I was never a good student. Never too bright for teachers to take notice. Too silent and arrogant to talk to teachers unless talked to. And, given the perverted ideas I had in childhood, for a long time I thought anything that is useful can not be taught. Anyway, in short, teachers and me were like oil and water – contact made, but no transfer was possible.
And, then, this guy happened at Delhi School of Economics. Oddball to the core, ram headed and would rarely agree with anything that you had to say unless he was not interested in a conversation. For 3-4 years, he was the mainstay of my life in campus and after. Every evening, a few of us would land at his place. In summers it was old monk and water, in winters it was black coffee and old monk. I would share the tiffin that he got for dinner and say a forced goodbye because he had to sleep by 9. I was left to walk around the campus the rest of the night.
His mother was a princess. At seventy five, she had silver hair, spoke the sweetest maithli, walked in baby steps, slightly bent forward. In the evenings, we would walk to Patel Chest to buy samosa or veggies once in a while. I looked at her the way kids looked at 3D cinema for the first time. She could not be real.
And, like a few fortunate in the world, my fondness was reciprocated. Years later, she must have taken immense trouble to buy a shirt and a packet of tea and courier that to my address in Odisha. How did she know that address, I never met her again to ask.
Anyway, back to Rabindra Ray. He was an intellectual terror. Conversations with him were like hammers to the limestone of my arrogance.
Once I was telling him my life’s grand plans and he said ”rasta cross karna jaante ho?”
I looked at him stupid. ”arre jaante ho ki nahin”. His pitch was already rising.
I said haan just to keep him from shouting.
He said ”likh ke de sakte ho us taraf pahunch jaoge?”
I read up more, everything that I could lay my hands on at Ratan Tata Library. Pop sociology, psychology, cult movements, some urban experiment somewhere and philosophy etc. Just to prove to him that I was damned intelligent. I would read up, take mental notes and land up at his place. He would just smoke, listen to me and say intermittent hoon, hoon and nod his head on some days and violently attack on others.
All those years and I never became more than a fitoor. In his chaste hindi, he would say ”tum fitoor ho, tumse kuch nahin ho payega” I got a job as an editor in a publishing house, went to tell him someone gave me a job. He repeated the same line. I got a job in digital, he said the same thing.
One day he asked me what I wanted to do in life. I said a hundred and one things and then I said I wanted to find my worth. He asked how much salary I got. I said eight thousand. He said that is your worth. I was shocked. He said what another person is willing to pay for all your efforts is your worth.
And, till date, he is the only one I remember and acknowledge as a teacher. It’s a fad to call folks one’s guru. I never had a guru. He taught me in class and I fought him outside. The only teacher I ever had.