A Teacher worthy of his name

Suman K Sharma
His parents had named him’Vidya Bhushan’. I saw him for the first time sixty years ago, in 1962, to be precise. I was then a student of Class 8 in the ‘Ranbir High School’ (it was then called Shri Ranbir Multi-lateral Higher Secondary School), and Vidya Bhushan ji took our classes as a ‘casual’ teacher. We boys grew fond of him from the day one. He was a welcome change from ourt hundering teachers who had their heads full of scraps of learning, and hands ready with punishing dandas. This teacher instead talked in his mellow voice of what was happening in the country, narrating to us stories of the daring and venture some men and women. When he went away after a month or so, we missed him sorely. It was much later that we learnt that he was himself a student at a university outside the state and had come home on vacation.That he chose to make use of his leisure to earn a few extra rupees to add to the family kitty spoke of his caring nature. I also found that his family lived in Bakshinagar, not far from my home. My receding nature prevented me, however, to get close to him.
Ten years later we met again on a clean,rain-washed afternoon in August, 1972. It happened on the road that connects Bakshinagar and the Canal. Apparently, he was riding home after his classes at the university (the campus of the newly formed Jammu University was then next to the GGM Science College) and I was walking home from my day at the college. Vidya Bhushan ji had now become a university teacher. I had, in poor comparison,barely passed ‘pre-medical’ – a euphemism for Class 12 with Botany and Zoology courses – and mulishly sought admission in the science college yet again to complete my B. Sc. with ‘medical’ subjects.
Noticing my lone some figure, Prof. Vidya Bhushan stopped his Lambretta a couple of feet ahead and invited me to a pillion-ride home. Dropping me at my doorstep, he asked me to see him at his home the same evening. I still treasured the memories of how friendly he had been as an odd-job teacher years ago. So, I went to him without any reserve. He proved as friendly as I had expected. “Sit down,” he said to me warmly, pointing to a chair opposite him.
“Tell me what you are doing these days,” he enquired.
“I am in the second year TDC in the science college,” I said, adding the salutation ‘Virji’ to my reply to claim fraternal privilege as a neighbouring youngster.
He seemed concerned.
“I thought you had finished your studies in these ten years that we met. There must be some reason why you have lagged behind,” he said after a long pause.
“Virji, I have been failing repeatedly in the higher classes.”
“That surprises me. You were fairly good in your studies as I can recall.” Virji looked searchingly at my expression for an answer.
“It is the Science subjects, mainly Physics, that have been my undoing. I hate Sciences,” I replied at last.
“Then what is it that you like?”
“I like English. In my last exam, I scored distinction in that subject,” I said, not without a tinge of pride.
“If that be so, why then have you taken admission in the science college to study the sciences all over again?” He asked, looking me in the eye.
Now that was something that I too had been asking myself several times in a day. Perhaps it was because of some sort of mental inertia on my part. I had seen my older brothers taking science subjects and being good at that. The eldest had secured admission in an engineering college and was now serving in Delhi. The younger to him had become a doctor. I too wanted to follow suit. Though my mind egged me on, my heart was not in it; that was the problem.
“Sir, I have been a science student…” I began to reason out with him in a vain attempt to hide my feelings.
“Nonsense!” Prof. Vidya Bhushan uttered with some force. “You have been wasting your time, my friend. I know about your brothers and feel happy about them. Yet the fact remains that we all have our pluses and minuses. Your brothers proved good at sciences. You too have shown your talent in English and your perseverance in continuing your studies in spite of your failures. Why don’t you build on your strengths? Not all of us are meant to be doctors and engineers. Look at me. I chose the humanities stream after matriculation. Do you think I am bad off being a university lecturer?”
“But, sir, I have already taken admission in the science college.”
“That won’t be a problem, I assure you. The real issue is whether you want to come out of rut that you are struck in. Go home and think seriously about it. If you decide to change to the ‘arts’ stream, come to me. I will help you. I have only one word of caution for you. Please don’t linger on. You have already wasted all these years.”
His voice was mild, yet what he said jolted me. I came home in deep thought. My older brothers scolded me roundly off and on for the lack of attention to my studies. But, perhaps because of their misplaced brotherly love, they had never come to tell me what a wastrel I was. My peers had gone far ahead of me in their lives and I shied away from them.
Prof. Vidya Bhushan had shown me the mirror. At age twenty-three I was a failure academically and a social misfit. Did I want to remain like that for the rest of my life? There was nothing for me in pursuing the degree course at the science college, except remaining a parasite on my family indefinitely. That wrong could be righted. The good professor had hinted at my potential. I made up my mind to change over to the ‘arts’ stream.
The rest was easy. Prof. Vidya Bhushan not only used his good offices to ensure my ‘migration’ to the Maulana Azad Memorial College, but he also became my local guardian. To give me a sense of financial independence, he went on to secure for me several tuitions in the city. At the new college I studied the subjects I liked – English literature being the major one. The rest of the day I spent in giving tuitions and cultivating new friends. I lived alone in the Bakshinagar quarter which had been allotted to my mother as a displaced person from Mirpur. Soon enough, I and my new-found friends like Late Mr. Shiv Dutt and Late Rana Harish Chander ‘Hafiz’ formed a cultural forum by the name of Yuvak Kala Sangam. My house became the venue for the weekly meetings of the Sangam. I found my life as fulfilling as of any other young man of my age.
The two years passed in a jiffy, it seemed. During the months April – July 1973, I had creditably cleared three examinations in succession: BA (General), BA (Honours) in English Literature and, significantly, a UPSC-conducted all-India level competitive examination which got me a job with the Central Government. By that time, Prof Vidya Bhushan had receded to the background. I did visit his home frequently (his youngest brother, Subhash, was a friend and one time my classmate) and our interaction seldom went beyond normal courtesies. Sometime after that, my job brought me to Delhi, where I eventually settled. I don’t remember having personally seen him during my frequent visits to Jammu after that.
Yet, the impression that he left on me proved indelible. He never taught me anything. Instead, what he imparted to me was much more precious than any bookish knowledge. In the brief meeting of ours on that fateful day of August 1972, he made me think about myself and do something about it. He might well said with Socrates, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
Prof. Vidya Bhushan Gupta passed away this year on 21 October. He was indeed a teacher worthy of his name – ‘a gem of edification’.