I remember Govindbhai as my first tutor, who would come home to teach my younger sister and me Arithmetic and English – the two subjects I dreaded and hated most. He was recommended by my maternal uncle, who was a great educationist and principal of a well known high school in Ahmadabad, now the capital of Gujarat state in India.
Rather than a teacher, Govindbhai was more of a family member, helping out with many odd jobs. Coming from a rather middle-class background, he had not gone beyond a year or two in college, perhaps due to financial problems. But that was enough to teach us the above two subjects and he was fully devoted to his task. He never looked at the watch while teaching. I can’t remember any single day when he finished teaching in less than two or two and a half hours, and on Sundays too, he would arrive unannounced and make us sit for three hours. But he was a terror! Corporal punishment being the order of the day in those years, I remember being slapped, pinched or ear-boxed umpteen number of times at the slightest mistake that I committed. My sister wasn’t spared either and often she would excuse for a bathroom break, just to escape his wrath! We did complain to our mother who requested him not to be very rough with us, but I don’t think that had any great effect on him. After all, he was a family member and not just any other tuition teacher.
To his credit, I must say that he made me learn arithmetic tables very well. Besides, the regular multiplication tables, there were also more complicated analogous type tables. I don’t know about elsewhere, but the Gujarati community being business minded, learnt these tables very well since they came of help to shopkeepers in mercantile matters and transactions.
These tables were of immense importance while doing mental calculations. In Class III,
I did very well in Arithmetic and ranked 2nd. Govindbhai was beaming with satisfaction. Later, when he said he could not continue teaching me in the higher grades, I heaved a sigh of relief. I hated him no end at the time, for the harsh treatment given to me – I was after all perhaps only eleven or twelve years old.
Years passed and I returned from Germany as a full fledged engineer. Govindbhai was of course, still around and being almost family, was there for my marriage and the birth of my three children. My son was especially bright in school and I remember Govindbhai bringing him some fancy pencils and erasers to encourage him, when he was perhaps just five or six years old
Soon thereafter, he developed cancer and had to leave Bombay to spend his last days in his native place. I did visit him with my entire family to bid him one last goodbye and seek his blessings.
Today, that very same boy who hated him for his strict discipline, is a grandfather of grownups and can feel the love and affection of that person. With a heavy heart and a tinge of sadness, all I can say is Govindbhai, I beg your forgiveness.