Being a Software Engineer by profession, I’m leading a pretty happy life now, even though my earnings are not very attractive by the standards of what a Software Engineer earns these days. Looking back from today, I remember a few teachers who, being elemental in helping me through my journey of life, commands boundless gratitude from me. I’m writing this anecdote as a tribute to one of those beloved teachers from my school days at St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School (Now St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School), Tellicherry, Kerala, where I spent six most lovely years of my life.
It was the year 1988 - ’89. I was in the Sixth standard (‘B’ Division). The Christmas Holidays are over and we, the students, are expecting the results of the Half - Yearly Examinations. I, being the ‘Best Student’ of the class, was expected to make a ‘clean sweep’ and was almost assured of the top spot, substantiated by my performance in the subjects for which the results were already known, as we got our answer papers after evaluation.
The school had adopted a ‘Rotation Policy’, according to which the answer papers of the students of a class (division) will not be evaluated by the teacher who teaches the particular subject in that class. Instead, the papers were evaluated by another teacher, who may be teaching the subject in some other division of the class. By this rule, the answer papers of Malayalam First Paper of our class was given to Mr. K. M. JOSE, the teacher who was teaching Social Science in our class. ‘Jose Sir’ was expected to complete his job and distribute the papers in a few days after the re - opening of school after the holidays.
It was a Thursday. The second period of the ‘morning session’. According to the timetable, the period was allotted to ‘Jose Sir’ for Social Science. We didn’t have to wait for long for his arrival. As usual, he reached the class within a few minutes after the bell. But, today, there was something ‘special’ - Yes, he had brought the answer papers, ready to be returned to us.
Soon after entering the class, Sir started distributing the papers, even as we waited, struggling to hold our heartbeats. Even though I had no reason to be afraid, I was finding it too difficult to cope with the pressure of the situation, as Sir announced the marks scored by each student as he gave away the papers.
Thanks to my name, being close to the end in the alphabetical order, I had to wait for more than ten minutes. Finally, putting an end to the wait, Sir called out my name. As I walked towards the table, he read the marks. It was 42. That meant I have to content with the second position in the class in the subject, because Sreejith Sreedhar, the ‘Best Competitor’ to me in the class, had notched up the top spot, scoring 43. I felt a bit low, even though there was no ‘threat’ to my position as the topper in the class, because I was already some 10 - 15 marks (in aggregate) ahead of the ‘challenger’.
Returning to my seat, I started going through the paper, looking at how I had performed, and how and where I had failed to score. To my surprise, and, more than that, in a ‘shock’, I found that I had committed a 'blunder' with a question which I should never have got wrong. The question was to split a list of verbs into two groups, depending on a particular characteristic, defined by the Grammar of the language, and the rule was ‘by - heart’ to me. But, in a grave ‘oversight’ or, rather, lapse of concentration, I had done it the wrong way. I had split the groups correctly, but put them under the wrong titles, and that one ‘split - second’ lapse had cost me two marks! How invaluable those marks could be..! It could have got my total to 44, and ensured me of the position of the unchallenged, ‘unquestionable’ leader in the ‘marks hunt’ in the class. But...!
I was very much disappointed at the unexpected loss and was, in effect, ‘devastated’. At that point, I observed the existence of a rather ‘tricky’ scenario: The difference between the names of the ‘groups’ was just a single letter, and, to me at that moment, it meant that if I could change that single letter and approach the teacher, claiming that he had got it wrong at the time of evaluation, and convince him that my answer was correct, I could still get those two invaluable marks and project myself to the coveted top position. Without much thought, I made the all - important decision - the one decision I had to lament over every minute afterwards. Even now, after all these years, I don’t know what exactly had prompted me to take the ‘wrong step’...!
I made the ‘critical correction’, placing the paper ‘hidden’ inside the desk, to prevent it being seen by others sitting nearby. Looking at the paper once again, to convince myself of the ‘infallible’ and incredible (?!!) way in which I had done the ‘trick’, I finally made up my mind. I stood up and walked towards the table, as ‘Jose Sir’ was busy going through the claims by other students and making corrections as and when required.
As I presented my ‘case’, Sir looked closely at the answer, and, to my shock, was very quick to spot the ‘mischief’ I had committed. “You have corrected the answer NOW, haven’t you...?” Came his question in a cool, but sharp voice. In a fraction of a second, I knew that I was absolutely defenceless. “Yes, Sir...” I admitted in a rather sheepish voice. “Then, go back...” I obeyed the order without any hesitation. I thought that Sir had closed the chapter then and there, but soon realized that I was sent back only to be called in to face trouble later.
As soon as Sir completed the task at hand, came his order: “Vijith, Come here...” Hearing the command, I stood up again and walked towards him. “So, you have made an attempt to cheat... Right?” “Yes, Sir...” “Then, tell me... Why did you do that...? What were you looking for, even after getting such a good score...?”
For a moment, the question caught me by surprise. I could not give an answer right away. But, in a ‘flash’, I ‘cooked up’ a reply. “Sir, I wanted to live upto the expectations... My mother wanted me to stand fist in the class, not only in the total of all subjects, but also in every individual subject... And the two marks for this question could help me to achieve that...” (Even today, I’m unable to figure out how I dared to drag my mother’s name into the fault that I had committed myself...!)
“So, it’s your mother’s expectations that made you do it... Well, what’s she...?” “She’s a teacher...” “In which school...?” “Kavumbhagam South U. P....” “As a teacher, it’s natural on her part to expect her son to top the class. But, did she tell that you should get your top rank by cheating...?” “No, Sir... Never... By no means...” (What else could I have told him...?)
“So, you admit to be guilty... Right...?” “Yes, Sir... I accept that I’ve done what I shouldn’t...” “Then, you have to face the consequences of what you’ve done...” “Yes, Sir...” I agreed, even as I wondered what punishment he could have in store for me.
Sir turned to the class, called the class leader and asked him to bring a cane. Now, I knew what ‘treatment’ I was upto. In a few minutes, our class leader appeared at the door, with a ‘good - looking’ piece of rattan in hand. “Sir...” He called. Even as it appeared that Sir didn’t hear him, I myself took the cane from him. “Sir...” My voice did get Sir’s attention. I held the cane out to him, without a word, and waited for his order.
“Now, stretch your hand...” I responded, stretching my right hand out at full length. The cane rose in the air, stood still for a moment in that position and then came down heavily and drew a pink stripe on the palm. The same pattern repeated nine more times, as my palm turned deep pink. The sight might have moved Sir’s mind - er, did it really? Don’t think so. “Now, the other hand...” I had no option but to obey. The same ‘treatment’ was meted out to my left hand as well.
Still ‘unsatisfied’(?), Sir kept mum for a couple of seconds. Then he caught hold of my left hand, which was freed by then. Even though he didn’t tell anything, I got the ‘message’ right and turned a bit to my right. The cane came down again, much, much heavier and harder this time, landing on my backside, just above my left thigh. It was the first - ever instance of my receiving a caning on my bottom in full view of the whole class for an offence directly related with studies. I was wearing trousers (shorts), just long enough to reach the thighs, and nothing underneath. So, the ‘kiss of the cane’ really hurt. (It was quite common and natural in those days for below-teenage boys to wear shorts without innnerwear.)
Jose Sir went on with his ‘mission’ for the next few minutes. Two... Three... Four... Sixteen ‘smart’ strokes in the pretty small region covered by my shorts...! A dozen or so of them landed right on the buttocks and the rest, on the thighs. I could sense the skin rupturing at multiple places and droplets of blood dotting the shorts. In any other situation, it could have been more than enough to bring me down in tears. But, this time, it was not going to be the case. Even Sir himself appeared to be a bit bewildered at my response, as I accepted the ‘sweet, tender kiss’ of the cane, with a calm, determined mindset and putting up a brave face that lacked the slightest evidence of pain.
Even after giving me the ‘Best treatment’ he might have ever given, Sir appeared to be not very ‘happy’. And it was evident from his next command, which sent ‘shock waves’ through the minds of even my friends, who were watching the entire episode in disbelief. “Now, stretch both your hands...” I knew it couldn’t be any worse...! Without showing any hesitation or objection whatsoever, I obeyed again, stretching both my hands out at full length, ‘inviting’ the impending ‘charge’.
As the whole class watched in awe and disbelief, Sir ‘scanned’ my palms for a few seconds, as if to assess the ‘damage’ already done, and then raised the ‘weapon’ again. One... Two... Three... As I counted in my mind, the cane repeated its routine. Nine of the very ‘best’ I could have got...! And that marked the end of the severest punishment I had ever received in my life.
As Jose Sir put the cane on the table, indicating the end of the ‘session’, I thought of a ‘trick’. Not exactly a trick, but a rather uncommon way to present him with a (pleasant...?) surprise. As he turned to me, I looked up to his face. I was not at a loss for words (as always the case was...!). “Thank You, Sir...” The expression I saw on his face gave me a sense of much more than a sweet victory. Yes, I knew it. I’ve scored a comprehensive win over Sir’s mind. (To be honest, the 'Thank You' was for the generousity that Sir had shown by ending the barrage of strokes rather than for the punishment itself. Had it been two or three years later, it'd have been the other way round - I'd have thanked him for giving the punishment rather than for ending it.)
At that moment, hardly did I know that there was still more to come. Sir recovered from the bewilderment quickly, and pat came the next stage of the punishment. “It’s your mother’s expectations that prompted you to commit this cheat, wasn't it...? If so, I’ve something to discuss with her. Bring her with you here tomorrow, and you may attend the classes only after meeting me along with her...” The words came like a ‘bolt from the blue’ to me. Shocked, I could not speak out. “Sir...” “...And now, get out of the class... Stand there for the rest of the period...” The words were, more than an added punishment, strong enough to add insult to injury. As always, here also, I had no choice. I walked towards the door. It was again another ‘first’ in my life - being sent out of the class for an offence. Even though I knew that I won’t have to remain outside for long, as it was just five minutes to the bell, I felt completely ‘broken down’. More than the 'insult element', there was one specific, crucial factor behind that breakdown: During those days, the Head Master used to perform routine 'surveillance rounds', walking along the corridors of the school buildings. 'Culprits' caught during such rounds would invariably end up at the receiving end of the HM's cane, in addition to any other punishment that might already have been imposed on him or would follow depending on the alleged 'crime'. If my 'sentry duty' were to be seen by the HM during his 'rounds', it would have been 'doomsday' for me. However, it turned out that I was not that unlucky - the HM apparently didn't think of coming upstairs during those ten - fifiteen minutes I was outside.
For the rest of the day, I struggled hard, battling the shock of Sir's order to bring mother to school. First of all, she won’t be able to come. Being a teacher, she was away from home, ‘on duty’, as a guide member of the team that represents her school in the Sub - District level School Youth Festival competitions underway in Mambaram High School. More importantly, I knew very well that if I dared to tell the news at home, that could, beyond doubt, mark the end of everything for me. My father, himself a teacher, will not be in a mood to accept any explanation or even apology from me. The immediate result would be a ‘heavier dose’ than I have already received from Jose Sir. And, tomorrow, it would be my father, not mother, who comes to school with me, and, I’m sure, he will, without any hesitation, ask for the termination of my studies. That will be curtains for all my dreams.
Stung by the possibility of terrible after - effects, I started contemplating different ideas to try out a ‘last - ditch effort’ to avoid what could be the most unwelcome moments of my life. “But HOW...? What can you do to save yourself...?” A voice from within my mind seemed to ask. “What option do you have in the present situation..? It’s already out of your hands...” “No... There MUST be a way out... If it’s me who came in here, I should be able to get out as well...” It was another voice, probably of my self - esteem. “Okay, but how are you going to find your way out...?” “That’s yet to be figured out... But, I MUST do it, whatever the cost may be... Even if it means submitting myself to even more stringent and harsh punishments, even from the Head Master...”
After hours - long struggle, I finally decided. I MUST proceed with my efforts to save myself. I prepared my mind to accept anything that I may have to face in the course of the ‘final leap’. I then chalked out a ‘Blue print’ of my action plan for the evening. Envisaging the possible scenes in the staff room, I prepared each and every aspect of the way in which I would be dealing with the hot issue. Like a movie script writer cum director working on his dream project, I planned every move I would make, every sentence, phrase and every word I'd speak, except for one difference - a major one at that: unlike a director, I could plan my actions only - not Sir's. For every move and every word I planned, I had to anticipate the teacher's possible response and plan further course of action accordingly. In short, rather than a film direction venture, it was more like a mental game of chess where I, a novice, had to play a Grand Master and MUST win to remain ‘alive’. It was a colossal task with no alternative.
Time: 4.15 PM. The ‘long bell’ marked the end of the day at school. On any other day, I would have rushed to the bus stand within minutes. But I can’t do that today, because it’s time for the ‘decision of my life’. As other students were on the way home, I slowly walked along the corridor, down the stairs, towards the staff room.
As I entered the room, my eyes were searching for the face of ‘Jose Sir’. Many of the teachers were also preparing to return home, and I even feared that I might not be able to meet Sir before he left. But, I was not that unfortunate. I could see Jose Sir sitting on his chair near the far corner of the room. I stood for a moment, ‘collecting’ strength and preparing myself for the ‘Battle of a Lifetime’.
With determination glowing in my eyes, I resumed my ‘journey’. It seemed that it was taking for ever to cover those few metres. As I reached close to the table, Sir was looking for something in his hand bag. I knew he was about to leave. So, I have got only a few vital minutes to do anything I could to save my life.
“Sir...” I called, controlling my voice so as not to give him any hint of my mindset. “Yes...” Sir looked up. “Oh...! You...?” “Yes, Sir...” “Why are you here now...? What do you want...?” “Sir... You had asked me to bring my mother tomorrow...” “Yes... So what...?” “Sir... MUST I do it, Sir...? Isn’t there any other way out...?” “Why...? How could you ask me... Do you think that I was ‘joking’ when I told you to bring your mother...?” “No, Sir...” “Then...?” “Sir... I... How can I tell my mother that... What I have done...” “That’s your own head ache... I’ve nothing to do with it...”
“Yes, Sir... That’s true... But...” “But what...?” “No, Sir... I can’t... If I reveal the news at home... It could be ‘catastrophic’... What I will be getting from my father would be nothing less than a ‘double dose’ of what you had given me in the class...” “Oh..! Is it so...? Then you have to face it... Because it’s your own fault... If you’re afraid of your father’s punishments, it’s for you to figure out the way to help yourself...”
“No, Sir... I’m not concerned about that... What I fear is another aspect of it...” “Another aspect...? What do you mean...?” “Sir... The fist lessons I learned from my father were of honesty and great principles of life... If he comes to know that I’ve strayed away from the path shown by him, it’d be a rude shock for him... He’d be devastated. The news will be truly unbearable for him... I don’t want to see him ‘punished’ for my fault, even though I myself can accept any punishment for it...” I fired my first shot.
“Well... But, if the son’s mischief is not reported to his parents, is there anything to guarantee that he won’t repeat it...?” “No, Sir... You need not look for any ‘guarantee’ for it. My words themselves would suffice... Repeating an offence is the last thing in the world I could ever do. And, on the other hand, Sir, if you DO report it to my parents, what’s there to give the so called ‘guarantee’...?” Words had started working wonders for me as Jose Sir grew ‘interested’ in my arguments and placed his bag back on the table, ready to pay more attention to me.
It was just the kind of response I wanted from him. With increased confidence, I went on to explore much more potential ‘weapons’ in my ‘armoury’. “Sir... I think you’re still harbouring the feeling that the punishment you had given me is not fitting enough for my offence. That’s why you thought of informing my parents also... If so... if you think that you’ve not given me what’s due for me, then please don’t hesitate Sir, to wield the cane again... And, if you ask me, I’d also love to say that what I got was not enough for what I had done... So, Sir... Please...”
Pausing for a moment, as Sir looked on curiously, I reached out to take a cane from the drawer of his table and held it out to him. “Sir... I’m ready... I’m sure that I can withstand ANYTHING - however severe it may be... Even a ‘Double Dose’ of what you had given me in the morning... Or even more... But, Sir, Please don’t insist on ‘summoning’ my mother...” I wound up, firing my ‘last salvo’. I was sure that it’ll do the ‘trick’ for me.
Jose Sir, who was watching my ‘performance’ smilingly, took the cane from my hand. Nodding his head, apparently in approval, he asked me to move closer to him. I obeyed instantly, positioning myself close to the table such that Sir can set and hit the target easily, with my mind and body ready to ‘welcome’ the cane once again.
Sir did not do or tell anything for a few seconds. Then, as if he has taken the decision, he said, in an uncharacteristically soft voice: “Okay... Now, let me see your hands...” A bit confused, I held my hands out to him. The reddish stripes were still there, clearly visible. In fact, there was not even an inch left out. As Sir looked at those marks, I saw a flash of sorrow on his face. Then he turned his attention to my thighs that were also ‘ornamented’ with deep pink stripes, some of them still ‘fresh’ with tiny red ‘droplets’. His face turned a bit ‘off - colour’. The message was clear - The very sight, even though delayed, of the result of his own action has certainly moved, if not shocked, him.
“Oh... No...” He shook his head as if in disbelief, still holding my hands. Then he put the cane on the table and gently strode his fingers over my palms, which were still giving me a ‘smart’ pain. “I’m sorry, my boy... I shouldn’t have...” Now, it was my turn to be perplexed. “Sir...” That was the only word I could say. “Yes, Vijith... I can’t use this any more on you...” He put the cane back into the drawer.
Now, I knew it for sure. Jose Sir has changed his mind. That marks nothing less than one of the sweetest - ever victories for me. Yet, I was not ready to take it for granted. “Sir... You mean...” “Yes, you’ve won the battle over me...” He nodded. “So... Sir, Can I believe that...” “Yes, of course... You’re free now, and may go home with a cool mind, relieved of any tension...” Sir said, with a rare smile on his face.
Thank You, Sir... Thank you very much...” I returned the smile. The words came from the deepest levels of my heart. I felt really happy, even though I didn’t show it much. “So... Shall I go, Sir...?” “Of course... No restrictions on you now...”
I turned around and walked out of the room. My heart was beaming with joy. In a moment, I forgot the pain. High on pride and confidence, I walked towards the gate. There was a world of difference between the me who entered the staff room a few minutes back and the one who just stepped out of it. The Vijith who had gone in was ruled by everything negative - fear, lack of confidence, uncertainity... and the one who just came out was beaming with everything positive. He marched along the corridor, head held high and a not - so - common smile etched on the face - the smile of a Winner - like a just-crowned Champion. Yes, I felt that I was a real champion, having just won over the heart of a teacher.
Even though I got the ‘reprieve’ from the teacher, there was no escape for me from my father. The news did reach him, thanks to one of my class mates meeting him in the town the next day. Unaware of the late - evening developments, he enquired about the ‘status’ of the ‘case’ at home. My father, being in the dark regarding the matter, was a bit confused in the beginning. He then collected the details from my friend. The news passed on by him was strong enough to upset my father. The result: I returned home in the evening to face the ‘inevitable’. As my father asked me about the matter, I gave him a true account of the entire episode. (I knew that he was asking it just for the sake of asking, only to hear it in ‘first person perspective’...!)
The scenes that followed was exactly enacted as I had been expecting right from the moment Minof, my class mate, told me, at the school, about his meeting my father in the town and giving him the news. As soon as I completed the narration, father’s hands were on the ‘job’ in a flash. Starting with a ‘blinder’ across my face, and following it up with a few more, he shifted his ‘attention’ to my back and thighs. After the initial ‘open hand treatment’, he switched over to a one - foot wooden scale (ruler). Gripping my trousers by the pocket, he pulled it aside so that it stuck to my body and went on with the ‘exercise’, the scale landing repeatedly on my my already battered buttocks and thighs, bringing out fresh streams of blood. Screams started rocking the house.
After a few strokes, he switched again, this time to a cane - a slender, flexible one. Before beginning, he pulled my trousers down, just enough to expose my crimson - striped buttocks to the full view of mother and sister who were watching the scene nonchalantly. The cane rose. Then came a sharp, burning sting across the buttocks. For the first time in my life, I was receiving a caning on my bare bottom - a 'special treatment' to ensure that the strokes have their best impact. The flurry of strokes continued. As I continued my struggle to contain the pain, I lost count of the strokes. A few moments later, I felt a warm stream wetting my shorts. A few more moments and there was a small pool formed on the floor at my feet. But the sight had little impact on my father. He was on a mission, and a little puddle couldn’t be a hurdle in his path. He grabbed my shorts again. I thought he was going to strip it further down or even completely off. Instead, he pulled it up to the original position and resumed the 'exercise', pulling the shorts tight as before. Another set of strokes that followed - almost all on the buttocks - ensured that I lost control over my faculties. Suddenly, I sensed something ‘wrong’, something that I feared - a semi-solid mass emerging from my body and start accumulating inside my shorts. Unaware of the development, father raised the cane again. The next stroke landed across my buttocks. The slight change in the ‘tone’ of the stroke wasn’t enough to give him the ‘warning’. The bulge that had just appeared in my shorts grew larger. One more stroke, almost in the same area. This time, the difference was clear. He understood the 'problem' and put the cane on the table. End of punishment No. 2. Grabbing my left hand, he dragged me all the way to the toilet.
Even though my father gave me my ‘due’ in the ‘physical’ aspect, there was still some point for me to cheer about. He didn’t think of putting curtains to my studies, a step that I had feared he would. May be, he was also moved by the way I literally ‘begged’ my life out of trouble in front of Jose Sir.
Fifteen years have gone by after that eventful day. Probably a period long enough to put the memories, or at least the details, of those moments into oblivion. Yet, it still remains alive and active in my mind. Every moment and every minute detail of the entire stream of events, even the exact spot where I stood in the classroom as I received the ‘best’ punishment of my life, remain etched in my mind, as if it will remain there for ever.
One thing I could not understand till date about the whole episode is that why the teacher was ‘generous’ to me and opted not to report the matter to the Head Master. I believe that had it been anybody other than Jose Sir, he (she) would have certainly referred the case to the Head Master, considering the gravity of the offence. Had that happened, it could have been curtains for my studies on that day itself. The ‘minimum punishment’ one could expect, from the H. M., for an offence of that magnitude, could be nothing less than a suspension for a few days, and a suspension from school would mean, for me, a virtual ‘dismissal’ itself, because my father wouldn’t hesitate to decide ‘enough is enough’, had such a situation came up.
That exactly is the one reason that makes my respect for him grow manifold. Of course, I do respect him as a teacher, but, I respect him much more for the ‘treatment’ he has given me. The way in which he treated me, punishing sternly and hard enough to teach me an invaluable and unforgettable lesson, and at the same time, so affectionately that he didn’t want to put my future in jeopardy. I think he loved me so much, and that could be the only reason by which I can explain the way he treated me throughout the one and a quarter of year period in which I remained his student. How else could one explain why he caned me to near - tears and later said a whole - hearted ‘I’m sorry’, even as he himself was almost in tears?
Later, in August 1989, ‘Jose Sir’ bid farewell to the school, as his stint as ‘leave vacancy replacement’ ended, following the return of a teacher who had gone on a long leave. I was fortunate enough to be his student (in the seventh standard) during those last few days. I remember presenting him a ‘Note of Thanks’, expressing my heart - felt gratitude to him, on his last day with us.
Even though we, the students, had asked for and were given his residential address, almost everybody did it as a ‘childish fantasy’ only. But, for me, it was not the case. Probably, I was the only student who actually wrote a letter to him after he left the school. That was the first - ever letter I wrote to a teacher. (That I had stolen an inland letter card from my father’s table to write that letter remained a secret till now - the moment I write these lines.) In that letter, with its every sentence sparkling with my respect for him, I had expressed my intention to visit him at his home during the next ‘Onam’ vacation. It was never just a ‘show - off’. Each word came from deep within the heart, and I really meant what I said in each line of it.
Even though I did want to visit Sir, my desire alone could not have achieved it for me at that age. I had to get permission and help from my father. As I approached my father with my request, I was not very sure about his approval, for, it was for the first time in my life that I was raising such a ‘demand’. My father’s immediate response was an outright ‘No’. The reason he gave was that I was not ‘old enough’ to embark on such a journey alone. May be, he could not understand the element of ‘emotional attachment’ I had behind that request. Or, may be, he did not see it as a ‘well - thought’ request. Anyway, the result was that I could not visit the teacher who could, in a sense, be endowed with the credit for everything that I have achieved thereafter in my life. Even now, I regret that I could not keep my promise to one of my most beloved and respected teachers. Had my father said ‘yes’ to my request...!
Epilogue: The Years After *
Throughout the years after I left school, I had kept searching for some information regarding the whereabouts of ‘Jose sir’, keeping a ‘wild hope’ for a chance to meet him again, but to no avail. It was long since Sir moved out from the house where he was staying earler, and every attempt I made to trace him turned up futile. I tried to get some information from my teachers, who, according to my expectations, should have been in the know, but nothing came up. In the later years, I even contemplated the idea of a thorough ‘door-to-door search’, visiting every school where he might have worked, starting with he school to where he had gone after leaving St. Joseph’s.
Then, two years after writing this article, I hit the ‘Jackpot’. During a conversation with one of my old teachers (Mr. Vincent Fernandez, who, incidentally, happen to feature in another article
in this ‘memoirs’ series), I asked him, somewhat casually, whether he remembered Jose Sir. I was, in fact, not expecting a positive response – not after all these years. So, when he replied with an unexpected ‘yes’, suddenly, my long-dead hopes came to life again. I asked him whether he knew where ‘Sir’ is now. He said, ‘I don’t know for sure, but Markose Sir (Yes, the same Markose Sir whom I have talked about in the previous article
) might... He’s his friend...” The moment I heard these words, I thought: ‘What a terrible mistake...! Why hadn’t I ever thought of asking Markose Sir?’
Without wasting time, I called Markose Sir, and,lifting my happiness to heights I knew never before, he confirmed that he indeed was in touch with Sir, and that he had even met him a few days back. My joy was going leaps and bounds by then. Then I asked him about Sir’s house, to which he replied with a promise to gve me Sir’s phone number. The very next day, while I was at the house of one of my relatives, I called Markose Sir again, as I had agreed the day before. Sir did have the number ready.
The first thing I did after noting the number was to dial the number. My heart was pounding like a drum. ‘Yes, after sixteen long years, I’m going to talk with Jose Sir’ - I kept telling myself. Nothing - nothing on earth or otherwise - could have made me any happier at that moment. As if to add icing on the cake, the call was attended by Sir himself. I introduced myself, saying that I was an old student of his, from sixteen years back. I knew that just that piece of information alone won’t help Sir to identify me. So, I asked him whether he remembers an ‘over-ambitious’ student who attempted to win the top place in the class by an attempted forgery in the answer paper. (I was sure that there won’t be many people who fit that
description!) Sir almost took me by surprise when he identified me immediately. And, you know what, he went on to floor me istantly, with a question: “Hadn’t you written me a letter after I left the school?” “Yes Sir”, I said, perplexed at the relevance of that letter now. “Well, I still have that letter with me...” That was it...! What can you say when a teacher says that he’s been keeping a ‘childish’ (or, should I say childlike’?) letter from an old student, as if it were a precious treasure, for all these years?
A few months later, on my next trip to my native place, I called Sir and confirmed an ‘appointment’ for a meeting with him. Yes, after seventeen long years, my wish was coming true. The rendezvous was arranged at his brother’s house, as he was staying there since his brother was out of station for a few weeks.
On the appointed day, I left my home, telling my father that I am going to visit an old teacher at Pallikkunnu. He was somewhat surprised. No, not because of my announcement, because it is not uncommon for me to visit old teachers. Rather, it was somewhat like a ‘routine’ that I used to carry out during evey home trip, without fail. The ‘Surprise Factor’ was the name of the teacher whom I was going to visit, because ‘Jose Sir’ didn’t feature in my usual ‘visits list’ that was somewhat ‘by-heart’ to my father. He didn’t even remember who ‘Jose Sir’ was, let alone know my ‘emotional attachment’ with Sir. And I didn’t bother to remind him of those ‘good old days’ either...!
On my next home trip, I paid another visit to Sir, this time at his house itself. We had a somewhat long discussion, recalling those eventful moments and talking about our present. It turned out that Sir had long given up that ‘roughness’ so much so that his wife found it unbelievable and even unimaginable to think of his being so ‘cruel’ to a student, that too, a little child of eleven...! But then, facts, they say, can be stranger than fiction!
* Note: Most of this article (except the 'Epilogue') was written in 2004 whereas the Epilogue was added in 2007.