March 12, 2013
Some people appear from nowhere like fresh breath of air and leave deep-rooted indelible impression in our lives. This story is picked from similar life changing incidents.
I was born in 1961 at Mulki a small town, close to Mangalore in India’s southern Karnataka. As a child, I was pushed hard towards discipline, education and religion. My father was serving for Indian Air force and mother was homemaker. Family, Neighbors, Church and Bethany convent school were sectors of my upbringing. I stood closely attached to discipline, schoolwork and devout ways until I passed grade 7. During those days, the admission to boys in Mulki Bethany convent school was restricted beyond grade seven. Thereafter they were asked to shift to a boy’s school.
The options were limited. The nearest and convenient was Mulki Government Junior college. The year was 1973. I relished my admission to grade eight in government school. The atmosphere had flavor of liberation. The freedom without wisdom could be perilous. I was untimely exposed. That resulted in utter negligence of discipline, schoolwork and spirituality. Back answering and disrespect towards elders became a routine. I bunked classes, watched movies and played cricket. I was labeled one among wayward, errant and badly behaved kids. Our Parish Priest found me so unbearable; he dismissed me from altar boys sodality.
Within a couple of months, the woman Principal of our school left on retirement. A fair and handsome new Principal emerged who looked different from others. Sir G V Herle was courteous, elegant and sophisticated with urbane features. He carried an aura of modesty and restraint around him. His graceful face radiated his inner self and concealed self-confidence. He was unmistakably pleasant the way he carried himself.
I gave little importance to his persona during that point of time. Academic and extracurricular achievers are bound to be noticed. I was not in such category. I went blatantly floating in my undisciplined reckless manners.
However, destiny had its own script…
When my performance in schoolwork aberrantly slumped, my mother was panic-stricken. She visited my school in anguish on a fact-finding mission. I was not aware that she would drop in that afternoon. Office attendant appeared at our classroom door with Principal’s note. The tutor instructed me to show up at Principal’s office. While walking out my heart thumped and missed a beat with unknown fear. That was my first face-to-face encounter with G V Herle. Our class teacher too was present with my Mom.
I put my head down waiting for onslaught. Class teacher initiated assault with series of allegations ranging from nonattendance, disrespect, distraction and impudent mischiefs. My Mom advised Principal and class teacher to treat me with rigorous control. Principal pacified Mom with an assurance to keep a watch on me. To my surprise, he showed no contempt.
“I have seen your final exam marks of grade 7.” He soothingly smiled. “You have the competence to excel. I am sure you can do a lot better.”
I seriously thought of avoiding him in due course as his virtuousness spawned some kind of discomfort within me. Nonetheless, my fate had a different tale. Within next one week, my case was reported to Principal by our science teacher. She charged me for disruptiveness, talkativeness and disobedience. The directive came from Principal’s office to meet him.
I nervously stood close to his table and looked down. Transitorily, I lost balance and leaned over his table. He did not like anyone leaning on to his table. I realized this after next couple of meetings.
“Timothy, how are you?” He spoke freely. “Would you please stop leaning on to my table?”
“…….” I was expecting him to explode in fury.
G V Herle was first and last one as on date preferred to call me by second name. The middle name was given for being born on St. Timothy’s birthdate. I had strong aversion towards my second name, as one of my maternal Uncle Timothy was wrongly popular for his excessive drinking and vagabond lifestyle. However, whenever G V Herle called me ‘Timothy’ in his stylish accent it sounded pleasant and affable.
“I want you understand.” He graciously explained. “A teacher in classroom or a speaker on dais, both dislike interruption from audience. They lose focus and intensity if disturbed while on full flow. The right to talk is your fundamental right. Nevertheless, that should not cause distraction in class. I like talkative students. Whenever you feel like talking, you are welcome to come here and talk to me. Let’s talk.”
I lacked the ability to understand him. That moment of time, I wanted to escape from the scene. An apology was extended before I could walk out. My attempts to stay away from him turned futile in course of time. I always found him nearer and closer.
One afternoon I was tiresomely bored after a Hindi class. Provoked by instinct, I thought of bunking off the last period. In an act of impetus, I gathered my books and jumped out of window. While standing on my feet from the place I landed, I lifted my chin, looked up, and beheld, G V Herle was standing right in front of my eyes. I was left thunderstruck.
In an earlier instance, our physical trainer had whacked me hard at my jaw for leaping across the window. In anticipation of Principal’s slap and the pain to follow, I closed my eyes. Nothing happened as such. He casually stroked my shoulder and gestured to follow him. He stopped at classroom entry door.
“Do you find any defect in this entrance?” Principal beamingly asked. “What’s the idea in awkwardly falling out from window, when you have flawless exit point?”
“……..” I put my chin down.
“One more point.” He smilingly clarified. “If at all you want to check out before school closing hours, you can always approach me with a valid reason.”
“Sorry Sir.” I had no other words.
At times, we travelled 30 km to Mangalore from my hometown to see newly released movies. We had half-day classes on Saturdays. One Saturday, I planned a movie program without consent of my parents. In a crowded bus, I was about to embrace a pole, someone called me ‘Timothy’. I nervously looked back only to see G V Herle standing beside me. Angst-ridden, I stood and waited for his next possible query, if travelling on Parent’s permission. I did not have nerve to tell lies to G V Herle. Nevertheless, he did not probe. On the contrary, he made me comfortable by interacting on simple topics of my interest.
He lived with his family at Karnad Darga road, not very far from Mulki Catholic Church. My school friend Girish’s residence was on same road. Principal would gladly call and speak for a while if caught while striding across the road. He identified me by name every time if seen on way to school, at playground or at corridor. Sometimes the recognition fostered my feelings of pride especially in a group. I began admiring him deferentially. That threw me in some kind of delusion. I certainly believed that he could be watching me from anywhere and everywhere. The extent and pattern of my naughtiness showed astonishing decline in a gradual process.
Our Mathematics teacher was transferred during our early days in grade ten. Principal took the initiative of teaching us Mathematics until the reporting of new teacher. G V Herle’s method of teaching was creatively excellent and loved by all students. He had a distinctive style of burping. His cheeks would inflate like balloon before releasing the forced up air. This generally happened during class after lunch hours.
The pleasure of learning from Principal ended after couple of months as newly arrived teacher took over. Expectedly students had a tough time in absorbing the coaching style of new teacher. Leaders of different factions of our class called for a meeting. I was not into classroom politics, yet they invited me due to my good offices with Principal. Unanimous decision was taken during meeting to request Principal to continue teaching us Mathematics in place of new teacher. They gave me the task of meeting Principal and explaining the cause of our plea. I was pumped up.
I mustered up the courage, entered Principal’s office and wished him. Standing upright, I maintained apt distance to avoid leaning onto his table.
“Hello Timothy. How can I help you?” G V Herle stopped his work and raised his eyebrows.
“Sir….” My throat turned dry as briefly I forgot well-prepared narrative.
“Any problem?” He was concerned.
“I am here on behalf of my class.” I was gasping for breath.
“Relax… Take a deep breath.” He advised.
“……….” I repeated the deep breathing exercise for couple of times.
“Don’t get tensed. Take it easy.” He said.
“Sir, we are unable to grasp the teaching of new mathematics teacher. He is awful.” I blabbered disorderly. “You have been instructed by our class students to continue teaching Mathematics by replacing new teacher.”
“What do you mean by instructed?” Wrinkles appeared on his forehead.
“Sorry Sir… It’s request.” Embarrassingly I rectified.
“He is just new.” He solicitously explained. “Being Principal of school I have enough of assignments and responsibilities to accomplish. The new teacher is employed for this task. Who will perform my activities if I do his job? As I said, he is new. Before judging, he should be allowed to get accustomed. I am sure you will steadily find it easy in understanding his teaching methods.”
I nodded and turned to my right to leave.
“Timothy, listen to me.” He advised. “Talking ill about others behind their back is not good.”
I always managed to pass final examinations by striving hard during revision holidays. My three years of playful high school life under Sir G V Herle’s watchful eyes ended. I met him for the last time in 1976 while pacing in front his house after passing grade 10. He caringly spoke in length, probed my subjects of interest and recommended to take up some hobbies for personality development. That was our last meeting and then I was 15 years old. Within next few weeks we heard, he was transferred from Mulki. I showed no gratitude of meeting him.
As I joined Pre-university, I experienced profound and overwhelming change in my behavior. Mischievous side had faded away. Calmness and composure had shaped into condition. The inner transmutation exuded smile of self-belief. With rediscovered focus on education, I was back into discipline, obedience and devout ways. I attended classes regularly, stretched my range into literature, oratory skills, theatre, and represented college cricket team. Before graduating in 1981, I became friends with many of our college lecturers.
During introspection, I realized the contrast variance of my high school mindset and attitude of college days. G V Herle had rubbed off at least some of his qualities unto me. Unknowingly I must have had captured few of his attributes. I strongly felt so. That was not all. I had even modeled my manner of burping, similar to G V Herle’s style. My cheeks too expanded before releasing forced up air from mouth. Consequently, a visit was made to Government Junior College to trace his address. That was my first letter to G V Herle. I thanked him for coming into my life during my delicate years and inspiring me to be a better person. I was thrilled to receive his reply. He modestly refused in acknowledging his role in my revival, wished me to do well in life and asked me to be in regular touch. He was then promoted as deputy director of public instruction.
In 1981, I left my hometown to pursue my masters. Thereafter while working in Mumbai, we remained in touch by exchanging letters. His last posting was at Bangalore as joint director of public instruction. Subsequently he retired and settled at Kota, a town close to Udupi-Kundapur in Southern Karnataka. In one instance, he delightedly appreciated my creative efforts in his letter after reading my short story in Kannada monthly ‘Mayura.' During the course, I sensed the rising attachment and promised that I would visit Kota to meet him.
I made a promise and failed miserably in bringing it to fruition!
The visit to Kota never materialized. It was completely unjustified and unpardonable on my part to go disconnected from him in 1990s. The next sequence of incidents of my life, such as marriage, progenies and relocation to Dubai were kept completely in dark from him. In a gross error of negligence, G V Herle’s representation slipped out from my memory compartment. My career in Dubai prospered to moderate success that involved plenty of overseas travel. I was lost in discovery of my new life. Nonetheless, this story was far from over.
The destiny had a very different script…
The first signs of retrieval of G V Herle’s portrayal in my memory cell occurred sometime in January 2012. I ignored initial symptoms. Some casual attempts were made on internet to find email IDs of his children, without any success. All was well on my personal & professional front.
Yet, an unidentified energy acted against my laxity in January 2013. I felt an irrepressible craving to find and talk to G V Herle. Overpowered by sudden and strange desperation I decided to reach him. I sought help from some of my friends in writer’s fraternity. Sunil a Kota resident living in Dubai, Cyril and Vincent from Mangalore were communicated to trace G V Herle’s contact details by referring telephone directory or through any other way. They reverted with required information on later date. However, that moment of time, I was extremely distressed.
The urgency and anxiety seized my inner self. On 22 January 2013 I was utterly keyed up by inexplicable unfamiliar emotional distraught. In a frantic bid, I managed to find the telephone number of Kota post office through Google search. A woman picked the line as I dialed. I requested her to connect me to post master.
“I am calling from Dubai. I may need some help.” My voice shook uncontrollably. “I would like to get in touch with Mr. G V Herle a resident of Kota. I am his old student. Could I have his contact telephone number please?”
“G V Herle?” Postmaster paused for a while. “I don’t have their number. I can find out within couple of days through Postman of their area… Sir, I am sorry to say, you are late by exactly one year. Today is G V Herle’s first death anniversary!”
The handset slipped out from my hand. Postmaster’s words moved thru my ears, then dwelled and soaked into my emotions. I could feel the sensation of heat and pain within. The scorching intensity shattered my hope into pieces. My eyes turned moist and tears rolled down. I did not know if I was mourning for his death or for my unfulfilled promise or for my ungratefulness or for neglected opportunities of meeting him. The prospect of reunion had died down. Driven by nostalgia, three years of my impish high school life under G V Herle’s wings flashed in front of my eyes. Everything was just like yesterday.
“Timothy...” I visualized the way he called and unconvincingly burped with uncertain expansion of cheeks, only to realize that I had been a very slavish copycat of Sir G V Herle’s matchless true self.