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I Remember

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste….

But if the while I think on Thee, Dear God,

All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.”

(Italics mine with due apology to William Shakespeare)



Patna By

2013 Dr. Ashok Kumar Sinha

Ph.D (Pat), D.E.S. (Wales)

Professor of English (Retd.)

Patna University







ONE




“Happy those early days, when I

Shined in my Angel – Infancy!

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race.”

(Henry Vaughan : The Retreat)

My earliest memories of “those early days” are very dim. The period before 1950 was one in which my father* was posted at New Delhi as a government servant. And my sister** and I used to live together with my parents in an apartment in Sujan Singh Park, so very close to the India Gate.

My pre-school training was given to me by a Punjabi lady in a servant quarter and I cannot remember anything that she taught me.


* Shri Sinheshwar Prasad Sinha, I.A.S. (1901-1981)

** Shrimati Rani Rai (4 years younger to me) who became wife of Shri R.K. Rai,

I.F.S.

I can however remember the dull, wooden benches staring at me in a very forbidding manner.

My mother* used to dress up my sister and me every evening (before my father used to come back from his office) and put us down as the welcoming presents for a tired officer returning home.

One evening, my father did not come back at the usual time. So I got worried and thought that he must have lost his way home. So I went out in search of my father, saw a horse – carriage man driving by and explained to him my problem. He immediately understood my problem, asked me to hop into his carriage and took me away. After some time, he brought me back to my home and wisely assured me that my father must have been “found” by then.

Meanwhile, my home was in panic, with my sister weeping and my mother completely desperate. My father had returned home by then. My naughty servant** told me that my father was very angry.

But when I hesitantly and nervously went to see my father, he emotionally broke down in tears of affection.

* Shrimati Anup Devi (1903 – 1981)

** Basant (whom we all called Basantha) who remained with us for years.


From that time onwards, I became famous as the son who had set out in search of his lost father.



















TWO




“I am silver and exact. I have no preoccupations

Whatever I see I swallow immediately”

Sylvia Plath: Mirror


1950 was the zero year for me, because in that year I was admitted to Nursery class, Mount Carmel School, Patna. Whatever I saw, I had to “swallow immediately” I came to know my real name only when my father was asked by the school Principal to enunciate my full name and fill up the admission form.

The year was zero year for me also because I did not understand anything that was going on around me. The English medium school, run excellently by the Christian missionaries, was a real disaster for me because my capacity to understand English was zero. There was no support coming from home because my father was too busy with his work and official tours and my simple, uneducated mother had just no time for me.

So with this zero support coming from home, I somehow made my way through the dreary routine of the classroom. My first public appearance was forced on me by my class teacher when she asked me to give the welcome speech in the huge lawn of the school to the distinguished guests who had been invited to attend the Annual Sports’ Day of the school. I remember stammering through the speech, and I was highly thrilled when the people clapped, appreciating my speech when it ended.

The other public appearance of mine was in the dome-shaped auditorium of the school in which children were asked to hold the lighted letters of W-E-L-C-O-M-E, and each child had to sing a few lines starting with the letter he/she was holding on to. I somehow managed to carry off my lines and again the claps made me feel confident.

My stay as a student in Mount Carmel School was limited, because though it was a co-educational school, boys were allowed to stay there only till std. II.

So with the end of 1952, my stay in that school had to end. In December 1952, the admission tests were held for St. Xavier’s School, Patna. And I gave the test with great nervousness.


I remember my eldest brother* in his military uniform coming all the way with me to the school to see that no hanky-panky was done. I remember him shouting from outside when a child tried to cheat inside the examination room.


* Shri Vir Kishore Prasad Sinha, who later rose to become Lt. Colonel (twelve years senior to me in age) who died in a fatal accident falling down from his own house top in 1986.













THREE




“The child is the father of the Man”

William Wordsworth: The Prelude

Thank God, I passed the admission test, placed fourth in the entire merit list. Now in January 1953, started my uphill task of acquiring knowledge in an English medium school with no educational atmosphere at home. The school, managed by Christian missionaries (all of whom were drawn from different parts of America and England), had really the best to offer. But I somehow found myself alone and helpless in this superstructure. With my father ever busy managing his administrative career with tours undertaken repeatedly to make the two ends meet at home, I used to see him very rarely. Touching the feet of the elders was absolutely necessary, and I often found myself welcoming my father by touching his feet and then immediately afterwards was asked to touch his feet again for he was off on yet another tour. My mother had little or no interest in what was going on with me in the school. Extra coaching was out of the question. So when I see today hypersensitive parents anxiously and even desperately worrying about the minute intricacies of their children’s education, sending them for extra coaching from day one, I really feel perturbed. Has education today become so difficult?

The answer to this question comes immediately to me when I remember the dedication and zeal with which the missionaries took care of the students given to them. Father Murphy, the School Principal as well as our teacher, knew the weak and strong subjects of every student of his. Father Cleary taught me how to write by putting the pencil correctly through my fingers. My earliest training in proper time management came unconsciously from Father Reinboth whose duty was to draw the Daily Time chart for those who stayed in the hostel (and I was in the school hostel for three and a half years, 1956-1958). While in the hostel, it was my duty to arrange all the Library books in the In-House Hostel Library properly in their correct order before going to bed each night. Father Wrobleski was a terror, always keeping us frightened and in discipline. He used to threaten the rowdy children with a cane that was supposed to be kept in Locker Number Fifty One. I still do not know if that cane really existed there. But it certainly did instil in all of us a fear that kept us in order.

But children are children. One day some student from our class threw a wooden ruler out, which hit somebody passing through the corrider outside. Immediately, the whole class got the punishment. Each student was to be given a cane beating on the palm of his hand by Father Cox, our Vice-Principal. So when the classes were over, we had all to make a queue for the slashing. I kept myself at the end of the line, hoping that by that time Father Cox would be tired and so the cane would fall lightly on me. But I was wrong, for, when he came to the last boy in the line, he gathered all his energy and gave me perhaps the hardest cut.

From Father Watling, I picked up how to read out properly A Tale of Cities written by Charles Dickens. We had to study the abridged version of that novel and the voice inflections and variations with which Father Watling used to read out portions of the novel still ring in my ears.

Father Murphy understood that I had some acting talent. So he put me down in the Annual School Plays almost regularly. Shri Ramayan Sharan, our Hindi teacher, appreciated my first Hindi poem on Taj Mahal and wanted me to read it out in public in front of the Hon. Minister of Education who had to come to visit the school. He had liked my simple words of the poem and wanted my talent in writing a poem to be highlighted in front of the school. I got so carried away by the unique importance of the occasion that I changed all my simple words of the poem into complicated ones. Shri Ramayan Sharan immediately asked me to tear my new rendering and go back to the original poem. So I read out the original, simple poem in the school auditorium and got a prize from the Hon. Minister.

With such a wonderful team of teachers at the school, it was no wonder that nobody else at home worried about my studies.

Yet in 1954 I did make my home worry about me. During one lunch break, we were playing in the school compound. A class friend of mine cleverly invited me to mount the see-saw* and he placed himself on the other side. We were enjoying this recreation. Sometime he would go up and I used to come down, and sometime he would go down and I used to go up. This pleasant recreation went on for some time when suddenly an accident took place. He suddenly ran away from his seat down, leaving me suspended high up in the air. So I came crashing down and had a great fall which made my nose bleed profusely.


* An iron playing device usually found in school-playgrounds in which there are two seats on both sides of a long horizontal pole. Two children can sit on each side and oscillate in the air, one going up and the other going down.

Father Lockwood immediately came and carried me in his arms and took me to the School dispensary. He also rang up my home and my mother came desperately looking for me. I was later rushed to the Hospital and Dr. Paras Nath Sinha performed a surgical operation on my broken nose. My father rushed back some time later cancelling his tour and the entire home was in panic. Soon my nose was given its proper shape and I have faced the world ever since with this very repaired nose of mine.

1960 was the year in which I gave my Senior Cambridge examination. Our answer papers then were sent to England for marking. And my friend, who had not done well in the examinations, publicly announced his secret wish that the plane taking our papers abroad may crash. But the plane did not crash. And we got our results. My average marks came to 63% and so the tussle for admission into the college started, with Dr. Bechan Jha, a Sanskrit Professor who knew my father very well, trying his best to get me admitted in Patna College, which was known then as the Oxford of Bihar. Dr. Jha succeeded, and I found myself admitted to B.A. Part I in Patna College, Patna University, Patna.

The child had received the seeds from his school. And the seeds would start sprouting very soon in his growing adulthood. The child was indeed becoming the father of the Man.


FOUR




“Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy”

William Wordsworth: The Prelude

In July 1961, I entered the precincts of Patna College, the Oxford of Bihar, with a callous bravado. Going to the college and listening to the thunderous lectures of the various teachers became an enjoyable experience. The strict class-room discipline of St. Xavier’s School was replaced by the careless, carefree atmosphere of the College. The subjects I was studying now were few, and there was plenty of leisure time.

My English medium training given to me by St. Xavier’s made me opt to answer my examination papers in English, but one subject, Logic, created some problem for me, as there was no book available in English on that subject. So I quickly got a copy of a Hindi book on that subject, and happily translated it into English. Had I remembered to retain that translation, it would have been my first effort in transcreation.

I went on performing things with this lack of proper planning. I really feel happy when I see the youngsters today planning their career right from the time they enter class XII. With goals fixed by them, and not for them, they know at this early stage, which direction they have to move towards. I had just no idea about the point towards which I had to move. So I just put in my hours of study regularly, but had just no idea about my future plans.

In 1962 the B.A. Part I examinations were held and I managed to get the sixth position in the entire university, missing the fifth position and the Merit scholarship by just one mark. That was the first time I realized that life was indeed a game of snakes and ladders. I had missed my fifth position and my scholarship just by one mark. The snake stung me for the first time. The person* who overtook me became my lifelong friend, and we have maintained our friendship for the last fifty one years. So after being stung by my snake, I had got my ladder of a long lasting friendship.

Now that the B.A. Part I results had come out, we had to choose our subjects in which we would do our Honours.

* Dr. Gore Lal Yadav I.A.S. (Retd.)

I had got equally good marks in English and in History. The choice had to be made between these two subjects. Here again there was no aptitude test of any kind. I was advised that as my English marks in B.A. Part I were slightly more than those I had got in History, I should go in to study English Honours.

And so in 1962 I went in to study English Honours. The lectures began, and I used to look up to the teachers as super-heroes. And when these illustrious personalities used to “descend”, I used to feel as if they were coming out in a dream on an invisible red carpet. I remember these great personalities moving into the Department of English as “comets of wisdom” “hurtling into space”. Professor Debi Das Chatterjee, the Head of the Department of English, used to have a thundering entry. He used to drive his roaring scooter right into the Department of English, stopping only where the doors of the hall made him halt. Prof. Naqvi had the tall handsome personality of a film hero, and his hair used to be always fixed in a certain posture which never changed. We later discovered that he used to wear a wig. Professor A. Das Gupta used to come with the careless look of an absent-minded professor, and he delighted in shocking us with his dirty, unwashed dress and his unkempt hair. But he had a leer on his face that told us that basically he was not too happy with what the world had given him. Prof. L.S. Deshbandhu was the Professor-in-charge of the routine, and he used to come always in a hurry, but always with a smile. We used to call him £.S.D. (as his full name was Lalji Sharma Deshbandhu). Dr. Bikram Kumar Das used to be always a surprised entry, as he always looked surprised with whatever was happening around him. People later used to always ask me whether I was Dr. Bikram Kumar Das’ brother, because my face closely resembled his. And I had always to give my answer in the negative, but had secretly hoped that it might have been true. It was sheer delight to see the tall Dr. Sujit Kumar Mukherji walking in with his measured steps. His interest in Cricket was well known and all of us admired him.

But when these illustrious personalities used to deliver their lectures, I used to always feel that that they were speaking from a pedestal much above me. Their lectures used to come down to me as supercharged literary revelations full of sound and fury. We, the students, used to always attend these lectures as passive recipients. Nobody dared asking any questions. And as the lectures used to end, the spell used to break. But I was always careful to take down all the notes in my copybook as a careful devotee who always made it his duty to see that not a word was missed. (However, all these notes that I had so religiously taken down proved unmanageable and unclear at the time of my preparations for the examinations).

The teacher I can never forget during my English Honours learning was Professor Debi Das Chatterjee who taught us Shakespeare’s Othello. The dramatic way in which he made the characters in the play come alive in front of us was something which has left a deep impression on my mind. I remember one incident in which he was doing the scene in which Othello kills his wife Desdemona by putting the pillow over her head. Just then the college bell rang, signaling the end of the lecture. As usual, my dearest friend* heaved a sigh of relief at the ending of the lecture. But the over excited Professor took this as an insult to the dying Desdemona. And so he blared out at my friend, professing publicly that he should never study English literature.

I can never forget Professor Debi Das Chatterjee also because of his wonderful advice. He told us to read not only the books prescribed in our course, but also to read all the works of the writers prescribed in our syllabus. Thankfully, we had the British Council Library to support us then. So I got busy reading as many works of the prescribed writers as I could without caring to understand deeply what I had read.


* Syed Sulaiman Ahmad, State Bank of India

I remember fondly Professor A. Das Gupta who made us write short articles for the College Newsletter Off The Record which he used to edit. I started writing short articles for this News Bulletin and he used to put all our amateurish outpourings on the record. In fact, such a magazine gave me a self-confidence which did much more than many of the lectures that were poured on us in the class-rooms.

We were lucky to have a dynamic Vice-Chancellor like Dr. George Jacob to encourage our co-curricular activities. And in 1963, we put up a cultural show in aid of the victims of the Chinese aggression in 1962. Dr. Jacob was present in the entire programme and he saw to it that all the events went off smoothly. The English Drama we enacted was Refund in which a student comes back to his school asking for the refund of his school fees because he is convinced that he has learnt actually nothing from his teachers. And the teachers are advised by the School Principal to ask the student very simple questions, but he answers all these questions wrongly. The Maths teacher has told him that he would ask him two questions. The first question the student answers wrongly again. So every teacher is finally convinced that the student has really learnt nothing. So he is asked to tell the board how much exactly is his refund amount. The student, in a hurry, totals all the little amounts of money that he will get and gives the correct total. Now, the Maths teacher gives an anti-climactic bang to the play by telling the student that that was his other question. So the student has proved that he has really learnt something in the school after all. And the play ends with the student not getting any refund. I enacted the role of the Maths teacher.

This play got a thunderous response from the audience and the collection we had made by the sale of tickets was donated to the Vice-Chancellor to be passed on through the proper channel to wherever it had to go. All the participants of this programme were given a treat in the Prince Hotel near the Dak Bungalow. And we felt really great. At last we were getting recognized. Recognition came to us, the students, in yet another way. I started participating in English Debate competitions which gave me awards as well as free trips outside Patna. I remember being called to participate in the Inter-college English Debate competition in Jodhpur. My friend* and I decided to share whatever expenses were incurred. To avoid any problem in calculation, we remembered to eat and do our shopping together in exactly equal proportions. So when he bought a ‘Dupatta’ for his friend, I bought one for my younger sister too.


* Shri Virendra Kumar Das

My friend saw to it that the news of our participation in the Debate and our winning the prizes was sent to the newspapers in Patna from Jodhpur itself. So when we both reached home, we were given a heroes’ welcome and a contract from All India Radio, Patna to do a students’ programme for which we got some remuneration. Soon my voice became a fairly regular feature on the All India Radio, Patna.

I remember going to Jadavpur University, Calcutta with yet another of my friends* and this time we participated in the Inter-College English Debate Competition in a lower key.

We had to rush back to Patna because here was another Inter-College English Debate in which I was given yet another prize.

All these prizes gradually piled up in our drawing-room but after some time they were thrown away as we started moving on towards greater booties.

The days of the B.A. Honours’ examinations came near. My regular study hours remained unaffected. I never studied beyond 9 p.m. and never got up from my bed before 6 a.m. The so called examination fever never affected me so I took my Annual examinations in 1964 without any tension.


* Shri Vinay Jhya I.A.S. (Retd.)

The results came and I secured Honours in English, this time sharing my marks with another friend* of mine. It was my time to get the Merit Scholarship, for though both of us shared the same marks in English Honours, I had secured higher marks in the Pass Course. So I found myself tipped to get the Merit Scholarship of Patna University for the academic session 1964-1966. The ladder had come my way, and the snake was conspicuous by its absence.

My first earning came to me and I was psychologically and emotionally pacified. But I did not realize that “shades of the prison-house” were actually beginning to close “upon the growing boy”, The growing boy was becoming a man who had to shoulder new responsibilities. The “prison-house” was slowly closing upon me and “the early days” of “Angel-Infancy” were over long time back. “The second race” appointed for me had already begun. And in this race, there was always a struggle for one’s existence, and only the fittest could survive.




* Dr. Prashant Kumar Sinha, Professor of English, Pune University, (Retd.)

FIVE




“Most of the time, I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles”

Sylvia Plath: Mirror

From July 1964 to 1966, I had to pursue my higher studies in Darbhanga House which is actually yet another part of Patna College. This massive building (which used to be the palace of the Rajah of Darbhanga) is loftily set on the bank of the river Ganges and is separated from the buildings of Patna College just by a narrow lane. So the scene now shifted, and I had only one subject to study English. Immediately, academic matters became more sombre, the super-heroic teachers of Patna College now became super-sonic. And I found myself helplessly coming to grips with the great literary stalwarts of English Literature. And “most of the time, I blankly meditated on the opposite wall which appeared to be pink with speckles”.

The Lecture Method of teaching which had harangued me during my under Graduate studies was continued with greater finesse in my Post Graduate learning. The only chance I got to interact with my teachers was when I got to see them in the Tutorials. And even here the Tutors again “descended” upon us with their “valuable suggestions” which we again noted down meticulously. Our Head of the Department of English here was Dr. R.K. Sinha who was universally considered to be the reservoir of knowledge. And he spoke wonderful English which used to be sheer joy to listen to. His lectures were never bound by any time schedule. When he used to start his lecture, it used to go on and on, and we used to listen to him in pin drop silence. His advice given in his Tutorials can never be forgotten by me. For me, he was and still is nothing else but a legend.

The great teachers continued what they were doing, and I kept on attending the lectures with an untiring persistence. The teachers again did all the talking and we the students were again the passive recipients. There was a certain feeling of mute (not mutual) respect which I found to be rather disturbing. A certain aimlessness was still staring at me. I still did not know what I was going to become in my life. But such thoughts regarding any career never disturbed me. I only kept on studying, and my personal reading habits died hard in me.

Meanwhile, as a Post Graduate student I was nominated to function as the Common Room General Secretary, Patna College. This post, I was told, was a responsibility usually given to the best student in the Post Graduate Department, Patna University. I felt honoured by this nomination and carried on my duties with honesty and integrity. I feel touched when I go to Patna College Common Room today and see my name highlighted on the display board enumerating the names of the Common Room Secretaries of the College. It was for carrying out this responsibility excellently that I was awarded College Colour, University Monogram and Principal’s Gold Medal in 1966.

1966 was a very crucial year in my life – perhaps the most crucial one. My huge family suddenly decided that I should get married. My M.A. Examinations were scheduled to begin in July 1966. And my date of marriage was fixed for 6th Feb. 1966. The pressure of the joint family was so great that the protest made by a solitary weeper like me got crushed immediately. I was married off on 6th February 1966, and I had just five months to prepare for my M.A. examinations. These months were filled with all kinds of psychological and emotional problems which gave me all kinds of tension.

Luckily, the strict study hours I had maintained through my student career helped me in this time of crisis. Even now I did not study beyond 9 p.m. and never got up before 6 a.m. I had offered to write an M.A. Thesis in lieu of papers VII and VIII for my examination. And the topic of my research was Joyce Cary, the Novelist. I had already read all the novels of Joyce Cary (thanks to the advice given much earlier by Professor Debi Das Chatterjee) and was ready with the Rough Draft of my thesis. I had already prepared for my other papers I to VI by choosing the authors that I would answer on. I had even prepared the first sentences of my answers (imagining on my own the type of questions I would most likely be asked) All these secret preparations were carried on by me on a war footing, and I was the lonely Casabianca on a burning deck. My wife* whom I had married and who was left back with her parents in the village was unconsciously serving as a challenge.

I took my M.A. examinations, and waited anxiously for the results. These results were “revealed” to me in two stages. In the first stage, one evening my father came to inform me that he had been able to find out from the Tabulator the marks of four (out of eight) papers. And these marks were First Class (above 60%). The remaining marks would be found out only the next morning. So that full evening and the whole night made me twist and turn in my bed. After spending a completely restless night, I was told the next morning that the marks of the remaining four papers were even higher than those of the earlier ones.


* Shrimati Bachchi Sinha

I was rapturously shocked to know that I had come out as “the fittest” in this “struggle for existence” by securing the First Class First position, breaking the record in M.A. English as yet established by the university. So along with my Principal’s Gold Medal already earmarked for me, I was awarded two more Gold Medals – The University Gold Medal for coming first and Sir Raja Raghunandan Gold Medal for securing the highest mark in English.

I was at the top of yet another ladder, and the snake had decided to shy away.

Within a few months of the publication of my result, I was appointed as a Lecturer in English, Patna College. My career was carved out for me by the Almighty. I felt like an aimlessly straying ball which had somehow been pushed into its goal. My vocation descended on me like a gift from God. On 26th November, 1966 I delivered my first lecture in English to a huge crowd of students gathered in the B.A. Lecture Theatre. My mentors had now become my colleagues. But I always respected them as my teachers. I enjoyed my first day of teaching right from the start and tried to break the cold wall between the teacher and the taught by actively interacting with the class. I understood immediately that this teaching profession and I were actually made for each other.

SIX




“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry, I could not travel both”

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

It just dawned on me that just without any conscious planning on my part I had got a vocation in my life. The entire picture became suddenly clear to me. I had a house to live in, my father’s. I had a wife to wake up to. I had a job to keep me going. What more could I want from life?

But no-one is never satisfied with what one gets. The carrot-like question – What next? always keep goading one on and makes the stick fall repeatedly. The individual spends the rest of one’s life trying to answer that question. There is no end to this question, and so life goes on.

The individual is only a bi-product of the society he lives in. And no matter how conscious he is of placing his individual talent against the tradition, he has to fall in line with the tradition. At one time, the family wants him to marry immediately. And once the marriage has been consummated, the society waits to get the answer to that eternal question: What next? When is the first child going to come?

So our daughters came in 1967 and 1969. And after that, my wife and I decided to go in for family planning and have no more children. We were satisfied with having two lovely daughters* and we did not want to keep trying till we got a son. For us, the daughters became our “sons”. And we left the society to keep wondering about their favourite question – What next? But my mother was specially worried about no third child coming from us, and we were too shy to explain to her the reason. After some time, she accepted our having two daughters as an act of God.

But What next? was a question which broke the peace of my teaching profession. The national hobby during my days was to take the I.A.S. examinations. And with a stunning record – breaking performance in M.A., my self-confidence level had reached its ultimate point. But this over-confidence of mine was blurred by a lack of proper guidance, absence of proper planning and the inclination to do too many things at


* Rumi and Rintu

the same time.

In fact, I now realize that I have always put myself into strange situations by trying to sail in two boats at the same time. I have tried to travel on “two roads” simultaneously. Often this has succeeded but sometimes it has not. Well, in this case, this travelling on two roads proved too dangerous for me. The competitive examinations came to me as a challenge I had not yet properly even thought about. The I.A.S. was never my dream. In fact, I had thought about it as something nice only when I had gone on a tour with my I.A.S. father and stayed overnight in a circuit house in a remote place. I liked the bed, the linen and felt that my father’s job was really tempting.

But the society was waiting with its What next? And I took my jump into the preparations for the I.A.S. I had already started taking my teaching profession seriously, trying my best to give my best to my students. My family responsibilities were becoming intriguing. And the preparations for the I.A.S. naturally got affected adversely.

1970 saw me finally qualifying for the Interview. And that was a great personal victory for me, because by that time I had lost all my self-confidence. But by that time I was left eligible only for I.A.S. and I.F.S. (Indian Administrative Service and Indian Foreign Service). This was my final chance, and although I had taken the whole hog of the Compulsory, Optional and Higher subjects required for the Central Services and the Indian Police Service, and had cleared through all of them to qualify for the Interview, I was not eligible for anything else but I.A.S. and I.F.S. I would not be even considered for the Central Services and the I.P.S. as I had already exhausted the two chances available to me.

In my new game of snakes and ladders, I had reached a crucial point. I had reached very near the penultimate point of 98, and at 99 was my snake waiting for me, and 100 seemed so very near. It was the most baffling moment for me, and the pressure on me had become really overpowering.

But my point of view in life has always been to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. So in 1969 itself I had already started working for my Ph.D Thesis and had done the preliminary inquiries.

My day of I.A.S. interview was fixed for April 7, 1970. I had made all my preparations meticulously. I was the last person to be interviewed before the lunch break that day. And as I was shown into the large interview hall (too large and even larger than my imagination) I found the members of the Board having a heated discussion among themselves perhaps over the previous candidate. I did not know what exactly I was supposed to do. So I stuck on, perhaps to the annoyance of the members present. But the Chairman asked me to sit down and started by inquiring about the school I came from, and when I told him that It was Saint Xavier’s, he asked me about the body of St. Xavier embalmed in Goa. I explained to him about this body to tell him that I knew the answer and I felt assured; and then came questions hurtling from the members of the Board, and I answered these questions, as if in a dream. The members were naturally exhausted by then. But the final question came from an elderly gentleman who asked me “Do you know which country supports India over its stand on Kashmir?” And then he tripped on the floor but soon came back to his seat. Believe me, I have not been able to find the answer to that question till now. At that time, I pleaded my complete dumfounded inability to answer this question and then the terribly hungry and tired looking members asked me to go and all of us heaved big sighs of relief.

After the interview, came the Medical tests next day in Safdarjang Hospital, New Delhi. The tests were many but the one I remember till today was the one which tried to check whether I was colour-blind. And the way numbers in light green came out through pages of light pink was a treat to my eyes. After that came the C.I.D. investigations and Police inquiries hounding my home at Patna. And after that came the results. My name did not appear in the list of those selected for I.A.S. and I.F.S. And for other services I was not eligible. (I later learned that there was a last minute cut because of the newly introduced reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes).

The society immediately dropped me like a hot potato. But I felt completely relaxed. Believe me, the immense relief that suddenly gushed into me then was something divine. I cannot ever forget how light I felt when I realized that I had no longer to undergo the tensions and pressures of those frightening examinations.

But from that day onwards I never looked back and decided to take my teaching career as seriously as I could. I was really “sorry” that I had tried to travel on “two roads” diverging in the yellow wood of life.

But I also realized gradually that just as I had decided to never look back again, most of my near and dear ones had also decided to never look back again, but at me. I had raised their “great expectations” but had not fulfilled them. So here I was stung by the snake just at 99.

But my strong belief is that in Life’s game of snakes and ladders, there are always many surprises to come. If a Snake comes, can a Ladder be far away? I know I am echoing the line of Shelley:

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

But that line of Shelley has always given me great reassurance and hope. And so I have always kept on moving with a positive attitude. Where there is will, there has always been a way.


















SEVEN




“And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth”

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken


From July 1970 started my lonely journey in the academic field, for which, I now realize, God had really created me. I was now “one traveler” who looked down on this one road “as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth” My teaching started gradually to win the hearts of my students. And I continued working for my Ph.D. with no special leave granted to me. I combined my teaching with research (again straying into “two roads” and sailing in two boats). My Ph.D supervisor was Professor Dr. Kapil Muni Tiwary who had just returned from U.S.A. after completing his Ph.D. Actually, my Ph.D. topic was suggested to me by our University Professor and Head of the Post Graduate Department of English, Patna University, Dr. R.K. Sinha, the reservoir of knowledge who had thrilled us earlier with his wonderful lectures during my M.A. days. Dr. Sinha had done his D. Phil. from Oxford and his thesis entitled The Literary Influences on D.H. Lawrence was later published in book form and the world came to know how comprehensive his analysis had actually been.

I remember that when the book was getting published much later I was asked to take down notes for the Introduction to the book from Dr. R.K. Sinha himself. Dr. Sinha sat with me for one whole day, and I could get just two pages of Introduction for the book from him. That revealed to me how careful he was in choosing his words that were to go into print. The book came out with that short Introduction, and the book immediately won critical acclaim.

Well, he advised me to do my Ph.D on NORMAN COOPER, as the research was to be done on something new, and this name had somehow registered on his mind as a brand new British novelist on whom no work had yet been done. Trust me, Dr. R.K. Sinha was such a voracious reader that after thumbing through the first few pages of any work of literature he could predict exactly how the plot would develop later on. We just adored him, and we believed that he could never go wrong as far as English Literature was concerned.

So I started looking for Norman Cooper in the British Council Library, Patna. But such a name could not be found anywhere. I later came to find out that the British novelist Dr. R.K. Sinha had in mind was actually WILLIAM COOPER.

And so my academic research began in which I started working on William Cooper the novelist, whose first novel entitled Scenes from Provincial Life was published in 1950. This novel impinged on the literary scene as a new and individual work of art does, and later on exerted a considerable influence on those writing in the fifties in England. John Braine admitted that the book was for him and many others a seminal influence. C.P.Snow observed that a great part of Lucky Jim written by Kingsley Amis owed (in an entirely proper sense) to an intelligent study of William Cooper’s Scenes from Provincial Life. Thus the so-called Angry Young Men like Kingsley Amis, John Braine, John Wain, Alan Sillitoe, Colin MacInnes, Stanley Middleton, Stan Barstow, the lady novelist Iris Murdoch, and the playwright John Osborne had something of the English rebel that Cooper came out with in Scenes from Provincial Life. And yet Wiliam Cooper was so very different from all of them. On the other hand, one school of thought found a decided influence of C.P. Snow on the novels of Cooper.

Thus as a literary researcher, I could not have found a bigger load than this to carry through. So the pilgrim’s progress began, with the advice of Professor Debi Das Chatterjee still ringing in my mind: Read all the works as far as practicable. The literary contributions of William Cooper the novelist had to be critically examined in the background of the influence of C.P. Snow the novelist on the one hand and the influence of William Cooper on the so-called Angry Young Men (of whom one was a woman) on the other. I was once again sailing in two boats – university teaching and academic research. Luckily, this time both the boats complimented each other and both the roads actually fed into each other.

But I was an Indian in a provincial university trying to understand and interpret literary artists writing in England, I slowly discovered that after all Literature talks about human beings, and people share similar emotions everywhere. So in trying to understand characters of my novels, I started discovering people with similar traits around me in Patna. That helped my understanding of the writers and their characters. I felt that I had obtained first hand experiences which could be used in my critical analysis. This worked, and my thesis got a shape which pleased me immensely. After some time, my strict supervisor understood that I had understood whatever he had wanted me to understand, and so he allowed me to just go ahead.

I went ahead, and consulted the Who’s Who? in the British Council Library and got the complete postal address of Mr. William Cooper – 14, Keswick Square, London S.W. 15 U.K. And I sent him a portion of my research and waited for his response. My plan was that if there was a negative response from him, I would quietly ignore it. But if there was something favourable, I would incorporate it in my thesis.

Well, I received a really favourable, positive response from William Cooper. In fact, he agreed entirely with my critical interpretation and enclosed some more biographical information to further assist me. I could see a new ladder thrown for me from abroad. But with it came a snake. Cooper informed me that by the time my thesis was being written, yet another novel of his had been published, You Want the Right Frame of Reference (1971). Now that book had not been mentioned in my thesis. But where was that book? How could I get that book?

With such overwhelming questions in my mind, I was moving in the British Council Library with a heavy heart when suddenly my eyes fell on a new book which had just come there. That was the novel I was desperately waiting for You Want the Right Frame of Reference. And in that novel, Cooper had actually confirmed my thesis by making fun of the so-called Angry Young Men. The artist had himself agreed with the researcher. And I had only to place at appropriate places Cooper’s observations in his novel to complete my thesis.

I had got my ladder once again. My Ph.D. thesis was accepted by the Patna University in 1972, and the examiners were immensely pleased. In fact, my External Examiner from U.S.A. wrote back to me:

“What most impressed me was the fine stylistic quality of your own thesis – you very sensitively explicated story lines and the subtleties of characterization in the novels. Through you I was made aware of Cooper’s art and delineation of characters.”

I was once again at the top of the world. Because of my having obtained this Ph.D, Patna University granted me three more increments in my salary as a token of recognition. And my name got the prefix of Doctor which made me look more respectable.

I now started looking for fresh ladders to climb. One of my closest friends* informed me that he had seen in the newspaper an advertisement for British Council Scholarships for which I was eligible, having put in more than six years of university teaching.


* Dr. Prabhunath Singh; Prof. of Political Science (Retd.) Magadh University

I applied for post-doctoral Research and proposed to work on C.P. Snow and William Cooper. It was an assignment for one academic year in England, and the applications were far too many.

Anyway, true to my nature, I was again prepared for the worst but hoped for the best. January 1973 saw me walking up to the Department of Human Resources, Govt. of India, New Delhi for my Interview. Every certificate that I had obtained was thoroughly checked, and the candidates were called in one by one. I was once again the last to be interviewed before lunch time. The tired examiners were in the mood to postpone the interview, and call for it only after lunch. But suddenly they saw it fit to get rid of the interview and have a more peaceful lunch. So I was called in. This time the room was smaller than the one I had been invited to for my I.A.S. interview, I had this time again been shoved in at the last minute, perhaps as an afterthought. But “once bitten – twice shy” – were the words ringing in my mind. And I was not going to look back anymore. So I came, I saw, I conquered. The Board was visibly impressed, and none of them tripped on the floor. The tall British gentleman who chaired the session, was smiling positively at my performance, and the members of the Board found the research that I had done really impressive. I was already seeing a new ladder smiling at me.

But no – this ladder had yet another snake waiting for me. I was soon informed that I had not been selected for the scholarship. My dreams of going to England had suddenly been broken. But I had given such a brilliant interview. Anyway, this was life’s little irony. I tried to console myself. But I failed to do so. I was not going to leave it like this anymore. I decided to make my own ladder by taking a train to New Delhi. I met the British Council Representative in Jor Bah, New Delhi. This tall man, Mr. Bell, was, in fact the same British gentleman who was present in the interview and had smiled so pleasantly and so positively at my performance. I became perhaps one of the first persons to use the Right to Information (R.T.I.) by asking for information. The information he gave me was that although the Board had adjudged me to be the best, my post-doctoral research topic was so new that nobody in England had opted to guide me. And so my name had been dropped. But if I volunteered to opt to attend a Post-Graduate Diploma Course in English Studies, he would try. I immediately gave my consent, because deep down in my heart was actually my desire to meet Mr. William Cooper the novelist in person in England. And for that I felt I could do just anything.


EIGHT




“ Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back”

Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

In September 1973 I came back to Patna with a heavy heart, completely uncertain about my future. I really “doubted if I should ever” go to London but I knew “how way leads on to way”, and I had promised to myself that I would never look back again and some of my near and dear ones also again continued to never look back at me again, because again I had raised their expectations which were not being fulfilled. I had a nervous breakdown and when I look back again at those dark days I remember that I had reached the lowest point of my self-esteem. The snake was again smiling at me, when suddenly my ladder came from New Delhi.

The British Council, New Delhi sent me a telegram informing me that I had been selected for the Post Graduate Diploma Course in the University of Wales, Institute of Science and Technology, Cardiff, U.K. as the British Council scholar (1973-1974), and that I should report immediately. So all my preparations for my passage to England had to be made in really fast motion, but I was down with influenza, completely broken down psychologically. The medical certificate that the British Council accepted for my Entry Visa into England was just a simple letter written by my friend’s younger brother* who only wrote a sentence acknowledging that I was physically fit.

Thomas Cook arranged my air travel, and my first ever air travel was destined to be the longest one – from Palam airport to Heathrow airport with stop-overs at Athens and Amsterdam. As an air-passenger, negotiating his first air travel, I felt completely lost. The flight was Australian – Qantas, and the passengers were few with few Air Hosts. I decided to take the window-seat and looked at yet another lady passenger on the other side window-seat as my role model. I copied her movements with such meticulous zeal that I made myself her mirror image, fastening and unfastening the seat-belts exactly as she did. She was too polite to protest, but perhaps she understood that I was a novice air-traveler.



* Dr. Uday Krishna

The real trouble came when I went in to use the toilet, because when I used the flush, it made a noise so strange that I got really scared. I thought that I had pressed some wrong button, and perhaps the entire toilet was going to eject into space. But fortunately nothing like that happened.

I was thrilled to land ultimately at Heathrow airport, and the gushing fresh air that welcomed me drove away all the negative feelings that had gathered in me, very much like Shelley’s, westwind driving away the dead leaves in Autumn, in his poem entitled Ode to the WestWind. My influenza had disappeared and my dream of coming to London was finally coming true.

The first Indian I saw at Heathrow airport was a tall maid with a broomstick looking at me with blank, unwelcoming eyes. I mumbled to her to ask how I should go about, expecting a favourable response. But she remained completely apathetic, and refused to tell me anything except that I should rather ask some white man. She continued sweeping the floor and quietly swept me out of her attention with just no love lost for me. I just did not matter at all to her.

The British Council people were properly punctual and properly well-organised. They had already given me in New Delhi a booklet explaining everything in detail. I was to take a bus from Heathrow airport to Victoria Terminus where there was a British gentleman carrying the insignia of the British Council on his arm, prominently displayed, to remove any kind of confusion. I found this gentleman placidly reading something, waiting for me to arrive. The moment we met each other, he took me coldly to a radio-taxi which took me to my place of residence in London where I had to spend the night. The residence itself had a time-table, and by the time an exhausted traveler like me reached the dinner-table, the time for supper was over, and there was no food for me. So I had to go to a nearby Wimpy restaurant, and with the little foreign exchange I had brought from India, I bought a couple of toasts, an egg and a cup of tea for £3.50 pence. I immediately converted this amount mentally into Indian Rupees and panicked. If this was the cost of things abroad, my life as a scholar would become extremely difficult. I instantly saw hard days ahead.

However, I went to my room for sleep, but could not sleep for quite some time. I sobbed bitterly, remembering my aged parents, my wife and my two little daughters I had left behind. Patna university had given me extraordinary leave but without any pay. How would my family make both the ends meet without my pay? I was too tired to answer that question, and slowly just forgot to answer that question, hoping for the best, and looked at the fog lights in the street outside for some comfort.

Just then my Indian friend* who was in London on yet another scholarship and who had come to know about my passage to England descended into my room as a welcome angel. He immediately made me calm, and promised to come next morning and take me to the British Council office for the necessary formalities before I left for Cardiff to take up my assignment.

So the next morning became a bit more cheering, and I had my breakfast at my place of residence because this time I was there at the table just on the dot. I have always admired the British breakfast as the most sumptuous kind of meal served throughout the day. I was amazed to find the infinite varieties of English that people spoke around me. It took me some time to adjust to and understand the different kinds of English the natives spoke and communicated in. Next morning my friend (Professor Uma Shankar) came just on time, and he had with him the road map of London with the route we were to take clearly marked out. That was my first training in time management. The formalities in the British Council Office were over, and I had to take my train for Cardiff from Victoria Terminus railway station. I had put my luggage on the top berth of my compartment, and wanted to get down and buy some


* Professor Uma Shankar

food from the railway platform. The Indian habit made me request the British gentleman sitting on the lower berth to kindly over-see my luggage when I was away. I can still remember the scornful frown he gave me as he coldly threw the cruel question at me: What should I over-see? I crumbled to pieces and remembered never again to ask any fellow passenger in England to “over-see” my luggage. That was my first training in managing the British people.

At Cardiff railway station, there was an officer from the British Council waiting for me with a radio taxi. And this time I was taken to the International House in Penarth. This House was loftily situated on the Bristol Channel with a lush green golf-course luxuriously spread in front. My first reaction was of sheer bewilderment, for I saw in front of me people gathered from different parts of the world. Most of these people were British Council Scholars like me. And one of them happened to be an Indian*. I was really delighted to see an Indian welcoming me with a smile. He too had found an Indian scholar, and so we soon formed a “mutual support” society in which a friend in need became a friend indeed. This gentleman, I later found out, belonged to Maharashtra and spoke Marathi.


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