<%-- Page Title--%> Nothing If Not Serious <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 113 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 11, 2003

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More Gregorian Chants

Shawkat Hussain

It 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.

The 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.

Brother 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.

I 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.

One 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.

My 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.

Thankfully, 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.

Brother 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.

Brother 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…”

He 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.

Somewhere 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.

(The writer is Professor and Chairman of the Department of English, Dhaka University.)


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