My English teacher, Father Ryan

Subodh Mathur

Subodh Mathur was born in Alwar, and educated in Jaipur, Delhi, and Cambridge, USA. He taught economics for one year at Rajasthan University, Jaipur. He has been an independent consultant since 1988, occasionally teaching Economics at the American University, Washington, DC. He lives with his wife, Anuradha Deolalikar in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In his spare time, he is an avid gardener, and the editor of

Along with Subhash and Ashok (my older brothers) and Satish (my younger brother), in the 1960s, I studied at St. Xavier’s School, Jaipur. At that time, it was a boys-only school.

Subodh Mathur attended St. Xavier’s School, Jaipur in the 1960s.

The school is run by Jesuit missionaries, many of whom are from the U.S.

One of these American Jesuit missionaries was Father (Fr.) Ryan. He taught us English when I was in Class 9. (The final, school-leaving class those days was Class 11, when we appeared for the Indian School Certificate examination.) For some reason that is not clear to me even now, one part of our education was to read aloud in the class from a text book – in English and Hindi.

In reading aloud in English in Fr. Ryan’s class, many of the boys would not pause fully at the end of a sentence. Nor would they pause at all when there was a comma. Instead, they would just continue to read the words, one after the other.

Fr. Ryan would keep telling us that we had to pause when there was a comma. And, most importantly, our reading had to come to a full stop when there was a full stop (what is called a period in the US) at the end of a sentence.

‘A full stop means that you need to stop fully.’ Fr. Ryan would say again and again. But, it had no impact on some of the students – they just kept chugging along.

One day, he decided to show the class what a full stop meant to him.

He shut the classroom door. Then, he sprinted across all the way from the other side of the room. And crashed full blast into the door, falling to the floor!

‘That’s a full stop!’ he said.

The unspoken threat was clear. Any student who did not stop fully at a full stop would have to do what Fr. Ryan had just done!

The lesson sunk in.

One of our regular homework assignments in Fr. Ryan’s class was to write an essay. I was good at this. But, I was also somewhat unorthodox and wayward. Usually, I did not make an outline – which was the prescribed way. Instead, I just wrote.

And, sometimes, I did not feel like writing at all – even though it was a required homework assignment.

In those days, as students, it was virtually impossible for us to say anything to our teachers. They told us what to do, and that was that – all one way. So, there was no way I could talk to Fr. Ryan about my essay homework assignment.

But, Fr. Ryan understood me. One day, he made me an offer. He said, “If you don’t write an essay, just turn in a blank exercise book (what we used to call ‘copy’ at that time.) I will give you a Pass grade.”

I was delighted, but I could hardly believe it! I know I did take advantage of it perhaps once or twice.

I think Fr. Ryan made the same offer to my classmate, Rakesh Hooja, who later married my younger sister Meenakshi. Rakesh was a more spontaneous, gifted writer than me – words just flew from his mind when he sat down to write in school, and later for national publications.

Sadly, Rakesh is not around (how my family misses him) to tell us whether Fr. Ryan made him that offer. And, I don’t know whether he offered similar deals to other students in other years. What I do know is that this offer built my confidence in me as a writer.

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