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a short story by Paramjit Sharma
Sarla was visiting the college where she studied in Indore, after a gap of 24 years to admit her daughter to pursue her MBA because of her husband’s posting to Damascus in Syria. She noticed widespread changes around the college. The class rooms, canteens, entrance gate and even cycle stand gave a modern look. During her time there was a huge cycle stand and now the cars and bike’s parking have spilled over to even the road. After paying the fee and other charges for her daughter, she decided to meet Arvind sir, who not only taught her in B Com as well as in second year of MBA. He remained her most admirable teacher and mentor. She has lot of memories connected with Arvind Sir, and this college. Once she put ‘I love You Card’ in the assignment submitted to Sir. After few days he called her to the faculty room where he was sitting alone. He handed back that card to her and said ‘Sallu, do you know what you have done,’ he annoyingly said ‘No, sir I have done nothing wrong. I really love you a lot’ she smiling responded without looking at him ‘You fool, do you know the relationship between a teacher and his student....just like a father and a daughter’ ‘Yes sir, I love you only as a daughter’ she said by looking at him and ran out of the faculty room. Arvind Sir was such a adorable teacher of her college. Tall, handsome and supporting military type moustaches. He coached students for basket ball, prepared them for declamation and always advised students for better future. He was the darling of whole college. When at college, she copied his mannerisms and even style of walking until her father noticed discernible changes in her. ‘Why have you started walking like men?’ her father asked her so many times On not finding him in the faculty room she enquired from the peon who was sitting outside the faculty room. ‘Where could I see Arvind sir’ Sarla enquired from him. ‘ Arre, Sarla Madam you....how come you are here?’ she was surprised at peon’s memory who recognised her after such a long gap.‘Yes Kaka, I am surprised, you recognised me, I came to admit my daughter here. Where could I see Arvind sir?’ Sarla was becoming restless to see Sir. ‘Sir’ the peon stopped for a moment, ‘He is no more...only two days back he died in a road accident’ he narrated with sorrow. Sarla was shocked to hear those unexpected words, she could not believe him and pulled him from his arm and took him a side and cried with amazement. ‘Tell me what has happened to sir’ The peon started sobbing slowly and informed Sarla how Sir was ignored by the management for the post of the Principal and he resigned in disgust. At the moment he was running a school near his village which was in the out skirts of the city. She did not waste further time. Asked her daughter Aiyna to settle in the hostel took address from the peon and told her Taxi driver to take her to Sir’s house. Sarla could not find it difficult to find his house as he was well known in that area. When she reached home, some villagers were already sitting there. Perhaps they all returned after immersing the ashes in the river Narmada. On seeing a stranger, they took leave from Sir’s son and left. Sarla was alone in the hall with Ankur, the only son of Arvind sir.
On seeing the portraits of Sir in the hall with rosemary garlands, she could not control herself going towards the table on which it has been placed. While paying her obedience she could not control herself and started crying loudly. She could not even get to her feet at her own. Ankur came to help her, asked her to sit on a chair and told someone with a sign to bring water for her. Once settled mentally, she introduced herself as student of sir and what was her purpose of visit to Indore and how she heard about the unbearable tragedy. There was a complete silence for the next five minutes in the hall. ‘I never thought, Dad would go like this’ Ankur said while breaking the silence. ‘I always used to request him to come to States so that we can live together.....but dad won’t listen. Mum came for some times. We were returning that unforgettable night from Los Angles, when dad met with that fatal accident’ ‘Dad knew his disability to drive at night’ Ankur stopped for a minute, ‘but he was perhaps excited to meet us and chose to drive to the airport to receive us’ his eyes got moist while explaining this. ‘A truck hit him head on and he collapsed on the spot....and we learnt about it almost two hours after the accident when we did not find him at the airport. I am feeling so unfortunate for not being with him.. when he left us..How much pain he must have experienced at the time of his demise’ Sarla by then realized that she has to give courage to Ankur, who must be feeling miserable during that time. She left her chair, kept her hand on his head and started consoling him like a mother. How the time passed while listening to Ankur about sir, she could not realise it. It was getting dark and time to leave. ‘The Kirya ceremonies are arranged at 4 pm after five days, Mum has gone to Ujjain for some pooja at the temple and she should be back tomorrow. If you are still in city please do come, Dad will be happy to learn in the heaven that at least one of his student came to pay him the tributes’ Sarla left the house but the last sentence of Ankur kept on bothering her.....at least one of the his student has come to pay him the tribute.....what could that mean...she needed to explore it further. That night, she dialled couple of her class fellows living in Indore and outside. She was surprised that none of them were aware of Sir’s tragic death. She called some of her friends to reach Indore immediately. She checked her date of leaving for Damascus. Luckily she has nine days to fly from Mumbai. She started counting her itinerary on fingers and planning for tenth day rites of Sir.. Next day she again visited Ankur in the morning with some of her friends from Indore and asked Ankur hesitatingly. ‘Ankur, I am sorry to ask you this question and surprised too, did none of the Sir’s student came at the funeral ‘ ‘Mam, I have been hearing from my mom that my dad was a popular teacher with his students’ ‘Yes, he was not only popular but well connected internally with his students and he will always remain our most reverend Guru...there is no denying this fact’ ‘But surprisingly, I did not see any of his students on the funeral’ That sentence hit Sarla like a thunder bolt.....how could it happens. She needed to find the reasons behind that. Sir was loved by whole college and her college had an enrolment of over seven thousand students each year.
With more than twenty five years of his teaching, at least one and half a lakh students must have admired him. How can it happen, was beyond her imagination? Where were they was not the only question bothering her? Their decision of disposing off the property was another area of her concern. Ankur informed her about the three crore advance he got in this regard from a builder. She needed to work on both, The peon, whom she met that day, gave the whole story. The present Principal did not let it known to anyone about the death and bribed the news papers to delete the news of his accident and death from the paper. Since he started living outside the city, therefore, people known to him remained unaware about this saddest happening. But she will not let it remain like this. Sir should be given a tribute which he deserved. She knew Geeta, her old friend working in an IT company at Indore, would be of a great help at that juncture. Meeting with Geeta was a great relief and she also got delighted meeting Sarla after a long time. Sarla shifted from hotel to Geeta’s house. Geeta’s husband worked at States and her daughter was studying at the same college where Sarla’s daughter was admitted. Whole night their topic of discussion would be Kirya Ceremonies and how to stop sale of school to a builder. It was decided to form a group of old students first and then put sir’s tribute page on the social network Facebook and Orkut to send request to their college’s ex students through it to write on their walls or send emails and if possible attend the Kirya of sir personally. Along with Geeta five of their old friends joined her for these arrangements and they together visited Sir’s house. Madam had also returned from Ujjain. Sarla by then was not much worried about her departure to Syria as her husband discouraged her to come to Damascus due to disturbed conditions over there. ‘Mam, we are all Sirs’ students and along with you we are feeling terribly bad to experience this unfortunate tragedy, please give us the honour of making arrangements for the Kirya of Sir’s. In case you approve we would be grateful to know the arrangements required and number of people likely to attend on that occasions’ Sarla enquired from Madam. ‘I really don’t know exactly’ Madam perhaps did not expect so many queries. Sarla also noticed Madam a little reserved while talking to her. When Sarla did not get appropriate answers from madam, she enquired from Ankur who was quite pleased to talk. ‘We have around 200 students of the school, about thirty percent of villagers, about ten to fifteen parents of the students, couple of our relatives and that is all....which makes around two fifty persons. We can do all these in the play ground of the school. Since it may be afternoon therefore, we can put a something for shade......you can decide about other things like, water, tea etc’ ‘Wait for a minute’ Ankur went inside and got a cheque for them. ‘Please keep this ‘ Ankur said while extending over a bearer cheques to Sarla. You may need this and keep my Credit card for more expenses.....’ Sarla politely returned that cheque and requested them to give this honour of performing last rites to them and also requested him not to dispose of the school as it may disturb the dreams of Sir. Sarla promised to arrange for three crores Ankur was given as advance. ‘Sir, we are so lucky to always get your blessings’ Sarla once told Arvind sir ‘But Sallu.’ as she was addressed by sir,’ I also wish to be lucky’ ‘How Sir’
‘I wish when I die, my loving students along with my son should take me to the funeral grounds on their shoulders and give fire to my body. I assure you, I will smile in my grave’ Sarla remember, she did not speak to sir for a week and today feeling guilty of totally forgetting his wishes. Sarla, Geeta & their friends were accompanied by a domestic help went towards the ground of the school. As they entered the entrance, they did not see any gate. This was typical of Sir who would always follow the route less travelled. At some distance they noticed a bust of Dr Radhakrishan,2nd president of India, below which was inscribed ‘this vocational school has been opened with the blessings of teacher’s teacher’ It was an eye opener for all of them to see such a beautiful school built by a famous architect from Kerala who camped at the village for one month to conceive the project. The school had such a beautiful basketball ground where at least six-seven thousand people can watch the match. They observed some students of the school playing such wonderful basketball there. After their practice they went to meet them, particularly few little cute ones.‘What is your name’ Sarla asked one pint size boy. ‘Sir named me, Himmat’ he said with a smile. ‘Why sir, why not your papa’ Sarla asked. On hearing that question he ran towards the hostel.When the second child also ran towards the hostel when she asked him his father’s name, Sarla and others were totally amazed. The coach took them to the benches and informed that Arvind sir started this school purely for educating the children of the persons who are imprisoned in the Central Jail having sentence of more than five years. Sarla was amazed to hear that sir has done what she once proposed to be her life mission. If this school is sold then the life of these students would be doomed to miserable end. They must take initiatives to stop this sale too. On returning to the house, she asked Ankur to lead him to the library of sir. She had no difficulty in locating her project report. With heart beat touching great speed she opened the first page of the report........’ Saalu ...thanks my child...you have given mission to my life....I will pursue it after my retirement....Arvind’ She recalled her MBA summers project on ‘Vocational Training for families of Jail Mates’. In one of the chapters she suggested for a school for children of Jail mates. Sir would pick it up to pursue on her behalf was a great honour to her. She felt small for losing contact with sir for all these years. The silver lining was a promise from Suresh Triloki, who was a well known entrepreneur at Lass Vegas to contribute rupee three crores required to return the advance received by Ankur from a builder. Triloki’s mother was a domestic help and all his education till IIT was supported by Arvind sir. His kind gesture at that point was a great relief and confidence booster for them. They eagerly waited for his return to India. Time was running short and they must implement their plan With the help of Baljit, 25 Flex posters were put at strategic locations in the city. Obituaries with the programme were planned in ten local news papers including two National dailies. The Principal of the college was
approached to declare half a day holiday to enable the students to attend the Kirya ceremonies. Jail authorities were also contacted to release under escort the prisoners whose children were studying there. Sir was also honorary Major with the infantry wing of NCC, their bosses were requested to give at least 18 guns salute on that occasion as mark of respect for sir. All villagers were personally visited by the group to come for the Pooja. Everything appeared to be planned well and settled when the first bomb exploded Suresh, who promised a cheque of Rs 3 crores decided to hand over the cheque alone to madam without the presence of any group member. They had no option than to accede to his request. Everything appeared to be misfiring. Geeta reported that for first two days there was hardly any message on either Face book or Orkut. The colonel of NCC personally called to inform that gun salute cannot be given at such occasions. As expected the Principal of the college declared that day as test to prevent the students from attending the ceremonies. The municipal corporation squad removed some of the flex boards which lead to violent reactions from some of the present students. They pelted stones on the office of the corporation and Police unnecessarily started questioning Sarla and Geeta, but Baljit settled the matter due to his contacts. His presence in the Group was proving a real booster. He has put two of his cars with drivers at the group’s disposal. He was arranging food, manpower and even managing the newspapers affairs singlehandedly. One night at Sir’s house when all of us were quite tired after a hectic schedule and discussing final arrangements with madam and Ankur, they noticed Baljit sitting in a corner without interacting with any one and focusing on the portrait of Sir. After few minutes of hiatus, madam got to her feet and patted him for his hard work and help. Baljit continued to cry like a child.. ‘Madam this is nothing...nothing...nothing.. what we have done for him ?. I remember the day when we won the inter college basketball match. I scored 25 points in that match. The opposition team hit me on the knee when I jumped to score. Losing my balance I fell on my back. Sir ran from the stands, put me in his car and took me to the hospital. I was unconscious at that time, but later some of my friend told me that sir did not go home till I regained my consciousness after three days....madam we are..nothing....’ Madam consoled him and wiped his tears with her own hands and offered him a glass of water.
People started pouring in by 3.30 pm for the ceremonies. Everything seemed to be at place. Sarla was the overall in charge of the arrangements. Geeta and Baljit along with few students of the school were asked to look for the guests and their refreshments. Aiyena along with daughter of Geeta were asked to escort Madam and Ankur when everything is ready. As previously discussed with madam and Ankur three different big sized portraits of sir were to be garlanded and placed at such a place from where everyone can have their view. The middle one was selected by Ankur and the other two were drawn from photographs preserved by Baljit. In one of the portrait sir was jumping to put a basket while practicing with his students and the third one was drawn from his teaching in the class. Both the photographs were taken when he was in his early forties. He looked to handsome in these portraits. By 3.45, most of the students of the school and villagers have reached the venue. It was good to see more than six hundred ex-students of sir had come as they committed in the Facebook. But horribly there was no sight of Suresh Triloki and nearly five thousand present students of the college. The pooja started at 4 pm. Ankur performed the rites and he was joined by two of his cousins. There were few more relatives from madam’s side too. Pooja continued till 5 pm, when we requested everyone to stand for some time to pay homage song to sir....the song which we all used to sing in a formation before our every match of basketball. It was a song of silver convention group recorded in
late seventies. Arvind sir used to sing this song with us, which would infuse an urge to perform and will to win ...fly robin fly....fly robin fly...up... up to the sky’ Sarla remember, when in the university basket ball league they lost first two matches. Before the beginning of the third match sir played this song and everyone was spirited with a will to win. Baljit fortunately preserved the song which also has a voice of Arvind sir and couple of other players at that time. The real horrible time started then.....the CD player did not start, the CD in the laptop got struck and started only after 10 minutes of struggle. Alongside, they planned to release more than one thousand basketball coloured balloon from outside the stadium. Because of the wind the balloons started flying in the different directions rather than hovering over the stadium. Some of them were not even visible from inside the stadium. But near to the clouds a miracle happened. Out of nowhere hundred of balloons joined together over the stadium to form one large group which actually looked like a big basketball ball. Perhaps sir in the heaven helped gather the balloons with his arms to save their face before the crowd. Old students silently watched this miracle while singing in Corus, fly robin fly.....the sobbing in the crowd was visibly heard. Madam and Ankur gracefully applauded their concern and love for sir, but they knew the miserable happenings despite the sincere efforts of Sarla and her Group. Both of them thanked everyone for joining them in their hour of distress and grief.
Before being escorted home by Aiyena and Geeta’s daughter, Ankur and Madam requested Sarla and company to take care of people and serve tea which was arranged near the stadium and also to wait for Suresh Triloki’s presentation, which was to begin once it becomes little dark. Suddenly around 6.30 pm, a heard of buses entered the school arena. Thousands of present college students landed there and entered the stadium. At 7 pm suddenly each student was seen lighting the candles and the montage presentation by Suresh about Arvind sir started. It depicted his life from childhood to school, his teachings in class, his involvement with students as coach and mentor, his love for nature and family. The back ground sound track was based on musical notes of flute and violin, two of the favourite instruments of sir. The montage was over in half in order which was applauded by all. Before Triloki accompanied Madam to have a deal, Sarla congratulated him for excellent montage and candle show to pay the tributes to sir. Sarla knew that they have lost the battle squarely to Suresh. But he behaved like that was beyond her imagination. Two days after the customary tributes to Sir was over, it was time for madam and Ankur to leave for States. Sarla promised to see them off at the Indore Airport for their flight to Mumbai. But she was in no mood to accompany them after one of the greatest let down at the ceremonies. She was too annoyed with the behaviour of Triloki and also Madam who should have at least given them an opportunity before having a deal. She would have begged an excuse to drop them, had there been no call from Madam to reach their house by 4.30am as their flight to Mumbai was scheduled at six in the morning. Against her wishes she reached sir’s house before time. She noticed, the domestic help was putting their luggage in the car. Instead of going inside, she preferred to wait for them near the car but informed madam on mobile about her arrival. Ankur sat with the chauffer and madam asked Sarla to sit with her at the rear seat. There was no exchange of words except when Sarla handed over the album- ‘a tribute to sir’ to madam signed by over nine hundred students who came from different places to attend the kirya ceremony of Arvind sir and lakhs of messages they received on Face book. Besides their signatures, it included at least fifty photographs of sir’s contributed by different students.
‘Oh, the photographs are same which we saw last night on montage shown by Suresh through a CD’ madam reacted on seeing the album. ‘Yes Madam, Suresh took this album from us for getting few signatures’ Sarla wanted to say more but stopped criticising him fearing that madam may misunderstand her at that moment. Madam became again quite emotional to see that album as the tears rolled down her cheeks when she read few personal messages which ended with a sorry note from Sarla for not being physically with Sir at his last hours. Seeing her mother crying, Ankur took the album from her. He too got choked after splitting few pages. Actually Sarla, we have been hearing many tales from Baljit about Andy, but when no student attended his funeral, we were quite disturbed. But now all of you have confirmed that our disturbance was ill founded’ Madam told Sarla while adjusting her posture in the car. ‘Madam, Sir was a different person much apart from our other teachers’ Sarla continued to say, ‘ Once I stitched a hundred rupee note with a tape at the end of my answer sheet with a request to pass her, when she did very poorly in a terminal exam’ ‘You know madam what sir did? He called the whole class to the canteen and served us tea and Samosa and disclosed the source of money without indicating my name. Throughout that tea session my heart remained at my throat’ Sarla smilingly told madam. ‘Embarrassed and guilty, next day, I went to sir and apologised for my inexcusable and stupid act. Sir did not talk about what I did, but told me to work hard and sincerely if I want to be a winner in the life.’ He gave me one more invaluable lesson of my life. ‘Sallu, teachers are not hungry of money, they are only hungry of love and regards from their students and please don’t insult me with such type of actions’ Sarla said while looking outside the car Sarla could notice a child like smile on face of Madam and continued talking ‘Madam you remember when we were part of sir’s Baraat and we did your hair styling’ Arre, that naughty girl was you, I still remember how badly you applied lipstick and foundation on my face’ Madam jokingly told her. ‘No madam I styled only your hair, kindly excuse me’ Sarla apologetically told through folded hands. Sarla...tell me frankly...I was told by many that you were in love with Andy’ she was referring to Arvind sir ‘Yes Madam, I still love him and perhaps keep on loving him till I live’ Sarla replied while looking into her eyes ‘Then, why did not you marry him’ Madam inquisitively asked ‘Mam, I could have certainly married him, if I were not like his daughter’ Madam looked at Sarla who was full of tears and totally choked by then. Madam took Sarla in her arms hugged her tightly, wiped her tears and kissed repeatedly on her cheeks. They reached Airport in forty minutes. Sarla started helping the driver in picking up bags from the car. All the light talk in car made her to forget the tragedy they experienced last night ‘Ankur would do this, don’t worry Sarla’ madam requested her to stop that and took her aside. ‘Give me your hand’ Madam coolly asked Sarla while still holding her tightly from her waist. Instead of extending her hand she bowed to touch her feet but madam stopped her in between.
‘I am asking for your hand’ madam again reiterated. ‘Sarla hesitatingly followed her instructions expecting some parting gift from her’ Madam took a bunch out of her purse and handed it on the palm of Sarla and closed her fist. The big bunch of keys was visible from even in her closed fist. ‘Madam, what is this?’ Sarla enquired ‘This is nothing except a great responsibility to you and your friends. I have decided not to sell the school to Suresh and keep the legacy of Andy alive. We both have been greatly touched by the affection and sincerity of you and your friends for Andy and his dream. Therefore, we will collectively work for his dream and you will be our leader’. She was quite modest in her words ‘Give us four-five months, let Ankur dispose of his business in California. We will certainly be with you.’ Madam was speaking and Sarla was just thinking as if she was dreaming. ‘Sarla,in this bunch there are keys of our house too. We will be pleased if you and Aiyena stay there’ Thanks....thanks...madam you are too great like sir. Sarla started crying and was not in a position to speak when she noticed madam embracing her tightly and she also hugged madam and Ankur with profuse affection. Oh yes, when ever in future you try to find a match for Aiyena......think of us’ madam said while wiping her tears. Yes..yes...madam....thanks for everything and bestowing this honour’ Sarla was totally shocked at such unexpected happenings. She kept on waving at Madam and Ankur till they entered the Airport building without believing what has happened just then.She opened her hand saw the bunch in her hand kissed the bunch of keys repeatedly and smiled at the fate of events and the enormous responsibility madam has bestowed upon her. She jumped into the car and asked the driver to drive to Geeta’s house where she would also request other friends to join them. They will celebrate.. no they were still in the stage of mourning, but the news would certainly charge her team to plan for the future to perform this responsibility till madam and Ankur return. She looked at the sky....the sun was rising slowly at the horizon....perhaps Sir has come personally to hand over his dream project to his next generation.