Father Alfonso D’Souza, my science teacher and a true educationist

Author: 
Falguni Ray Choudhury

Falguni Ray Choudhury attended St. Xavier’s High School, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad from 1970 to 1980. In 1982 he enrolled at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad and graduated in 1985. He rounded off his education with M.Sc. in Statistics. He joined the Department of Central Excise in 1987 and is currently working as Superintendent.

Ahmedabad in the 1970s was but a small town and we were children trying to find foothold in a city deeply conservative and not very open to languages other than Gujarati. Ours was a typical “Probashi Bangalee” family adapting to the nature of a new environment. My parents decided that I should be doing my schooling from St. Xavier’s High School, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad, an old establishment run by Jesuit priests during those days and so in 1970, from Class I, I entered the haloed precinct of my Alma Mater.

Falguni Ray Choudhury attended St. Xavier’s High School, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad from 1970 to 1980.

The decade spent in the school moulded me to be the person I am. The journey brought me under the influence of some fine teachers who shall remain with me throughout my life. Significant amongst them are Ms. Hawewalla (later Mrs. Pathan), a Parsee lady who was my class teacher in Class VI, Mrs. Rosa Noronha (the finest teacher I have studied under and a mother outside home), my class teacher in Class VIII and Class X, and Father Alfonso D’Souza, my science teacher in Class VIII and IX.

Father Alfonso D’Souza was a science teacher at St. Xavier’s High School, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad.

Today, I shall talk about the padre who not only taught us science, but was an educationist in true sense of the word. A native of Mangalore, his chosen profession of being a Catholic priest and educationist had brought him to Ahmedabad. Gujarat was a place or rather still is where there is a general apathy towards reading. This reflected in our school too. There was a library in the School that we had never heard of. Imagine a school without library! Fr. Alfonso, single handedly built up the School Library, which I am told is alive and kicking even after four decades.

Summer holidays were real fun. Most of us would leave to spend the vacation with other cousins. Before leaving Ahmedabad and for those who stayed back, we were young volunteers, reaching school early morning, to help the Reverend set up his library. Our efforts were more than rewarded by the books that Father lend us and our joy was unlimited. But not all children were keen to find themselves surrounded by books, far less interested in reading them. For them, the padre introduced the joys of a basketball game. Those summer holidays and Diwali breaks are still etched vividly in my memory. Oh, what happy days!

Speaking of basketball, brings another aspect of Father’s effort in the school. Like reading, Ahmedabad in general and the school in particular had nothing to do with sports. Sports introduced by the European priests of yore had faded into distant memories. Again it was Fr. Alfonso who was instrumental in building up a new basketball court and under his tutelage, slowly but surely the school’s basketball team became a force to be reckoned with, within the city. A basketball tournament became an annual affair at the school.

The school laboratory, nothing much to be written about either, was refurbished by Fr. Alfonso and those experiments that he conducted in the Science Club amused us and developed interest in the subject. Quizzing was also introduced for the young minds by the reverend. Mind you though, that he was not all fun. A strict disciplinarian too, many of us saw pages of our Science Journal ripped off because the diagrams did not match up to his exactitude or simply found the journals find wings to fly over our heads as he flung them across the hall on the second floor, out of the windows to the grounds below. But we did not mind his tantrums, for he was a jolly good fellow. An answer he often gave us prior to exams when asked about the questions - the questions are very easy he said, I am not too sure about the answers.

School hours never stopped our interaction with Fr. Alfonso. He was the head of a seminary that tutored would-be priests. The St. Joseph Seminary was slightly away from the School. But his doors were always open. The seminary was an extended library where he would lend us books from his personal collection. Children who were extrovert, adventurous, would even ask him for food at the seminary and he would generously oblige.

We moved on and so did Father. He left the city and probably moved to London which I am not too sure. He did remain in England for a longish period of time. Health became an issue with him, as he suffered from renal disorder and then cancer. But diseases only slowed him down. He moved to a presbytery in Bangalore to be a spiritual guide to the nuns of the Mount Carmel College, Bangalore and then as age caught up he moved to this small nook in that city, where he nurtures a group of orphans or very poor children of various religious background, feeds them, teaches them, sends them to schools and colleges and fancies them to find their standing in the Society. He also carries out is priestly minstrels. As he once said that he has a very famous neighbour - Shri Shri Ravi Shanker, and he is engaged in the activity of moulding children, so that they are then capable of being moulded in that fancy ashram of the Shri Shri.

Father Alfonso D’Souza remains in touch with his students through emails. His letters are treasures that are meant for keeps. I am indeed privileged to have had him as my teacher. God bless him abundantly always. Amen.

Comments

Falguni wonderful narration of our School and Teachers particularly Fr. Alphonso .Since this school was my School everything you have written is so endearing and nostalgic. I don't know how did you say that the school had no Library.In our days it was in the in the big hall on the first floor where there was a Cinema Screen too. In the same Library once when I was reading a
Comic book, Fr. Lobo with traditional tooth pick dangling between his lips, said " Hi man you are not laughing on reading a comic book". Falguni more power to your fingers to write more.

Mandan sir, there are other seniors who have noted about the existence of School Library. However, as with Sports, it had become decadent. From Class I to VII, none of us boys had ever heard of it. Believe in me, as I was one of Father's young volunteers in reviving the Library, which as you correctly remember still is at the corner of the first floor. As children, we had no idea of the politics being played behind the scene. But recently, the Reverend quipped that he had actually made a bonfire of the materials that had been stacked in the name of having a library. This infuriated the then Principal and complaints reached the Bishop. Being summoned,as Father said, for burning down the library,he had famously answered the Bishop - where is the library? The rest is up there in the article. Thank you sir, for your comments.

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