I HAVE a special place in my heart for teachers of my boarding school where I spent six formative years of my life. At a ‘home away from home’, these ‘foster parents’ spent most of their time with us playing games, coaching those weak in academics and comforting the ones in distress. They taught us the niceties of life and showed us where to look, leaving it to us to decide what to see.
It takes a big heart to help shape little minds. Many of these enduring legends in the school’s history had spent the better part of their lives teaching, at times two generations of the same family. They were the ones who channelled our teenage energy and provided us the impetus necessary for all-round development. Absolutely firm with students behaving aberrantly, they had a strong belief in the adage, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. We dreaded their walloping or tongue-lashing for our juvenile mischief.
But one field where they failed to rein us in was our talent for coining their nicknames. There was a tinge of amusement in this christening, which was based on their physical attributes, idiosyncrasies or background. The deputy headmaster was ‘Muchoo’ for sporting a huge walrus moustache, while ‘Eggie’ was our bald-headed English teacher. Our housemaster, rumoured to have been a pastor, was called ‘Popa’, while his wife — who never failed to conceive after every miscarriage — became ‘Pregie’.
In due course, the real names were forgotten, while the nicknames thrived. Our Hindi teacher, notorious for being miserly in giving marks, was called ‘Chappu’. Another teacher, whose initials ‘HD’ looked more like ‘UD’, became ‘Yoody’. Some names were contracted for convenience; hence, Aboo, Willys, Mukho or Solly represented Abraham, Williams, Mukherjee and Solomon, respectively.
Both my children studied in the same school and I was glad to learn that the tradition of nicknames had been maintained. ‘Heady’ the headmaster was assisted by his deputy, ‘Tau’. A former Army officer remained ‘Major’ even after retirement. The Dean, being short in height, was ‘Githha’, and his teacher wife would automatically be ‘Githhee’.
These nicknames may have had a derogatory connotation when invented, but gradually, affection and warmth replaced the derision they may have carried. In school reunions, we invariably recall our immature exploits that invited the wrath of our teachers. There is laughter as well as moist eyes when little foibles are recounted.
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,’ said Juliet in Shakespeare’s famous play. The fragrance of these ‘roses’ is still fresh in our minds, even though many of them have transcended to the other world.
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