The Pending Salute

Author: 
Gaurav Mathur

Gaurav Mathur, 41, lives in Ahmedabad with his wife, Poonam, and son, Saksham. He practises law. He studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Shahibaug, Ahmedabad from 1987 to 1992, after which he did his graduation in BA (Hons.) Economics from University of Rajasthan and law from Maharani Laxmi Bai Arts and Commerce College, Gwalior.

November 22, 2013

Friday evenings often mark a beginning.

We begin to cook what we like. Or go out; shopping, eating. Sometimes visit family and friends. The week gone by was tiring and I decided to savour my cup of tea. Thus began the most relaxing weekend activity, family conversation.

That’s when the phone rang. Mr. Khardia, my History teacher from school had no reason to look me up. He said, Mr. Verma, our Physics teacher has specially requested him to speak to me. I heard his message carefully, absorbed the details and was unsure of what next to do. Ideally, an urgent action would have been befitting of the occasion. Instead, I decided to finish the brewed cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger kahwa blended with 4 table spoons of sugar. There was no way I could have reached in time even if I abandoned my concoction for relaxation.

July 1990

High School is an exciting place to be in. But being there, in India, is preceded by Board examinations, the hunt for marks and critical decision making. I could’ve chosen the Science stream. But I chose Humanities. The decision aroused myriad reactions from all quarters, which ranged from conspiracy to romantic foolhardiness.

Gaurav Mathur attended Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Shahibaug at Ahmedabad, Gujarat from 1987 to 1992.

At Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Shahibaug, Ahmedabad, Mrs. Amita Kapoor taught Chemistry to high school Science students. She was adept at her subject and made it interesting, which endeared her to the students. She never taught me, for obvious reasons. But from a few sessions she took in grade 10, she had me sized up!

Mrs. Amita Kapoor, a chemistry teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Shahibaug, Ahmedabad.

Outside the class, few friends and I always greeted her with a Salute, Hail Kapoor!! She would return the Salute. When she met me, having heard of my decision, she approved of it and said, ‘you cannot balance the simplest of chemical equations. It is better you do what you are good at. Don’t let the reactions bog you down’. I found my anchor that moment. I entered the Humanities section without any doubts.

In our school, we had four houses, Sardar, Tagore, Ashok and Raman (STAR) and students were divided by the STAR formula applied to their roll numbers. I had R against mine. As it were to happen, Raman house was not as well endowed with talent in literary, cultural and sports as other Houses. We had Sh. Ram Lal Inania, a senior Geography teacher and Mrs. Amita Kapoor as House Masters. My friend, Manish Bhavsar was appointed House Captain and I was made overall in-charge.

I greeted Mrs Kapoor with a Salute when Raman House had its first meeting. She asked me what we were likely to achieve. This issue had already been a topic of conversation between Manish and I. I told her that we should strategise to try and garner as many points as possible in all the activities even if we do did not get the first position in those. I also told her that Morning Assembly is a weekly activity attributed to each House. Yet, it does not receive as much attention as it ought to. If we are able to excel there, we will be able to build a margin which will be hard to beat provided we were consistent in other activities.

That started a mission of sorts. We planned each activity, be it sports, debate, dance or declamation. We trained at least 2 contenders for each activity and chose the one performing better. Mrs. Kapoor was always present spending time with us, helping us realise our plan.

Boys in the boxing ring at Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Shahibaug, Ahmedabad during a regional sports meet.

I looked after the morning assembly personally. I wrote the news of the day for the week and rehearsed with the students. This was not new for me. In Grade 3, I used to read the news in the School which my grandfather helped me write after listening to BBC Urdu Nashariyaat at 6:30 am and English News thereafter.

By time the year ended, our plan worked. We gained a huge lead on account of morning assembly marks. We were consistent in all other activities. By virtue of our lead, there was no doubt that Raman House would lift the trophy for the best house!

For the presentation ceremony, I was not part of the trophy receiving contingent as I was not an office bearer. Mrs. Kapoor walked up [to our group] and announced that this trophy must first be received by me since no one else ever believed that it would come to us. I went up and Saluted, Hail Kapoor! A thunderous applause greeted the occasion as I stood with my mentor basking in glory.

July 1991

We were ushered into the new academic year. This was the critical one, Grade 12. Once again house division was brought about by the STAR formula.

On the first house meet, an eerie sense of déjà vu enveloped me! Once again, I had R against my Roll number! Once again, Manish accompanied me! Mr. Ram Lal Inania was again our House Master! At the first house-meet we took a quick count to see what we had in store. And once again, not enough stuff for an easy ride. Victory would depend on lots of effort. Expectations were high from Raman House, the worst hurdle one can encounter.

Mr. Inania announced that for all purposes and intents, I will don the role of the House Master and it is entirely up to me and Manish how we went about our business.

After the House meeting, on the way back to the classes, I ran into Mrs. Kapoor. Hail Kapoor! I saluted and congratulated her on becoming the House master of Ashok house, which was teeming with talent. She asked me which house I am in. I told her that I am where I was, Raman, and, again bereft of abundance of talent. Mrs. Kapoor took a sigh. She ran her fingers though my hair and remarked that it was of no significance how well-endowed Ashok house was because she was sure that Ramans would win again. I was left speechless but inspired to make the extra effort.

We did make the effort. When the time for presentations came, we were first! The first person to congratulate me was Mrs. Kapoor. Hail Mathur, She said before I could offer a salute! She told me that I had the talent to do things and get them done is a talent less recognised but not in vain. So long as you are at it, you are likely to reach the destination. I wonder, if this applies to my trepidation at solving chemical equations too!

Eventually we passed out from school and I went off to Jaipur and Gwalior for higher studies and then to Delhi for work. Mrs. Kapoor was also transferred to other schools and I lost touch with her. I was yet to reciprocate the Last Salute.

November 22, 2013

Mrs Kapoor, I was informed some time later, had put up with many a battle in her personal life. Her son was critically injured and she dedicated herself to charter his recovery. He did recover. She wouldn’t rest till he did!

Yet some battles are only fought, not won.

Cancer eventually defeated her.

When I entered her house I could see the questions in Mr. Khardia’s eyes. Why did a Physics teacher want that a History student be informed of the demise of a Chemistry teacher?

I didn’t bother to explain. Instead I stood there entangled in the threads I hadn’t gathered in the years gone by. How I wanted to Salute and exclaim, Hail Kapoor?!

All I could manage was a sheepish pranaam, an etiquette that comes handy in crucial social situations.

Comments

Love your style of writing Gaurav.

It is the advertising industry's loss that you became a lawyer instead.

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