Remembering Father Ryan

Aniruddha Haikerwal

Aniruddha Haikerwal completed his BA, LLB from Banaras Hindu University. From 1975 to 2009 he worked in the areas of textiles, coal and defence production for the Government of India. He retired as the General Manager of an ordnance factory. Today he leads a quiet life of repose at Nagpur along with wife, Kiran.

Editor's Note: Another tribute to Father Ryan of St. Xaviers School, Jaipur has been written by Subodh Mathur.

The mind plays truant when you least expect it. I had left St. Xaviers School, Jaipur, in 1967 after I finished my Higher Secondary education. Thereafter, there was no occasion for me to go back to my old school.

However, last year (in 2015), for no reason in particular, Fr. Ryan, who taught me English, came to my mind. Almost fifty years after leaving the school, I contacted the present Principal through an email, and made enquiries about my old teacher. Apparently, the present Principal had heard nothing about Fr. Ryan. However, he took pains to find out from some Catholic institution at Delhi.

After about three weeks, I got an e-mail from a senior Jesuit priest from Delhi, informing me about Fr. Ryan. It appears he had some medical issues, and went back to USA from Jaipur. There he actively worked for AA. And, after some dedicated service, received his 'final award'.

I remembered him because he was a most empathetic and thoughtful person, which was the greatest need of the hour for me. Till Class 7, I had studied in a fine institution of Lucknow, Colvin Taluqdar's College, a Hindi medium school. It was awkward for me to switch over to English medium in St. Xavier’s, Jaipur, in Class 8, when my classmates had long finished Enid Blyton and were discussing Harper Lee.

The result was that in Jaipur I became reticent and taciturn, shirking company. Fr. Ryan, the kindly priest must have guessed my plight. He did all that he could do to help me. He encouraged me to become more involved in school activities. In fact, once he said that if I came to the cricket nets, he would be there to receive me. Indeed, he was there.

Encouraged by him, I started exploring English fiction. This made me pick up the language, gradually and steadily. I was spending more time in the school library.

Once I was examining a new encyclopaedia set in the school library. I happened to see in it a map of India. I could see that the map was not faithful to the contours, as recognised by us. As I was coming out of the Library, I saw Fr. Ryan going towards the classroom. After wishing him, I mentioned to him what I had just seen.

He stopped on his way, caught my hands, and hurried to the library. When I showed him the page, he quietly asked for a ball pen, with red refill from Mr. Asrani, (brother of the famous movie comedian), our school Librarian, and made necessary corrections in the map. Red refill, since the rest of the map was in red.

Once the class task was to write an essay, the subject being Fr. Ryan. Copies – what are now called ‘exercise books’ - were collected and taken away by Fr. Ryan for grading and corrections. The next day, when he came to class, my copy was on the top. This was so because he had some lessons to teach the class, namely that it takes all kinds to make a class of Xavier's.

One mistake I had committed was that while describing him I had written “He is a long man.” It was that day that I came to know that there is a difference between ‘long’ and ‘tall’, and that there is a book in the library worth reading - Daddy Long Legs.

He was amused to see that I had also written about him “His smile is like Mono Liza.” The second lesson was that one should mind his spellings, especially of proper nouns. Yes, indeed, “Mona Lisa.”

When my peers kept on being amused by my follies, Father Ryan had this to say: “This is nothing. The other class from which I just came, I had asked them to write a letter to me, narrating their holidays experiences. One boy wrote really well. However, he had addressed me as ‘Dear Daddy'.”

The class concluded with yet another Mona Lisa smile, playing on his well-chiselled face.

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