I have a special place in my heart for teachers of my boarding school where I spent six formative years of life. These ‘foster parents’ spent most of their time with us, played games with us, coached those weak in academics and comforted the ones in distress displaying abundant care and compassion at a ‘home away from home’. They taught us the niceties of life and showed us where to look leaving it upon us to decide as to what to see.
It takes a big heart to help shape little minds. Many of these enduring legends in school’s history had spent better part of their lives teaching, at times two generations of the same family. They were the ones who channelized our teenage energy constructively and provided us the impetus necessary for all round development. Absolutely firm towards aberrant behavior, they carried a strong conviction 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 in our talent of coining their nicknames. There was a tinge of amusement in this christening which was based on some physical attributes, idiosyncrasies or the past they carried. The deputy headmaster was ‘Muchoo’ for supporting a huge walrus moustache, while ‘Eggie’ was our bald headed English teacher. Our Housemaster rumored to have been a pastor earlier was called ‘Popa’, while his wife who never failed to conceive after a couple of miscarriages became ‘Pregie’.
In due course the real names were forgotten while the nicknames thrived. Dr Gupta, our Hindi teacher notorious for being a miser in giving marks, was called ‘Chappu’, and any teacher with surname Gupta who joined the school in later years would automatically inherit that nickname. Another teacher, whose initials ‘HD’ looked more like ‘UD’ became ‘Yoody’. Some names were contracted for convenience; hence Aboo, Willy, 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 was maintained. ‘Heady’ the headmaster was assisted by ‘Tau’ his senior master. An ex army lady officer, remained ‘Major’ even post retirement. The Dean being short in height was ‘Githha’ and his teacher wife would automatically be ‘Githee’. ‘Bandaa’ continues to be the band instructor and Doctor remains ‘Dockey’ irrespective of who held these appointments.
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 wrath of our teachers; disastrous then but only a source of amusement now. There is laughter as well as moist eyes when their little foibles are recounted.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The fragrance of these ‘Roses’ is still fresh in our minds even though many of them have transcended to the other world. Having earned a fair measure of immortality, their fingerprints refuse to fade away from the lives they have touched.
Col HP Singh, VSM
Is an alumnus of the Lawrence School Sanawar and NDA Khadakwasla. He is a prolific writer and based at Mohali, Punjab