Ventilatorblues for the Blank Noise Blogathon (2006)

Mr. H.
[Thank you, Blank Noise Project]

I went to a Protestant school in Kolkata, where I had many Anglo-Indian teachers. One of them was Mr. H, who was an old boy, and taught us English literature. Now, Mr. H. was one of my favorite teachers in school. Full of personality and attitude, and a huge physical frame to go with them, he was the one teacher all of us loved as well as feared. At a school like mine, grades mattered, and Mr. H. was very generous with his grading. Surely this had something to do with the fact that he did not think class tests to be very important, but also, he was an alcoholic, and so, often, very amenable to all kinds of pressure tactics from students post-test. Mr. H. was also heavily into sports, having earned school colors in boxing, swimming, rugby and athletics in his day, and he was also the school swimming instructor. So I knew him outside the class as well, by virtue of being in the school swim team, which every year would participate in an inter-school competition. Now, at the swimming pool, unlike in class, Mr. H. was a strict disciplinarian. He was a passionate taskmaster, and not averse to physically "setting right" anyone that was not pulling their weight. Looking back, those hours in the swimming pool, and the times I spent with Mr. H. outside the pool, traveling to swim competitions, are some of my happiest memories of school.

One day, I think it was in Class VII, Mr. H. and an old boy, SS, walked into our class in the middle of another teacher's class and hauled out one of my classmates. Lets call him K. Before going any further, let me add that this was totally unprecedented. Teachers did not just walk into others' classes and pull students out unless the matter was serious - leave alone teachers accompanied by old boys (SS had been in the swim team too, in his day). As it turns out, the matter was serious. K had been eve-teasing women outside Victoria Memorial after school hours. Yes, K was in Class VII and apparently, these things start early. But he had made the mistake the day before, of directing his advances towards a lady who turned out to have been SS's sister. Mr. H. and SS marched K into the Round Chapel in school, closed all the doors, and ...................... well, let me just say that we did not see K in school for a few days thereafter. And when he did return, his body was still hurting. The whole incident created a huge stir in school, but as far I can recall, the school authorities did not interfere at all, and matters died down very quickly.

Like many other bloggers who have been writing about sexual harrassment, I too have never experienced it first-hand. And like my friend Tabula Rasa, who asks how we can change the status quo, I too have no stock answers. Lust is a primal human drive, and if Hindu scripture is to be believed, it has the same physical origins as the will to create. As such, there is no easy way of cleansing the human mind of this vicious drive, except to greet it with the strongest reproach every time it arises. Mr. H. understood this, and his approach to this problem was, in my opinion, bang on target.

I should add that about two years after I finished school, Mr. H. died at the age of 40, from liver complications. I had gone away to Delhi for college, but I was lucky to be in Kolkata when the school decided to host a commemoration ceremony for him. At the ceremony, I met all my swim team buddies, and we all remembered Mr. H. and thanked our stars that we had had the good fortune to pass through school while he had been around.

I hope that all my classmates from that day will carry the memory of that incident just as vividly as I do. Most of all, K.

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