was sheer serendipity coming across a report on three dedicated
teachers of St. Gregory's High School on the verso page
facing this column a couple of weeks ago. I too am a Gregorian,
though of course, not in the same league as the illustrious
Gregorians mentioned by the reporter. There are, one must
point out, many more Gregorians who have reached great,
some greater, heights of fame, recognition and excellence
in their respective professions than the handful mentioned.
The greatest of them all is Amartya Sen, the internationally
known Nobel Laureate, in a league of his own.
naming game is dangerous: to name only a half-dozen great
Gregorians is to necessarily exclude many more spread throughout
the nation and the world. And in this game of naming the
long perspective is perhaps better than the shorter vision.
Like Gulliver in Brobdingnab, the land of the giants, the
myopic view is likely to show an unflattering picture of
giants with feet of clay. But here I want to write about
at least two of my teachers, and if space permits, one friend.
Donald Becker CSC was my teacher throughout the seven years
that I studied in the school; Brother Ronald was there during
the last couple of years but he never taught us; and, I
never met Brother Nicholas.
have been searching for Brother Donald for more than three
decades and now I know where to find him. Brother Donald
who has taught literally thousands of outstanding students
has absolutely no reason to remember me. I, on the other
hand, would have to be an ingrate incarnate if I forgot
him: he almost unwittingly launched me into a career in
science in which I surely would have been a colossal failure;
and he made me feel rich for a period.
day in class nine I was called out from the class-room;
I was petrified! I thought this could only mean one of three
thingsdetention, caning, or a severe reprimand. I wasn't
sure what I had done, but it transpired that Brother Donald
wanted me to become his lab assistant, and in exchange for
my services he offered to waive my tuition fees, which was
a considerable Taka 20 in those days. To this day I cannot
figure out why he chose me for the job, but by doing so
he made feel special. We often do not know why we choose
someone, or why, if we are lucky, someone chooses us.
two-year stint as lab assistant made me rich, because I
never told my mother about the tuition waiver; forty years
after the original sin was committed, I hereby confess my
guilt in public and seek Brother Donald's absolution. My
stint as lab assistant also inspired a spurt of scientific
ambition. With another classmate we submitted a joint project
at the Second East Pakistan Science Fair which won the second
prize. That friend, another truly illustrious Gregorian--Mujahidul
Islam Selim went on to become a communist and a national
leader, and I became an English Professor.
in college, I showed early signs of failure, especially
in Science; at the end of two years I was discollegiate
in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Geography. English
therefore was my one and only choice when I applied for
admission in the University. This is where I have to take
leave of Brother Donald who almost launched me into a catastrophic
career. Enter Brother Hobart.
Hobart is a legend to all Gregorians who were students between
the 1960s and 1990s. Ask any Gregorian about Brother Hobart
and he will have a story to tell. Perpetually smoking a
cigar and sporting a goatee, wearing the white surplice
that all the brothers wore, and a cord loosely slung around
his ample girth, Brother Hobart was everywhere during tiffin
time and after-hours, and every student's friend at all
times. You have to have great strength of heart to be an
adolescent's friend even for a day; to befriend squeaky,
smart-aleck teenage students for more than thirty years;
you simply have to be great.
Hobart was our English teacher. Sometimes he would start
writing the summary of a poem on the blackboard and dramatically
stop at mid-sentence demanding a word from his students.
Many students supplied the right words to him; I remember
supplying a few as well. Once I supplied the word “merge”
in a sentence that went something like this:“the soul of
the poet merges with that of the nightingale…”
strode towards me and shook my hands with his massive hands;
he shook my hands a few times during my student days, and
he shook my life as well. Once I gave him the word “flagellate”
which I had self-consciously picked up from the dictionary,
and he swore to flagellate me if I used it again. Here I
am again using that word after all these years. Brother
Hobart was perhaps the reason why I chose English after
failing miserably in Science.
there is a moral to this column: one great teacher can set
you on the wrong track, and another great teacher can set
you on the right, and on both occasions they don't have
the slightest clue of the impact of their greatness. I dedicate
this column to Brother Hobart who passed away recently,
and to Brother Donald who is still so very much alive.
writer is Professor and Chairman of the Department of English,