Why is it so hard to stay away from thoughts of Kolkata? - I do not know. And I have been looking for an answer in all these fifteen years that I have moved away from the City of Joy, to no avail. Kolkata is, was and has always been an integral part of my daily existence so to speak. I have looked for tiny dollops of Kolkata in every aspect of my immigrant life and it never mattered how big or small its magnitude was. In my mind, I am ambivalent - I switch back and forth between its positive and negative traits, but at heart, I like to forgive and forget and move on with the everlasting feeling of love that I can only have for this city where I spent a considerable part of my youth.
As I was growing up in Calcutta, it was a common trend among families with children to send their wards for tuition classes or tutorials - as the sophisticated population phrased it, and conventionally, I was also put in one of those in my neighbourhood. Apparently, these classes were supposed to be treated as important and helped one to seamlessly move up the education ladder in terms of higher grades, and consequently offered a better chance of getting into better schools after the age of 16 or after one gave his or her Class X exams. I was a bit hesitant at the thought of joining this tutorial, which definitely meant more work, more pressure; but I duly gave in to my parents’ demands when they made it so obvious how enrolling in such a class would largely benefit me in the long run, and how great an opportunity this could be, and that it would be extremely foolish not to consider this and let it pass. I succumbed to their wishes, and thus began another journey. Little did I know what I was signing up for!
No, it wasn’t anything bad - it was different. I walked into a room that had a mixed gender population; coming from a girls’ school, it had opened up a wide horizon for me and for many of my classmates and friends from other schools, who were in a similar situation like me. We were young minds - waiting to be explored and also to explore new and unknown realities. Each class summoned a different avenue of knowledge, and, as we progressed, I was learning and getting wiser in every respect, undoubtedly. I made friends - I made acquaintances and even met my first crush at the same place.
I can vouch for this - my parents had sent me to this tutorial for gaining academic knowledge and voila! Here I was, experiencing quite a few things which were unexpected and unwarranted - again not something that my parents would feel proud of. As with everything, good things come to an end sooner than we want them to - our classes at the tutorial ended as we all left woefully (some more than the others), and parted ways.
Cannot help quoting Marilyn Monroe here – “beginnings are usually scary, and endings are usually sad but it’s everything in between that makes it all worth living".
Years later, I went back to study Clinical Psychology at a University in San Francisco as a mature young adult and going by the University guidelines had to study Mathematics under one professor by the name of Jeff (last name not divulged to protect his identity).
Now, Mathematics is not one of my favourite subjects and I have no qualms in claiming that, but within a span of six months or so, Jeff had entirely changed this connotation of boredom and dullness associated with Maths. His were one of the most interesting classes that I have ever had in my life. They were full of laughter, jokes and of course, quality lecture on the subject matter. I would look forward to his classes every week, and to this date, I cannot fathom if it changed my feelings towards the subject or was it the teacher who made it so interesting, that I would have probably felt the same way had he taught Ancient History *yawn*.
He was an American in his early 30’s, had class written all over him and his sense of humour was something that made everyone swoon over him. I recall one funny incident that has left an indelible impression on my mind - he walked into the class on a sunny morning in spring and referring to a portion of the University that was being renovated and renamed, said, “As I was driving by, I noticed that they have named the new building ‘Hyman Hall’. Now who would name a building ‘Hyman Hall’? There is a possibility that it could be named after one of the donors for the University but come to think of it - Hyman? Man, this sounds ridiculous!”
We, the students - about 22 of us, sat there in pin drop silence, not knowing how to react to such a statement. After noticing the mischievous smile on his face, we all burst into laughter. It was one of the most embarrassing moments for me, given my conservative Indian background, but till date I cannot imagine such an interaction between teachers and students in the Indian context. This was one such occasion when I was awestruck, and had a gaping jaw not knowing where to look momentarily.
It’s been so many years since I completed my education in the US - more in the case of my Indian education. I have been fortunate enough to have studied in both the countries, and each time I have learnt something new and different. Both experiences have been so touching, so full of life, that I cannot undermine one or the other.
As an educator - entrepreneur today, I hope to create such a mark in my students’ minds so that they come up with anecdotes such as these to look back and reflect - with a smile.
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