Shakoor Sahib - my middle school teacher

R C Mody

R C Mody is a postgraduate in Economics and a Certificated Associate of the Indian Institute of Bankers. He studied at Raj Rishi College (Alwar), Agra College (Agra), and Forman Christian College (Lahore). For over 35 years, he worked for the Reserve Bank of India, where he headed several all-India departments, and was also the Principal of the RBI Staff College. Now (in 2016) 90 years old, he is leading a retired life, still engaged in, reading, writing, and some social work and quite often reminiscing. He lives in New Delhi with his wife. His email address is .

I had my initial schooling at home under private tutors as my father was not inclined to send me to any school in Alwar (then capital of a princely state now in the state of Rajasthan) where we lived, because he felt none of them imparted proper education. But, he changed his mind when a new school, named Model School, opened there in 1936.

Model School, with classes up to Standard VIII, had a properly selected staff, and a very forward-looking Headmaster, Mr Ram Narain Sharma, who went on to become, years later, Joint Director of Education in Rajasthan. I was put to a rigorous admission test. To my great delight, I was found fit for Class VII, even though I was only 10 years old. Straight away, I became a senior student in the newly opened prestigious school!

Some of my teachers, though not highly paid, taught excellently; they were dedicated and they knew how to teach. One of them particularly lingers in my memory till today, 79 years after I left the school. He made a lasting impact on my mind and thinking. It was Abdul Shakoor Qureshi, who taught us History and Geography.

Shakoor Sahib, as we called him, was tall and handsome, used to come immaculately dressed, despite the low two figured salary he drew. He had M.A. and B.T. (now called B. Ed.) degrees. More importantly, he did not believe in sticking to the prescribed text books and syllabus. Instead, he was bent upon arousing our interest in and curiosity about the affairs of our country and the world at large.

Whether it was a history class or a geography class, he would find some way out to depart from the beaten path and tell us something different and exciting. While teaching the geography of Europe, when he came to Spain, he switched to the ongoing Spanish Civil War and told us all about it: its causes, how it was proceeding, and about Nehru’s visit to Spain in the midst the war to support the cause of left-wing Republicans. Overnight, we the students became mini experts on this War, good enough to educate some elders in our families, who knew very little about it.

And when he took up geography, of Russia, he told us all about the Russian Revolution. He thrilled us by his account of how the Russian royalty was wiped off by a volley of gunfire, and the country came under the rule of those considered representatives of peasants and workers. But when he described the Communist state, I remember doubt arising in my nascent mind “Would such regimentation not kill the spirit of the people?” But I kept my feelings to myself. (I kept subscribing to the leftist ideology till I visited East Germany forty years later to find how true my fears were. People in East Germany were suffocated, clamoring to cross over to the West by jumping the Berlin wall, risking their lives. Another 15 years down the line I witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is a good lesson for anyone to learn: never suppress a child’s thinking).

To return to Shakoor Sahib, while teaching us the British period of Indian history, he would leapfrog two centuries, and would talk about the ongoing struggle for India’s freedom from British Raj. He would romanticize personalities like Gandhi, Nehru and Subhash Bose and inject in us love and admiration for them and for the country.

He would excite our curiosity about the outcome of the ongoing 1937 elections. He personally went to witness polling in the adjacent areas of UP; as there were no elections in princely India. After his return, he gave us an exciting and vivid account of what he saw, and of his talks with voters as they were coming out of the voting booths after casting their votes (now called exit polls). “I have voted for Gandhi,” every voter told him.

What was the impact of all his talks on the examination results of his students? In keeping with normal practice, questions in examination were only from the prescribed syllabus, not from the other material Shakoor Sahib taught us. Believe it or not, Shakoor Sahib’s students all fared better than the boys from the adjoining school where teachers taught only what was prescribed in the syllabus. Shakoor Sahib had instilled in his students a love for learning!

I became so fond of him that that even after leaving the school, I kept on meeting him often. But not for very long. Come 1947, Shakoor Sahib migrated to Pakistan. Apparently, he had no option, as all Muslims from Alwar who did not convert or became victims of communal violence did the same. What he did after reaching Pakistan, with his love for Indian leaders like Gandhi and Nehru, whom he revered so much, I kept on guessing for a long time. But, in me, the flame of love for this country, which Shakoor Sahib had lit, remained ever lasting. And so did the curiosity and love for learning which he implanted in my young mind.

More than 60 years later, in 1999, I visited Lahore. I made an attempt to trace out Shakoor Sahib but with no success. I was told that the migrants to Pakistan from Indian areas other than East Punjab could be traced out only among the Muhajirs in Karachi. I was disappointed. My visa was restricted to the city of Lahore.

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