Home all the Way
talks to Sameeha Suraiya
Photo courtesy: Aly Zaker
My school life started rather late. My father was a traveling bureaucrat, and under order of transfers every two years. My mother and sister were my first teachers as all my lessons took place right at home. I began my school years at Kishoree Lal Jubilee High School as a fourth grader when we finally settled down in Dhaka, having lived at Meherpur (where my earliest recollections reside), Feni, Madaripur and other places. It was the year of 1954, and I hated school! It was terrible then and it is still terrible now. I loved home more than anything else.
School was a place I went to because that is where everyone my age went. My elder siblings had gone, so I did too. But I never did too badly at school. Right after a day of classes in school, it was either a good game of football or cricket in the nearby field, or it was just the idea of going back home that I looked forward to. I changed to St. Gregory's School when I was in class 5. I was very naughty back then! Just a few years back, on the foundation day of St. Gregory's, some of us ex-students were called upon to perform a play. I had the chance to visit my old classroom and it was then that it occurred to me how small the room is. It is impossible for teachers to not notice the mischief that we would get in to. All along we were under the impression that all those classroom pranks went unseen by the teachers. I found myself laughing as I realised how kind the teachers actually were!
The good part about St. Gregory's for us was the school that sat adjacent to it -- St. Francis High School, where beautiful girls went! Whenever we played basketball, we would intentionally throw the ball across the wall and into the grounds of St. Francis so that we could get in. We would do this all the time, until the school guard understood the prank! From then on he would instantly throw the ball back to us. Another memory I have from school that I recall with fondness is the old man who used to appear outside the gates with a big wooden box. It had many compartments and each compartment would be loaded with delicacies. There was mouthwatering aachar of many kinds, hajmir guli and indigenous sweets like kotkoti, murali and batasha.
Notre Dame College was the place where my passion for knowledge was ignited. It was in the year 1960, that I studied Arts and Humanities and had the privilege of meeting a few teachers with the most exceptional personalities. Bishop Ganguly taught Logic, the subject that I found myself most drawn to. It was truly magic for me. Father Gilliespie taught General World History and he would always be armed with a student register where he would religiously take attendance. He knew exactly what he taught the day before and the students who had missed a class, so that the next day, he would give a recap of the missed lesson before he moved on to a new one. He had a wonderful memory. I used to be a fat child and for some reason, my friends called me waterman. Years later, on a visit to Notre Dame College, I met Father Gilliespie who at once, in his thick American accent, said to me, “Waterman, aren't you?”
I joined Dhaka University in the year of 1963 at the Department of Sociology. Professor Nazmul Karim, the founder of the department inspired me a great deal. I had English as one of my subsidiaries. English Literature has always been close to my heart. Professor Abu Hena from the Department of English kindled in me the urge to embrace and enjoy literature to the fullest. He taught us Othello and before the class began, he would close the high doors of the classroom, turn around and say, “The lights are on, the curtain raised. Enters Othello.” He was a frail man but the command he had over students was intriguing and thoroughly impressive. He was Sir Laurence Olivier to me.
I remember that I wrote a lot ever since I was in school. I would declare myself as a writer more readily than I would do so as an actor. There are so many other dignitaries I came across from my student years who I continue to be in awe of. The one thing that stands out from my student days is the love I felt in being around family. Wherever I went, to home I would always come back. I have always been a homebound person and I still am.