Early into my high school at Balaosre (Orissa), I was confident that I was bad at numbers. For me, permutations were more important than mere calculations which have a definite end. Permutations had infinite possibilities that I could use while interpreting a literary text. And that is where I owe it to Gouranga sir who gave me the freedom to interpret.
When I passed my Class VII board exams from Balasore Zilla School, I had the option to choose my English teacher for private tuitions. To either choose Chakradhara Sir, the most popular English teacher of our district, who ensured that his pupils get good marks in the exams, or Gouranga Sir who was sort of an all rounder from the old school who apart form being an English teacher, was also a practicing homeopathic doctor, and a farmer. They were both teachers in my school and were totally different in their approaches to life and education.
Gouranga Sir always wore a dhoti and walked bare feet, while his modern counterpart Chakradhara Sir loved to watch Hollywood action movies in his free time and wore formals. Gouranga sir looked similar to former prime minister Chandrasekhar in his stubble, while Chakradhara Sir always came to school clean shaven. But I must agree that while Chakradhara Sir “taught” me grammar at school, Gouranga Sir helped me “learn” the language.
Gouranga Sir’s methods of teaching English were both interesting and erratic. I remember those chilly winter mornings when I would go his place for tuitions while sir would be doing his daily puja. He would make me wait for five to ten minutes before starting his lectures with the distribution of prasad (offerings). The beauty of his style was that he had no style.
Some days he would just ask me to translate some Oriya text into English and on some other occasions; he will just give me an old question paper used in competitive exams to solve. I could never understand why sir gave me question papers from competitive exams (Railway, Banking, and PSC etc.) when I was just in Class VIII/IX/X. And that too without teaching me grammar or even lessons from my school text books which help me get better marks. But over a period of time as I started solving these complex questions applying my own logic and understanding, it became clear to me that Sir wanted me to figure out the language myself. He gave me the freedom to learn right things in my own way.
Some days, sir would even teach mathematics right in the middle of the English tuitions just to break the monotony. And some other days he would just ask me to help him in his household chore without teaching a thing.
But, when I look back, I see teaching everywhere. He taught me about breaking the pattern and keeping things simple. He taught me the fact that if you feel like reading something read it – it does not matter if it fetches you marks or not. He taught me the value of interpretations and exploring permutations rather than mere calculations. Sir, I have not heard about you since many years, but you are in my prayers and heart.