My First School Teacher

My First School Teacher

Today I am going to talk about a remarkable primary school teacher. He taught me for 4 years in the 1930’s. Even after 65 years a few of my memories of him are sharp as if they were of yesterday. Many, however, have blurred. My contact with him began in 1936 when I entered the DAV primary school in Karachi at age 5 and ended four years later in 1940 when I moved to high school. His name was Hazarilal, same as my father’s. He too had come from Punjab 3 earlier. The school was new and classes small with 20 or less children in each.

He was a fair, tall and handsome man of about 25. With his thin metal rimmed glasses he looked to me like a revered scholar. All this and the lovely smile covering his face attracted me to him from the day I entered his class. I do not recall being afraid of school, but whatever little fear lurked in my little head vanished in a few days. In the subsequent 4 years I enjoyed school and surprised my parents by not wanting to miss it even for a day. Luckily for me this favorite teacher of mine remained my teacher for all four years as he kept moving up in order to leave the lower classes to new teachers.

I still remember that we started with a lesson in calligraphy. Our teacher was very good in it and wrote for us first four letters of the Devanagari script on the board. Then he came to each one of us and printed the letters on our clay washed wooden slates. I watched him very closely and imbibed the magic and skill of his thin, long fingers. In about a month he taught us the whole Devanagari alphabet and then started drilling us in the Arabic script in the same patient and meticulous manner.

He put arithmetic in the second place and taught it with great interest. He made us memorize multiplication tables from two to twenty. Very slowly he began teaching us simple calculations. To make it interesting he used seeds, rocks or marbles. I remember collecting smooth little rocks and bringing them to school. By the time of our moving to the high school we could work out prices, compound interest and many other computations used in daily life. I became so interested that all through high school math was my strongest subject.

Another thing our teacher taught with great Zest was geography. He used wall maps, photos, magazine pictures and much else to put life into the subject. I still remember that I bought a very expensive glossy atlas in Urdu. Names and facts I learned from this remarkable atlas have remained vivid in my head all these years and during my travel all over the world pictures enjoyed in childhood have flashed through my mind.

In addition to teaching the prescribed syllabus well, our teacher led and encouraged us into the world of the Vedas. We regularly participated in the weekly homa (Vedic fire ritual) and chanted shlokas that we had memorized. My repertoire of Vedic shlokas had grown so large that to impress relatives and strangers I sometimes, foolishly, recited them at wrong places and on inappropriate occasions. Nevertheless, this early grounding in the robust, scientific, far seeing insights of our ancestors (the Vedic seers) remain to this day my unshakable intellectual and spiritual foundation.

Many years later, in 1948-50, my younger sister and I lived in a small town named Batala near the Pakistan border. One day I was talking with our next-door neighbor, a young lady named Gargi Gaind. On hearing that I had lived in Karachi she perked and said: “my elder brother Hazarilal was in Karachi. He was tall, fair, intelligent and cheerful. After a tiff with someone in the family he ran away from home in 1933 or perhaps 1934. We heard that he was teaching in a DAV primary school in Karachi. He must have died during the turbulent years of 1947-48. Otherwise he would have returned home by now.”

It pleased Gargi to hear that I knew and revered him as my teacher and was most grateful for his gifts.

May 05, 2007