"The aim of education is not the acquisition of information, although important, or acquisition of technical skills, though essential in modern society, but the development of that bent of mind, that attitude of reason, that spirit of democracy which will make us responsible citizens."- Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan
Recognizing the contribution of teachers to the society in India, every year September 5 is celebrated as ‘Teachers’ Day’. This is the day when students pay tribute to their teachers not only for imparting knowledge, but also for the role the teachers play in moulding their careers and lives. September 5 is the birthday of Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975), the second President of India who was a great scholar, philosopher, teacher and a staunch believer in the value of education.
There is an interesting anecdote about choosing September 5 as ‘Teachers’ Day’. When Dr Radhakrishnan became the President of India in 1962, some of his students and well-wishers requested him to permit them to celebrate his birthday on September 5. In reply, Dr Radhakrishnan said, "Instead of celebrating my birthday separately, it would be my proud privilege if September 5 is observed as Teachers' day". This suggestion manifested Dr Radhakrishnan's love for the teaching profession. Thus, from 1962 onwards, Dr Radhakrishnan’s birthday on September 5 has been observed as ‘Teachers' Day’ throughout India.
I consider myself privileged to have been a teacher for 35 years. Though retired two years ago, I cherish every moment that I spent in the teaching profession. As some of my students, few of whom have become teachers and lecturers, wish me or send messages on Teachers’ Day, I in turn remember my own teachers who had enlightened my mind and shaped my life.
As a student, I was fortunate to have been taught by a number of excellent teachers who not only imparted basic knowledge in various subjects, but also instilled in me a sense of discipline, value of hard-work and respect for the profession. Few of my teachers became my role-models who inspired me to take up the teaching profession.
On this Teachers’ Day, while paying sincere respect to all my teachers, I would like to take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to one of my favourite teachers, Boniface Barboza, popularly known as ‘Benny Master’ who taught me in the primary section of the Church Aided Higher Elementary School, Moodubelle. He had been an excellent teacher, efficient administrator and a fine human being. Even after his retirement in 1990, there are many examples from his life that are worth learning. For me, he has been a teacher for all times and seasons.
There was neither church nor school in Moodubelle at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1910, Salvador Barboza, father of Benny Master, as a young boy along with Fr. Casmir Fernandes migrated from Shirva to Moodubelle. Fr. Casmir Fernandes laid the foundation of St Lawrence Church and Parish in Moodubelle and gradually established the Church Aided Higher Elementary School. Salvador Barboza assisted Fr Casmir Fernandes as the sacristan and choir master. He even worked as Headmaster of the Primary section of the school for three years from 1919 to 1922.
Boniface was born on June 5, 1932. After studying till 8th standard at the Church School in Moodubelle he continued his education in St Mary’s High School, Shirva and eventually passed SSC examination from the Hindu High School, Shirva in 1951.
Young Boniface was keen in taking up the teaching profession. Immediately after completing SSC in 1951, he joined the Church Elementary School, Moodubelle as an untrained teacher in the first standard. Coincidentally, I also had joined the school as a student in the first standard in the same year. I still remember the first day of mine in the school as a student and that of Boniface as a teacher. The entire class was stunned and excited when this handsome and young man entered the class in snow white full shirt and dhoti. Soon Boniface became the most popular teacher in the school and affectionately came to be referred as ‘Benny Master’.
In order to acquire teaching skills to be a successful teacher, Benny Master underwent two years of teachers’ training course at the Government Teachers’ Training College, Mangalore from 1952 to 1954 and rejoined the school in April 1954.
As a trained teacher Benny Master was assigned higher classes for teaching. He was specially assigned the subjects of Arithmetic, Science, English, Drawing and Music. He was proficient in Drawing and playing harmonium.
Benny Master had an amiable nature. He was quite understanding, soft-spoken and believed in instilling discipline among his students without using the stick. He was not only popular among the students but also endeared to his teacher colleagues. Besides teaching in school, Benny Master would also assist his sacristan father in the church by playing harmonium for the choir during Sunday and festival masses.
The efficiency and popularity of Benny Master brought him new responsibilities. In 1959, following the resignation of the incumbent Headmaster, Edward D’Sa, who migrated to East Africa for better prospects, Benny Master was asked to look after the administration of the school as in-charge Headmaster. Being impressed by his administrative qualities he was appointed as full-fledged Headmaster from September 12, 1960. He held this post till his retirement on June 30, 1990, the longest tenure of 30 years as the Headmaster.
Benny Master once had narrated me the advice given by his father before he accepted the post of Headmaster. His father had told him: “Do not expect any earthly honour for your work which you may not get. Secondly, you should not take any money from the school even if you lose your own money”. Benny Master remained faithful to this advice of his father throughout his career.
Though he was the Headmaster, Benny Master had to do all types of work in the school. As the school did not have non-teaching staff such as peons and clerks, he had to open the class-rooms before the students and teachers arrived. He had to maintain the records of the students and teachers, prepare their salary statements and do all other types of clerical work. In spite of these problems he was meticulous in his work and administration.
In February 1965, Benny Master married Eugene Teacher from Bajpe who had been teaching in the same school since 1960. Their son Conrad Francis, after completing M.Com and MBA is presently working in Houston, Texas in USA and is happily married.
Besides dedicating himself to the teaching and administrative responsibilities in the school, Benny Master got himself involved in church and social activities. He was always ready to help people in need and settle petty disputes of those who sought his mediation. He helped many school children from poor families by providing them books and other things. In order to promote the habit of savings among the school children, Benny Master started the ‘Sanchayika Bank’ in the school in 1970s which grew with time with considerable deposits.
The pressure of work affected the health of Benny Master who suffered first heart attack on December 23, 1982. Immediate medical help and care taken by his wife enabled him to recover from this tragedy. However, in March 1990, he suffered second heart attack and underwent bypass surgery in the Bombay Hospital on June 30, 1990, the very day on which he was to retire from the school. He recovered from this major surgery due to his will power and prayers of thousands of his students and well-wishers.
In spite of his ailment, Benny Master continued his life with positive outlook and kept himself busy with social service and activities in the church. For few years he edited the quarterly parish magazine “Suvaad” and involved himself in various associations including as a member of the Parish Council.
Benny Master’s tryst with ailment continued. In September 2002, he underwent another operation for a condition known as Ventral Scar Hernia related to the heart problem. Within two months of this operation he became a victim of dengue fever for which he had to remain in the Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai for three months.
Recurring health problems have not deterred Benny Master who is in his 77th year of age to live an active life. He never allowed his aliment to conquer his spirit. On the other hand his will power and positive thinking as well as the love and care of his family and good wishes of his countless students have seen him through these difficult days and pain. He never manifests any kind of regret or helplessness and is content, happy and grateful to God for all the things that he had in his life.
As his father had predicted, Benny Master neither aspired nor got any earthly rewards or honours, neither had he lobbied for the same. He believed in sincere and honest work and reward being a clear conscience and self-satisfaction of having done his job well.
Benny Master has been very appreciative and proud of the achievements of his students who are in different professions and spread across the world. His illustrious students include His Excellency Albert D’Souza (my classmate) who is presently the Archbishop of Agra and his sister, Sr. Eugene D’Souza who is presently the Mother General of the ‘Sisters of the Cross’- a religious order based in Switzerland. Scores of his students make it a point to meet and pay their respect to Benny Master whenever they visit their native village.
Benny Master has inspired many of his students not only while he was a teacher and Headmaster of the school, but even after his retirement. While in Moodubelle, I take time to meet Benny Master and his wife Eugene Teacher. Benny Master often used to joke: “My and your wife’s name is Benny, whereas your and my wife’s name is Eugene.”
I remember one incident that had a bearing on my future life. While in primary section, being impressed by Benny Master as a teacher, one day I gathered few of my neighbourhood friends and instead of going to school proceeded to a nearby forest. Asking the boys to sit under a shady tree, I took up the role of their ‘teacher’ and spent the day in the forest ‘class’. However, we were spotted by an uncle of one of the boys and this incident was reported to my father as well as Benny Master. I was severely punished by my father for this act. I was terrified thinking about the type of punishment that awaited me from Benny Master. Fortunately, Benny Master did not give me any punishment. He smiled and said, “You will become a teacher in future, but now concentrate on your studies.”
On this Teachers’ Day along with millions of students expressing their gratitude to their respective teachers, I salute my own teachers, especially dear Benny Master for being my teacher and inspiring and encouraging me to take up the profession of teaching which I will cherish throughout my life.
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