAT.

When you scolded me over the phone- I realized what made you so angry and sad- the feeling that I'm a part of it saddened me terribly.So I decided to jot down my feelings and present them to you. My mind was filled with guilt and right now I'm much relieved on having them written down. You were true Sir, writing provokes a feeling of pleasure and joy in one's mind. I'm feeling much better now , Sir, and again I'm sorry for being such a daft fellow.

I want to thank you for scolding me today and for being my friend, guide and philosopher during my high and low times;for being such a patient listener to my sorrows and a constant companion to a lower mortal despite his failings.

Sir, I wrote this letter from the deepest corner of my heart- in order to value the relationship between us. I love you Sir and I don't want ever to lose you.

yours lovingly,
Soham Mukhopadhyay

P.S: I know my writing hasn't been that good(one of my failings).Sir, please forgive me for that. I would be more than happy if you understand me and pardon me for my fault.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

It is indeed unfortunate that very few people realise the value of human relationships until those relationships are tested. In last few years, I have realised that through my personal experience.

I am privileged to know you Suvroda and I wish you, Boudi and Pupu well – always. In more than one ways, you have been an influence in my life. Yes, you will always be.

I was surprised by the outpour of emotions on the internet following Mr. Ghosh’s death. With due respect to the deceased, the crocodile tears were disturbing to say the least. This has always been the trend world over but more so in India. People just have ample time for these things. Some reactions on facebook were hilarious.

Some people can go to significant extremes too. I remember my father once publicly scolding a grown-up man, who was boasting how one of his relatives tried to grab Tagore’s beard at the time of Tagore’s funeral procession.

Unfortunately these are our fellow citizens.

Kind regards

Sayan Datta said...

I think that's just it, Sir : you are much too real, belong too much in the real world. A strange thing we humans are - We refuse to acknowledge a great man when he is in our midst, even though he might have changed our lives for the better significantly and tangibly, even fight him sometimes, refuse to listen to him because that is so much easier than working on oneself, and even try to bring him down to our level; or in the other extreme worship him as a God! And when the man is no longer around, we ache for his company; or if we hadn't ever met the man in person, only read him or about him or heard of him, we start building fantastical stories of all sorts in our minds! - even that is so much easier than to keep pace with the 'real' man in flesh and blood! I know though that had you demanded even a tenth of the sort of emotional intensity you pour into a relationship from us, the majority of us would have never known you!

Balance! Balance, is the motto - I will have to keep reminding myself every now and then. That and the urge to work on myself and change as much as possible for the better is the way to get along with you and also the way ahead for us.

Thank you Sir,

With love,


Sayan Roy said...

I know something about the privileges of being your ex-student,one of which is the warmth of reception you always provide us whenever we visit you at your house.But I agree that,abusing it in any manner,big or small,is akin to disturbing you.There was this small incident once when I had called you and told you that I would come to your house at some time in the evening on that day,for some reason.But I did not come and also did not call you to inform the same.I suddenly came knocking the next day,without any information and tried to drag you in to chat with me even after you told me that you were busy with your work at that point of time.I made up some flimsy excuses about not informing you and unsuccessfully made some irrelevant comments to strike up a conversation with you.You promptly told me to get out immediately and not to disturb you any more.I was initially shocked in disbelief and could never think that you could have said something like that so angrily.Well,about four years have passed since then and I am still in touch with you and visit you ,without any malice.
What I want to say is that,you made me aware of the fact that everyone is entitled to his or her own private space and some amount of gratitude is expected from a student like me- not to abuse that,even if someone is closer to me than other teachers and jovial to me,or that,helping me in some way does not mean that he or she should be taken for granted. You often said that while teaching younger students,you noticed many distasteful traits in some of them and you used to joke that many of these students are going to be 'responsible' fathers or mothers within a decade or so,forget about you and then later,when the time is ripe,their children might flock to you for tuitions and then you would be able to identify them by the similarly disturbing traits in their children too.Sadly,that is the bitter truth.When parents are teaching their children that it is a mark of a "smart" person to stab others in the back and only to cling on to others(friends and teachers alike) during personal gains,then who are to be blamed squarely?
I admit that I am not exactly what is meant by the sociable type and as you sometimes nudge me,a little laid-back in certain matters. But also,I am one of those “people who are lonely and confused and tired and sad, and show a need for my[your] company and counsel” and I would not trade off this relationship for something petty or trivial.
---------- Sayan Roy.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Soham, Tanmoy, both Sayans, I cannot tell you how thankful I am. Especially because I compulsively compare with all the ingrate rascals of both sexes who are reading this (more than 300 visits already) and cannot find it in themselves to get back the way you have, and yet I know whenever they need me, for whatever petty selfish immediate reason, they will turn up at my door, assuring me how their love is deep and true.

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

I agree with all that you have said, and especially with your observations in the penultimate paragraph (discounting the post-script): this 'celebrity culture' is indeed deplorable. It's not only the deaths of the celebrities which lead to such outpouring of 'grief', either: even when Shah Rukh Khan undergoes a minor surgery on his shoulders, there are tearful 'prayers' for his recovery, and when David Beckham recently retired from professional soccer, a lot of people behaved as though they have lost a parent or a sibling. Actually, that's a wrong comparison, because even parents and siblings don't seem to matter much to people these days--I remember you telling me about that girl who expressed a wish to go on a shopping spree a mere four months after she lost almost her entire family in an accident. I am entirely in agreement with you that it is because teachers are so deeply a part of our daily lives that we tend to take them, their help, their goodness and their guidance for granted. It's regrettable. I am reminded here of Tarashankar Bandopadhyay's short story 'Madhu-master' and even the story on the Panditmoshai in Syed Mujtaba Ali's 'Chacha Kahini'. Men like these are far more valuable and important for the society than most celebrities can ever hope to become. I wonder if people shall ever realize that. For my part, I shall always vouch that you are the kindest and most august mentor I could have ever hoped for. I still remember how you jokingly asked me, "Tui ki khub kheye deye eli naki?" when I turned up late for your class the very first day, and I remember how meticulously you taught each and every text, how you livened it all up through myriad means, how you introduced me to some of the most essential works of literature, how we went on bicycle rides, and of course, the many talks and discussions--each enriching in its own way--we have had since I ceased to be an official student of yours. Those who can't value these experiences can only be pitied. You ARE a valuable contributor to the betterment of the world, whether or not some people acknowledge the same.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

When I need a book for some examination and it is not available in the market, I know the only person who can help me out is you. I need a secure net connection for some important purpose and I don’t have internet at home, you instantly say that your personal computer is at my disposal which I can use anytime I need. I am in financial crisis and you are there to solve it. Things are not going smoothly and I am feeling low…I know that I will be revitalized the moment I talk with Suvro Sir. From many petty matters to serious issues, from financial problems to moral dilemmas- you are always there to assist me. I can never thank you enough for what you have done and still doing for me. I only hope that I never take you for granted and pray that God will allay your pains and bring a little more sunshine into your life because I know that this sunshine will be reflected with far greater intensity and touch some more souls on a much grander scale.

With regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Debopriya Bose, who was my pupil in the late '90s, has written the following comment on this post. I am putting it up on her behalf, since she said she couldn't send it from her office.

"Hello Sir,

I started reading your blog about a year back but have been a more frequent (yet a passive) visitor over the last couple of months.
I wanted to reply to a couple of your earlier posts but never did. However, your post ‘It bugs me, this’ compelled me to try to reach out to you without procrastinating any more. (I read your post on my android on my way to work. I am at work and hence this reply will be short. However, I do hope to communicate more frequently to you in future).

I have been fortunate enough to have met not just one (you) but another teacher in M.Sc. who went beyond translating words in text books and helping students to relate and learn from the lessons in textbooks. It is fortunate for people like us who get an opportunity to meet teachers who in today’s world, look beyond helping their students score a 1 point in their subject but work on their overall personality development, teachers who do not judge students merely by how many marks they scored in their paper, teachers who realize that their students are vulnerable and feel compelled to help them with their advice and despite all the hurt keep doing that. Mankind is so prone to be tempted to value only near term gains. Hence, it is not surprising to meet people who promptly forget you once they have got the piece of advice that they needed from you for the moment. It is a malady of the race which is to stay till the last of the species breathes its last breath. But Sir, it is people like you that God has planted amidst the confused lot that are there to guide the herd. Whether one wants to make the most of the opportunity of having guides like you, it is absolutely one’s own choice or should I say depends on one’s own capability to recognize the opportunity that one has been given! However, Sir there are definitely a lot that you have made a positive impact on – some communicate it, some do not and I guess some haven’t yet realized. What I am trying to say is that you have touched so many lives in a positive way – more than you know or you would never know or as I said earlier, more than many of us still have realized.

From helping me realize my love for English to giving me the confidence to believe in myself (for while I was growing up I did realize that I would not agree to most of what people around me said and that made me wonder if what I was thinking was correct or not) to opening your doors to the occasional evening addas at your home….there have been so many things about you that makes me thankful that I met you.
So please Sir don’t lose heart. Amongst all those that promptly dismiss you, there are so many that really value you as a person. There are quite a lot that do communicate with you through your posts and believe me there are more still who are not in touch with you but treasure your impact on them.

Rest later….but THANK YOU Sir and to GOD for whatever you did for me. I turned out pretty good, though not a typical demure Indian girl."

nkr said...

Dear Sir,

I have never attended your private totoring sessions, but you definitely were my teacher for one subject at school. That experience I loved. But I have known you much more from your blog. And that is something I deeply cherish. Now, in some movies I have seen the following concept : "If you run into some problem in life, open a random page of the Koran and look for answers. You should find it". Something along those lines has been true for me with respect to your blog. I have used your blog to find answers in times when there have been doubts in my mind.

I can only imagine how blessed are the boys and girls who study several years under your tutelage. To have a teacher who shows by living example and by inspiring words what it is to be a broad minded thinker is a rare privilege. Those who do not realize this, surely do this later in life, provided they are observant enough and learn to deal with their ego problems.

May you have the strength to continue doing what you love to do and may you have the strength to tolerate the bruises given by ingrates and those whom you allowed to come closer to help them but who have hurt you.


Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,

I had realised only a few days back that before the age of sixteen, I hardly knew anything significant about life and its many pleasures and pains. I simply sleep-walked through life although I had many ‘academic awards’ by then. Then I met Sayan and a year later, I began interacting with you. I was a no-one to you then. I was neither your ex-student nor did you know my parents. You knew absolutely nothing about me except that I was a confused, sad, young stranger on the internet who desperately needed someone who would trust her and guide her. My grades were terrible then. My confidence level was very low. I was also trying to cope with an emotional turmoil in a personal relationship. I had written a comment on your blog one night and posted it. Early the next morning, I received a reply from you, encouraging me, assuring me and welcoming me to your blog and you world. You had also given me your email i.d. in case I wanted to write to you personally. It has been more than four years since and your love, your help, your kindness, your involvement, your care and your concern has only increased.

I have learnt a few things in life and from life since then and have formed a few opinions and read a few good books and thought a lot. It is only because of your guidance and Sayan’s support that it has been possible. If I am a better person, a better instructor and a better family woman, it is only because of your presence in my life. You have always lovingly said –“Not too busy for you” whenever I have needed to talk to you. You have always been appreciative and warm and have stood by me in my troubles.

I know you demand certain minimum things in a relationship: sincerity, punctuality, honesty, consistency and a genuine eagerness to know you and care for you. And I also know that it is impossible to maintain any relationship with you without a certain minimum strength of character. To be with you means to constantly acknowledge our faults and honestly attempt to rectify them. All that is difficult, I agree, but there is nothing more meaningful and valuable in life. When we complain that you ask too much of us, we forget that everything that you ask us to do is for our own good. You would never ask your loved ones to do anything that will harm them in the long term. You were born a teacher and a father. Always correcting and always worrying- you cannot help it. What selfish interest can you have in motivating your old boy and his wife to read more, think more and work more? Meeting you last week has shook me violently from my stupor. It is the test of my courage now. Do I want to walk on the path to long-term happiness or do I want to continue living a mediocre, insignificant life.

You have shown us what love is and how it has many forms. One doesn’t love only when he is talking lovingly. He loves even more when he scolds for the right reasons because he does it even as he suffers pain and fear. Your love enlightens the soul and persuades us to reach for higher and more significant things in life. I hope and pray that all your loved ones understand your love in a clearer manner and acknowledge it if only for the good of their own souls.

Sir, I am privileged to know you and am ever grateful for all that you have given me, that which you ask in return is a very tiny fraction of it. I wouldn’t want to lose you at any cost.

Love and regards

Sumitha said...

Dear Sir,

I haven't known you, except for a chance encounter in 1997 (this happened soon after my ICSE results were out; I had gone to your house with a friend who was your student, and she wanted to let you know her results. I tagged along, and I have a faint recollection of seeing your baby daughter and wife as well), and through this blog. However, growing up, I had heard a lot about you. Most of it was in the form of rave reviews from students who admired you, and I am sure even if they don't come back and acknowledge it, they ascribe an iota of their success and/or their worth in life to your tutelage.

You are famous, Sir; there is no doubt about that. All these people who speak ill about you behind your back, are living proof that you are not just another human being living just another ordinary life. Mediocrity doesn't attract such attention in the intellectual/academic circles!

Wish you everything that you wish for Sir; may you get your wishes granted manifold times!

Sumitha Rachel Kurien

Shilpi said...

You’ve shared fast-paced snapshots from your life with your readers. I’ve been thinking, brooding and even smiling, feeling quiet with some insistent and deep questions which keep me pre-occupied - while looking at what you’ve been doing and from different povs.

Through the years I can see better of what you mean about people gushing in private, coming to you for the immediate needs, never daring to express what you mean for them, why they value you and find you incommensurable or even that they love and respect you and can’t do without you; nor would I have known about the handful who do value you. I got to see the place of teachers within a society and more of what used to perplex me, academically, intellectually and personally. I’d not have known it as much as I have if it hadn’t been for the last couple of years and through the hours and hours of conversations in which you have engaged in with me.

It really is easier for people to openly gush about celebrities. They’ve already been labeled as famous by others. It’s also easy enough for groups of people to be concerned, excited and sympathize about very visible, noble and necessary social movements and their leaders: nothing wrong with this but I can’t help thinking and feeling that all those who silently admire you would have not been so silent had you been famous.
I won’t express all my own connected thoughts on the matter.

From a personal pov: Across nine months, when I first came to Purdue, I wrote to you about everything that I saw, felt, did and thought; about what bothered and bugged me and you wrote back long letters addressing the personal and also about Marx, Weber, Durkheim; socialism and capitalism; sciences and the humanities, socio-economics, psychology, the environment; religion, philosophy, and humour; detachment, balance and love…When I ventilated about coursework and shed tears over statistics, you wrote back telling me about books which I could look up. You sent me your essays on the Buddha, women, India, civilization… your stories and you got me interested in poetry again. You also made me laugh. For the first time in my life I knew how utterly lonely I’d been before that. I used to think sometimes like a kid that there was no reason for you not to listen to me and not to write to me although I could never quite figure out how you found the time. I know that my real education and what is worthwhile happened with you and from 10,000 miles away and through letters/conversations with you. And that was a long time ago.
And even before that, one day when you didn’t have to come and meet a raggedy, very sick and abandoned youth who had never opened her mouth to speak to you through 10 years – you came over to listen and talk with me because I needed you and had yelled out for you to come (and you had exams the following day). I cherish that you came to see me and it was the first ever meaningful conversation I had in my life with another human being. I owe you for who I am today. When I write and speak about anything that makes for human comprehensibility, when I read what matters, when I think with clarity and calmness, when I feel with the sensitivity that a human being is capable of, when I walk and sometimes laugh and when I breathe and know I am who I am…for you, with all your attributes, have got me to become more and more human through very many long years and through your ways. Yes, some are quite inscrutable. I don’t always know what you want me to do and I may grumble or glare but I’ve learnt not to take my grumblings seriously. The best experience is getting to know you.

So much for now.

P.S: I’ll comment too for your previous poem and poetic post sometime soon but I think the oddity of that one (and it’s also bizarre) hit me more than the beauty on first reading. In terms of oddity it probably only compares to your picture post.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Shilpi, you are too old to gush. But yes, thanks: I do believe, after so many years of what I have tried to be to so many people, I do deserve a bit of that...

Debarshi_Saha said...

Many people have read snippets about 'celebrities', some have assimilated a great deal of knowledge about truly great men who taught us about the incomprehensible mystery called Life- and some lucky individuals have met men who practise what they preach. Sir has never quite been the 'preachy' teacher- he prefers committed actions with the best of intentions over words any day. That is the greatest reason why Sir has influenced my life, and continues to do so every single day- I can relate to him, try to think like him, pose questions to myself like 'How might Sir have approached this situation? Would he prefer that I act like him, or even try to- or would he want me to find my own path?' and finally conclude that he has always advised me to be guided by the best of principles, and yet find my own unique path to tread on lightly. Every act of his is 'Zen' in spirit, and rooted in reality. In a world that's buffeted by chaos, where gaudy neon lights force one to shy away and cower behind assumed personalities- comes along an individual like Sir, who says that- 'To rise above one's bestial nature is the only true victory, as the texts say- and to remain true to that nature is the only true expression of oneself.' This individual is worth following, worth loving, and definitely worth caring for. If you love a rose, any being of beauty- you treasure it, you nurture it, you care for it. One isn't afraid to proclaim to the world that one loves a being of beauty- at the end, when all is 'from ashes to ashes...from dust to dust', then one's memories of this being of beauty is the only thing that matters. A man who teaches us to live every moment while we die away slowly as the clock ticks- is not propounding an oxymoron. He is one who is asking us to be awake to our reality, to return to what we all were. It is this mindfulness to all the chaotic and buzzing activity of Life, that is Sir's greatest gifted treasure to me. I thank him every day for that.

With love and best wishes,

Unknown said...

Dear Sir,

When I and many other friends of mine then met you for the first time on a June morning in 1997, we didn't know what we were in for. At the end of that academic year you had us convinced that there was a life beyond the quarters of ASP and DSP.

You told us that it was not wrong to philosophise, write poetry and most of all think. You guided us through a time when it is easy to lose ones way.

After all these years, I am not in touch with most of those 'friends' I shared the class with from 1997 to 1999. And, after all these years you are more of family and friend to us.

I do not belittle you by saying thanks, but for want of a better word, thanks, nonetheless.

With regards,


Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Dear Sir,

You have rightly pointed out in some places that a teacher's job is 'un-cool' and there is a perception in society that the people of this trade have 'not much work' as such.

A teacher's job contributes to human resource development at the grass roots, a fact that our society has neither the brains to realise nor the willingness to listen to someone asserting so.

So the greatest gift for a teacher is the love, respect and acknowledgement of his students. And I know how valuable and important that is. In my classes, I pay respect to you very frequently by talking about a great teacher that I have in my home town and the standards that he stands for. It is an honour for me everytime I talk about you Sir to someone. It has always been an honour.

Yours Sincerely,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

If there was anything like real memory and gratitude and affection and respect in this world, there should have been several hundred comments like the above here by now. And I still have to silently tolerate young people gushing 'Sir, don't be so cynical... we'll be different, you will see'. Famous last words.

Suhel Banerjee said...

Hello Suvro Da,

Came across your blog from Nivedita's post on you. Have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but have heard stories that border on folklore from numerous friends and cousins. Co-incidentally I also completed my high school from Durgapur and had many classmates who were in awe of you. Funnily enough, and perhaps unbeknownst to you even now you come up every now and then in their conversations and you should see the impact you've had on them. To see that kind of hero worship for a real person, just like us, but far more gifted, is incredible. Most of us would give up whatever little we'll achieve in our lives to get the kind of adulation, respect and love you get from your students.

Will be coming back to the blog for more.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Debarshi, Aakash, Subhanjan and Suhel, many thanks.

Suhel, did you read my post carefully? Far from gloating over the kind of adulation I have received, I never stop wondering why there is so little gratitude and lasting affection and respect in this world, and why, even where there is some, people want to keep that a closely-guarded secret, while being very free with wanton invective, disparagement and abuse. And I don't know how old you are, nor whether you ever were on 'Suvroda' terms with me, but I'd much rather you used 'Sir', if that's alright with you. With Suvroda I have some very unpleasant memories, and in any case I told my pupils not to use the term in case they left secondary school after around 1995... but you are warmly welcome otherwise to read and comment on my blog, of course.

With Nivedita's blogpost, I am going to deal separately as it deserves.

aranibanerjee said...

To know that knowledge is power, the power to think and dismiss what Bacon would call 'the tribes of the mind' is something that I owe wholly to you. To know that economics had a public purpose, that man was a naked ape, that political ideals could be pragmatic and non-violent and yet not based on greed and imperialism, to fight the clutter of thought that affected minds cloud you with in the universities, is learnt from you.
To 'think'and to think on your own, bravely and reach conclusions that may not agree with most including the fashionably subversive (read the leftist, feminist and subaltern-ist) is something that I honed under you.
I remember coming to you in dire need before leaving for Delhi and you realised that I didn't have the money to buy a Volvo ticket. You paid for me. It's not the paying bit but that someone so completely unrelated to could love with such tender care was so endearing, so reassuring. We have spent so many hours of thoughtful conversation together that I know unlike most that there is such tenderness in you. Your voice, your sarcasm and wit, your scathing critique of the moronic belies this tenderness. But, this is what is hurt the most making you inaccessible, incorrigible. And, that is our fault. Many apologies.


Diptokirti said...

those who are ungrateful will never really understand who you are and what you mean to some people. It has been five and a half years since that first class. A lot has changed since then, my understanding of life, my perception of truth, my understanding of love and relationships. I live in a different city now, attending classes, learning new things, I am studying what I really love, and to tell the truth none of this would have happened if you had not steered me in the right direction, I would have been the same rebel-without-a-cause, an angsty teenager who does not know how to channel his energy into anything useful. You stood for the world outside that well most of us were stuck in with nothing but a very vague desire to escape. You were a rebel, the first one to tell us that watching an interesting film was time well spent, you introduced me to Omar Khayyam and T. S. Elliot, I still remember you in class striding about in those long measured steps, reciting from memory, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...". It is sad that people do not really want to be free, they would much rather sit at home, cloistered inside the prejudices that society and families create, and so they pass by some of the most interesting people in the world without batting an eyelid, they are not used to classes being as wonderful as yours, they would rather just have notes dictated to them (as you had threatened to do many a times with that particularly unruly batch that was ours) and sit through a class without thinking about one original or worthwhile thing.
Although I am studying English Literature in a prestigious University, I cannot find any other teacher who is as charismatic or knowledgeable as you, the truth is I have stopped searching for another person as wonderful and have accepted the fact that there can never be another you, getting to know one Suvro Chatterjee (although I do not believe in luck or fate) is a great fortune many do not understand how great a loss it is to themselves, but that really is because they are fools, and I do not think you should bother about these people as well, because fools can only gauge prices, not values. Living the way you have done, you have changed the lives of quite a few people and I think that in itself is a cultural revolution of sorts :D.

P.S.- on a completely unrelated note, i was listening to this song, thought you might like it

Yours Lovingly

ananya mukherjee said...

Dear Sir,
Sir I am really sorry that I did not comment on this post earlier.I am indeed blessed for having got you as my teacher.You are the single most teacher from whom I have really learnt some(or trying to learn)very important things about life.You have introduced me to some important literary creations, you have provoked me to think, discipline myself but not become an automaton in the process and have some real interests in life like reading,writing, watching good movies, utilize my time fruitfully by engaging myself in various activities without which I am sure to become a victim of depression.Well, the list could go on and on but what never fails to amaze me is your extraordinary ability to speak regarding any subject under the sun and instill all that information into our minds without seeming to lecture us.Even when you scold us you try to make us aware of our real interests ans ambitions which shows that you never abuse your pupils out of sheer frustration or hatred.Now I know that you scold me for the good of my own soul and therefore all I need to do is acknowledge my faults and courageously face the challenges you place before me Sir.I know that is difficult but I will never give up because I have lately come to realize that that is absolutely necessary if I want to attain peace with myself and lead a good life. In fact now I feel that I am always subconsciously guided by you in every situation. I try to think what would you have done in a particular situation and therefore your name inexplicably comes out in everything I do.And now I can say that I have become a much better human being or at least a happier human being than I was two years ago.I had written a composition titled 'Sir's influence on my life' when you had said,"Like me, respect me, always remember what I have said and never get afraid to face difficulties because courage conquers all". I will never forget these words Sir.Sometimes I feel that all your classes tried to make us aware of this world and until then I was merely sleepwalking through life.I cannot distinguish one class from another and it seems that the classes are the simultaneous acts of a play that ultimately coalesce to make me aware of the most important aspects of life.I have often engaged in desultory conversation while chatting with you Sir (I am really sorry for that)but you have always said(compassionately),"I am not angry with you I just want you to think all that I have said and then we will chat again". I have realized that growing up becomes a fun when there is a friend, philosopher and guide to show you the right path. You love and care for your students despite their shortcommings and I really can't afford to lose you Sir.
I will read Nivedita di's blogpost and comment too if possible.
lots of love

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Arani, we are long past the need for such apologies, you and I, aren't we? Though I'd be lying if I say it doesn't sound heartwarming every time...

Diptokirti, you are much younger, but you are following in the same footsteps, doing BA English at JU. I'd thought I had lost you already, so I am glad to see your comment. I hope you will keep in touch, and the bond will grow stronger, as it has with the likes of Arani, Aakash, and the rest of my most favourite old boys.

Ananya, thank you. One thing I'd like to ask of you, if you do comment on Nivedita's blog: assure her I keep trying as hard with my present-day students as I did in her time, more than a decade ago, and if they are unaffected and fall out of touch, it's not because of something lacking in me. They say teachers get more crabby and selfish and uncaring with age... in that sense, too, I'd like to be recognized as different from the common crowd.

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,
You have already told me that the number of comments on this post should have been a few hundred, but please allow me to say that nevertheless, all the comments that have come in here and in Niveditadi's blog and over and above her post on you make for a wonderful and joyous reading. Some recollections have the power of moving the sensitive one to tears.

For a person who has never had the opportunity of attending your classes, your students’ accounts help me form a motion picture of your classes in my mind. I also feel very bad that unlike on the phone, I still mumble a lot and gape at you stupidly when I meet you in person instead of talking freely and waste a lot of precious time in the process although you have always tried to make me comfortable whenever Sayan and I have visited you. I just pray that next time I meet you, I will be able to get over it.

Aranida’s comment on the tenderness in you and your tender care has struck a chord in my heart. For I have some idea of how rare it is, how precious it is and how much it means to Sayan and me. All the wealth and luxury and fame of the world cannot compensate for it. And if a person has never experienced anything like it in his lifetime, he is indeed both extremely unlucky and poor.

All this makes me wonder again, how is it that you care for so many people, so intensely, remembering that for every person who has commented here, there may be a hundred who haven’t? I think I understand a little better now what you meant when you quoted Shakespeare in your post ‘Missing you, my heart’.

May you have God’s grace always and may more and more loved ones warm your heart with their lovely recollections. May God compensate your sadness with the gratitude, care and love of your favourite old boys and girls.

With love,

Sayan Datta said...

I write this as a continuation of Rashmi's comment - We were talking only yesterday about the way you say "Haan, baba" or "Yes, Ma" ... there is genuine tenderness in your voice as a gardener would care for a sapling...From my side, I have never heard those two words ever from my own father, though he is 'sure' that he loves me, and I would give up anything to keep hearing them once in a while, and Rashmi says that the words "Haan beta" were common with her from her parents, yet they smelled of insincerity every time they were uttered and have never cut any ice with her. With you it's so different. Every time, you talk, we feel the 'need' to move closer to you.

With love

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,
While reading through the comments posted above- a sudden thought came to my mind. The way you have influenced many of our lives , acting as a touchstone , changing our lives in a significant way - the term "Suvro Sir" doesn't merely restrict to a teacher manifested in a human form. It exists beyond that. You are constant presence in our minds- shaping our actions, always reminding us to "think", helping us to differentiate between what is trivial and necessary, acting as an inspiration for us to work harder, to achieve our goals-to live by your ideals. We really feel blessed to know you in some manner or other. And as Subhanjanda has said - I too feel the the rare pride when I speak of you in front of someone else- it's really an honour to have you as our teacher.

yours lovingly,
Soham Mukhopadhyay

Percipient Shameek .... said...

Dear Sir ,

I am sorry that i could not comment on this post earlier. I feel privileged to know you. I consider myself lucky and blessed to have got you as my teacher. You a teacher who shows by living example and I am yet to come across another teacher who is this caring and knowledgeable - and maybe the search is futile , as i believe you are one and only, Sir. As i type this , i remember the piece of writing " Who is a teacher " , that adorns the wall of your classroom. A true teacher not only teaches you his subject but also teaches you about life - and you have done the same to me Sir. This is why i feel blessed to have come across you. I have indeed learnt finer things about life from you and i am still trying to. It has been almost been 7 & a half years since that first class , but now i do feel the difference before and after it. Before meeting you , i hardly knew anything significant about life , but you taught me to think , discipline myself and have some real interests in life like reading,writing, watching good movies, utilize my time fruitfully. It has certainly helped me be a better human being.

Also , i completely agree with Ananya's comment : "Even when you scold us you try to make us aware of our real interests ans ambitions which shows that you never abuse your pupils out of sheer frustration or hatred.Now I know that you scold me for the good of my own soul and therefore all I need to do is acknowledge my faults and courageously face the challenges you place before me Sir.I know that is difficult but I will never give up because I have lately come to realize that that is absolutely necessary if I want to attain peace with myself and lead a good life" - i couldn't agree more with her on this & i would have written the same...!!!

Sayan Da's last comment here also touched a chord. There is truely a genuine tenderness in your voice about the way you say "Haen, baba". With you it is different - every single time one talks to you...!!

Sir, you have changed my perception about life , of love and truth. Every time i speak to you , it never fails to amaze me is your extraordinary ability to speak regarding any subject under the sun and yet make us aware of the small things around us , which often go unnoticed with us!! Maybe words cannot fully convey the kind of impact you have had on me and lots of other students of yours , who have known you and have come to be inspired by you in some way...!!!

Sir, whether or not some people acknowledge this, you have touched many souls and have contributed to their betterment. I am grateful for all that you have given me. Please take care Sir...

With regards ,
Shameek .

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

Rashmidi's comment is sort of an echo of my own sentiments. I am not your ex-student either and my interactions with you began much the same way. I wrote and rewrote a number of comments for this particular post, but I have nothing else to say except that I am heart glad that I met you and I am grateful for your letting me into your life and Pupu's. It's a gift, this, Sir. This wanting to share everything with you, that's a gift in itself, so thank you Sir :-)


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Rashmi, Sayan, Soham, Shameek and Vaishnavi.

I shall repeat: if there had been any depth in most people's protestations of love, respect and admiration, there would have been several hundred comments like yours here by now. My increasing cynicism and misanthropy is based on very solid factual foundations! Thousands have visited my blog since I wrote this post, and this is all I get. The Lord only knows why people bother to visit at all. No one has ever given me a sensible answer to that...

I noticed today that this post has entered the most-read list. Fastest that has ever happened with any post of mine, I think. I wonder why this sudden interest?