A Tamilian Editor Fondly Remembers Her Hindi Teacher
Most of what my Hindi teacher taught me, fifty years ago, I forgot along the way. But, now, Mrs Sashi Goela’s gentle insistence that I pay more attention to the language all those years ago, is paying rich dividends.
Pankaja Srinivasan 12 April 2023 1:40 PM GMT
Mrs Sashi Goela will turn 85 in a few months. She was my Hindi teacher from 1975 to 1977 in Calcutta.
Especially, in the past two and a half years, not a day has gone by without me remembering her with deep gratitude. Not because I was her favourite student nor was she my favourite teacher, but because the Hindi she taught me all those years ago has become a source of my livelihood as a senior editor for Gaon Connection, a rural media platform.
I was not particularly bright in school and less so in Hindi, that I loathed. The streeling-puling eluded me entirely, and studying sandhi gave me nightmares.
I must have annoyed Mrs Goela in class so much. I would ask loudly, “Why was it that it was — Policeman THA lekin uske moochein THI.” It made no sense to me at all, and I had no instinctive way of speaking, reading or writing Hindi because I was a madraasan, a south Indian!
So, when it became painfully apparent that there were a few of us who would not pass the ICSE if we did not put our noses to the grindstone, Mrs Goela took matters into her own hands and, ignoring our collective and loud groans, announced she was going to give us the dreaded ‘extra’ coaching.
The 70s were when schools were not democratic spaces. Certainly nothing like what they are today. And, if Mrs Goela said there were going to be special classes, we jolly well had to show up for them.
She made me sit on the front bench. I was talkative, probably disruptive and none-too-bright. But, slowly and patiently, she got through to me. I settled down, and actually began to enjoy what she taught. She would of course cover the syllabus, but these extra classes were more to get us comfortable in Hindi. She was the one who introduced me to the stories of Munshi Premchand — Parda, Do Bailon Ki Katha, Gaban, Godaan, Poos Ki Raat …
She asked me to subscribe to a magazine called Loat Poat that had riddles, comic strips, stories, especially for young readers. “Beta, jitna Hindi padoge utna aasaan lagega tumhe,” she urged me.
Because she never raised her voice, explained something a hundred times if I did not understand it and had a ready smile, I listened to her. My dad subscribed to a couple of Hindi magazines, including Dharamyug!
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Mrs Goela travelled every single day all the way from Budge Budge on the outskirts of Calcutta to Kidderpore where our school was. She was impeccably turned out in crisp kota saris, not a hair out of place and she was one teacher who looked genuinely happy to see me walk into class!
I had forgotten all that…because the minute I could give up studying Hindi, which was not till I completed my Bachelors, I stopped reading or writing in that language.
But when I met Mrs Goela at our school reunion in January, this year, the memories came rushing back. The years have been kind to her. She looked the same and a bevy of us surrounded her and she had a word for each one of us. It was amazing how she remembered everyone’s name. She looked delighted when I told her I was translating Hindi reports into English for a rural media platform. “Mujhe pata tha beta Pankaja…, tum kuch karke dikhaogi,” she said.
Mrs Goela taught till the pandemic, when she had to stop. She lost her husband. Still, when I asked her how she was doing, she said, “Life is good. Koi shikaayat nahin hai.”