Reminiscences of teachers and principals

Niti Paul Mehta

Niti Paul Mehta was born in 1932 in Bahawal Nagar (now in Pakistan) in pre-Independence India. As his father was in the Indian Railways, he had to change schools each time his father had a transfer. Thus, he was educated in various cities of Punjab and finally graduated from Government College, Rohtak in 1953. He did his Bachelors in Teaching from Vaish College, Rohtak and his Masters in English from Aligarh Muslim University. He retired as Vice Principal of a senior secondary school in Delhi in 1993 and continues to live in Delhi.

Editor's Note: Shri Mehta's articles, middles and short stories have appeared in almost all the major national dailies and magazines. Some of his articles have been included in anthologies as well. Many prominent writers have quoted his work in their books / articles. At, we are very privileged to have published four pieces by Shri Mehta earlier. Here are two more.

A seat in the bus and my vote

In my younger days I used to travel by bus while going to work. It was no small or easy feat those days. Traveling by bus was an ordeal. In the morning I caught a bus to go to work. In the afternoon I would catch a bus to come back home. Both ways the bus would be full of teachers.

I can't recall many days when I might have traveled in a seated position. I mostly traveled in the 'standing' capacity.

Not that I never got a seat. On the contrary I almost always got a seat. But then I'd always find some lady teacher or some old person and I would immediately offer my seat to that person.

In this connection, I can recall a very funny incident. Among the teachers who boarded the bus from our bus stop was one very fat lady teacher. On certain occasions her colleagues had to push her through the door to ease her entry into the bus.

But she had a great sense of humor. She'd always be smiling and took great pride in her bulk. When her colleagues entered the bus, she'd be often heard calling out to someone, “Nee, merey wastey vi seataan rakhen, do!" The word "do" was spoken with a peculiar tone which created laughter all around, the loudest of all being hers.

One day she came and stood beside my seat. Each bus seat is meant for two. I was alone in that seat. I shrank to one side a little to make room for her. But she kept standing, smiling and staring at me. I sat like a dud. Then she gestured pointing to her huge girth.

I sprang to my feet and slipped out of the seat while she pushed herself in and filled the space tight. But then another thing happened.

There was another teacher. She was slim and short. Her hand did not reach the straps overhead. One day she must have been standing while holding on to the back side of my seat. I was not aware.

Suddenly the driver braked. The jerk threw her ahead. She was still holding the seat but she was looking straight at me. I got up and she sat down. From that day it became her permanent practice. She would walk down to wherever I might be sitting and stand there holding the back of my seat. I would see her, get up and offer her my seat. I almost became her substitute to hold the seat for her.

And at 86 how was I repaid for all my good karma.

On the day of election I stood before an officer to get my finger inked when a young lady came from behind and stood ahead of me. When I protested, she said, "But I have my slip in my hand." That made absolutely no sense to me but I countered her by saying, "Madam, if you have your slip, I also have my slip, my stick, my water bottle and my 86 years with me."

She didn't listen. Instead she caught the officer's hand and put her slip on his palm. The man looked stupidly at me as he proceeded to ink her finger.

She then unexpectedly extended her other arm and pulled up a man from behind in front of me.

"What is this?", I asked.

"My husband!", she said.

So much for the chivalry to the slim and short teacher of yesteryears.

Destiny is your story

Mr. T. N. Bhat joined our school in 1964 as its Principal. That was Mr. Bhat’s first posting in a government school. Earlier he had worked only in private schools.

Mr. Bhat was a great educationist and a man of ideas. He had engaging manners. Within days of his arrival at the school he formed a good idea of the way the system was working. He set in motion the process to introduce new features to the personality of the school.

I soon realized that whenever he had a new idea he'd call me and discuss it with me. Sometimes he would ask me to stay back after the school closed. As we walked down the road, he'd disclose the plan he had in his mind.

That often surprised me because there were others who were more qualified and senior to me. They naturally had a better claim to enjoy the confidence of the head of the school. I was not even an MA then. Yet I was the chosen one.

One day out of the blue he surprised me. “Mehta, why don't you do your MA in English? Improve your qualifications."

I responded by saying, "Sir, I shall think about it."

As far as I was concerned the matter ended there. But apparently not for Mr. Bhat.

When the summer vacation began that year I had a plan to visit some relatives and friends. But just on the second day of the holidays there was a knock on the door. When I opened the door and it was the peon of the school at the door.

Bhat Sahib had sent some papers for me. One was a letter from the education officer informing me that I had been granted permission to appear in my MA (English) examination. I was surprised. I had never applied for this permission. The other was a small slip on which Bhat Sahib had scrawled, "Now, don't disappoint me."

I was never an ambitious person. Though not very happy, I did fill up the form. Next year I appeared in the MA (Previous) Examination of Aligarh Muslim University. I passed creditably. Next year I appeared in the MA (Final) Examination. I did well in all the papers. Only the viva voce remained.

The day before I was to appear in this test, my wife was admitted to hospital. We were expecting our first child.

Now, just look at my predicament. If I didn't appear for this test I'd fail in the examination. That meant two years' labour lost. And if I went to Aligarh for this test I would not be with my wife at that crucial hour.

My wife insisted that I should go. So did her brother. I stood in the corridor of the hospital with my small bag slung over my shoulder. I was very tense.

Just then someone put a hand on my shoulder. I turned round and saw the doctor smiling at me. "Go," she said. "The whole team of my doctors is there to take care of her. All will be well."

That is when I made up my mind and caught the bus to Aligarh. The next day, I went to the hospital straight from Aligarh. The doctor had kept her word. Both the child and the mother were fine. Joy was writ large on the face of everyone in the room.

If I remember correctly the result came in May; I had passed the exam.

One morning a colleague came to me. He said he was going to Aligarh to get his provisional certificate. "If you like we can go together," he said. Together we traveled to Aligarh.

On reaching the University we found the place completely deserted. We were walking through the corridor when we found one man sitting inside a heavily chained and locked room.

That was the record room of the examination department. I am not sure but I think the name of the gentleman sitting inside the room was Mr. Iqbal. He told us that it was a Friday and the University was closed. He refused to help us as he could not charge the fee, he could not issue a certificate and he could not get the VC's signatures on a holiday.

Just then two men came that way strolling through the corridor. As they reached the door of the room, the man stood up and respectfully greeted them. They asked him a few questions. Just as they turned to leave they noticed us and asked us why we were there.

We replied that we were teachers from Delhi. We explained our situation to them.

They turned to the man in the locked room and directed him, "Take the fee from them in tomorrow's date. Also issue them the certificates in the same date. And take their signatures on the counterfoils."

"Sir I will also need your signatures on the certificates," said the man.

"Then take my signatures just now," said one of them.

It was then that we realized that all that while we were actually talking to the VC himself.

I have great faith in God. Otherwise how destiny could be such a good friend of mine?

That I believe must have been the only time perhaps that a Vice Chancellor personally literally walked down to a room on a holiday to help two needy souls.

It was no coincidence. it was destiny.

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