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Thursday, April 09, 2020

To students,with nostalgia

Although Neelam Puri tried to treat the Gandhi children — Rahul and Priyanka — like all others in her class,she was hesitant to assign them duties like fetching the register,or carrying books. Puri taught them chemistry.

Written by Maroosha Muzaffar | Published: September 4, 2009 5:02:20 am

‘Students said they wanted to change things,Rahul did’

neelam Puri on Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi’s days at Modern School

Although Neelam Puri tried to treat the Gandhi children — Rahul and Priyanka — like all others in her class,she was hesitant to assign them duties like fetching the register,or carrying books. Puri taught them chemistry.

But then Rahul,the shy kid who wore glasses,came up to her and asked her why he wasn’t running around doing the “House on Duty” errands like others. He said he wanted to.

“It was either 1981 or 1982. He was such an affectionate child,” Puri,who taught Rahul Gandhi,Member of Parliament and son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi,in Class VII at Modern School. “Even then,he was a man of very few words.”

Sixty-year-old Puri,who retired this year,taught hundreds of children,but she still remembers little things about each of them. Like when Priyanka Gandhi enacted the role of a Chinese girl in a play staged at the House function. The play,“Mind your Language”,based on a British comedy series about English-language students in a London school,was modified and directed by Rahul Gandhi and his friends in Class VII. “Priyanka was confident. I used to tell everyone she’d grow up to be like her grandmother,” Puri recalled. Rahul,a year senior to his sister,hardly talked,she said. “When I saw him act,I was surprised,” she said. “The play was a hit.”

The function was attended by their grandmother Indira Gandhi,father Rajiv Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi.

That the Gandhi kids were VVIPs didn’t stop their parents from attending PTA meetings.

“They were dedicated parents. They always asked about their kids and wrote letters asking for permission if they had to leave school early,” Puri said. “In fact,Indira Gandhi told me to do what I wanted with the kids.”

Rahul and Priyanka were at Modern School for a couple of years,after which Rahul went to Doon School,his father’s alma mater,and then was home schooled for security reasons.

Rahul was an average student but was interested in science. He enjoyed the practical classes and listened with interest,she said.

“Priyanka was an alert kid,” she said. “But Rahul was so loving. I am really proud of him and I wish them both the best.”

In March 2004,when she watched him on television campaigning for his mother and then announce his own foray into politics,she felt proud. “In class in those days,students said they wanted to change things,they wanted to get into politics. But Rahul did it,” she said.

When she met Rahul at another student’s house five years ago,he recognised her and asked her how she was.

Puri,born and brought up in Delhi,became a teacher when she was 22 years old. Being the first woman in her family to take up a job,Puri joined Modern School in 1972. She spent 37 years at the school.

‘I pray for Suu every day’

Nirmala Khanna recalls teaching Aung San Suu Kyi in her very first batch of students

IT WAS a small class of only 12 students that Nirmala Khanna taught at the Lady Shri Ram College in 1964. Among the students in that batch,she remembers a shy 19-year-old girl who mostly sat in the second row,and hardly ever spoke. Every morning,Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother dropped her outside college,and she would walk into the class dressed in a blouse and a wrap skirt,the ethnic Burmese dress,and sat,intense and brooding.

And there were the others who wore bright kurtas,sported bindis,chatted and asked questions in class.

Almost two decades later,as Khanna,71,scanned the newspapers,she stumbled across a familiar name. In 1991,Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader,the lone woman who stood up against the military regime in Myanmar and had been under house arrest for almost two decades,received the Nobel Prize.

Then,the image of the shy “Suu” (they called her by that name at LSR) came to her mind. In that moment,Khanna who taught international relations,felt proud. But she also felt sad for her student who she now feels was the most outstanding.

“She was so quiet. Maybe there were so many things inside her. When I read about her,I was like ‘Wow,it’s Suu who did it’,” she said. “I have prayed for her everyday.”

Suu Kyi’s father was General Aung San,also known as the father of modern Burma,who was assassinated in 1947. She followed her mother Khin Kyi,then Burmese Ambassador,to India. After getting her degree in political science from LSR in 1964,Suu Kyi went to Oxford where she met her future husband,Michael Aris.

Aris later said that her years in India and Oxford that shaped Aung’s political career.

An invitation had come for Khanna to attend the function at Rashtrapati Bhawan when India honoured the leader with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1992. But she could not attend.

But I felt happy,” she said. “After all,I had taught her.”

In her short hair and subdued colours,Suu Kyi looked timid,but confident. She clung to her identity,Khanna recalled.

Khanna herself attended schools in Shimla,Kolkata,and then Delhi. She was among the first batch of students to have studied at LSR in 1956 when the college was established.

She joined LSR in 1964 and retired in 2003. Even now,though she mostly stays at home to take care of her grandson,Khanna has kept in touch with her students and teachers. On September 5,she will call and wish her two surviving teachers.

“It has always been the thing to do,” she said. “You remember your students,and feel and pray for those who are suffering.”

—Chinki Sinha

’He would never attend classes’

VK Sharma on the eternally truant

Anurag Kashyap

THE BOY loved movies. He loved playing truant and missing his classes. He would always be found “hanging around” outside college. His teachers remembered him because he “never turned up for the classes”.

He sounds like one of those careless college boys who never find mention in their teachers’ good books. Today,however,his teachers feel proud calling him their student. “He was in my class” says Dr V K Sharma who taught Anurag Kashyap,the film-maker,during his college days at Hansraj College in Delhi. “A naughty student he was,” he adds smiling.

The film-maker was a student of zoology at the college in 1993. His teacher,Dr Sharma,64,recalls those days. “One thing I remember about him was that he would never attend classes,” he laughs. “Once I asked him the reason for his absence from college,he told me ‘Sir,I had gone home,that’s why I did not attend your class’,” recollects the teacher.

“During his final year,he did not turn up for classes after the summer vacations,so I again asked him the reason. He said that he had gone to meet Vishal Bharadwaj in Mumbai,” Sharma says. “At that time,I did not know who Vishal Bharadwaj was. I remember advising Anurag that he should not miss his classes otherwise he would fail.”

Anurag continued missing classes. His teacher,Sharma continued advising him whenever Anurag would “pay a visit” to the lab. “At the end of the year,Anurag was failing in the practical exams,” Sharma remembers.

But Sharma did not force Anurag into the course. “I knew he was here by some mistake. His heart was somewhere else. He wanted to do something else — movies,” he says. “I gave him a few extra marks. He passed,” Sharma’s eyes light up with a smile.

Now,Sharma sits in his home and speaks about Kashyap’s film,Dev D. “When I saw the movie,I felt so happy for him,so proud. Though he never showed up in my class,” Sharma grins.  

‘I’d pray every time they aired the Kargil War on TV’

Naresh Khurana reminisces on the late Anuj Nayyar’s school days with pride,and a tinge of sadness

DURING the 1999 Kargil War,as the guns boomed and canons roared in the rugged peaks of Tiger Hills in J&K,one man,in the obscurity of his home in New Delhi,would send up a silent prayer every time “they aired the war on TV”.

For Naresh Khurana,51,the war was more than a fight between India and Pakistan over a piece of land; it was a fight with his own self. Out in the battlefield,combating the enemy were his own students. “It was difficult.”

The teacher of Captain Anuj Nayyar — the Kargil War hero who was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra,India’s second highest gallantry award Naresh Khurana recounts the days when “one of his favourite” students,Anuj,would run around the school playground chasing a football or perform his chemistry practicals with equal interest. “Anuj was a good student,” Khurana recalls,sitting in his room at the Army Public School,Dhaula Kuan. Nayyar was in the batch of 1993.

Khurana taught chemistry to Nayyar in classes IX and X. “There are two students that I remember from that batch: Aditya Mishra and Anuj Nayyar. Both died in the war,” he says,a tinge of sadness mixed with the pride.

Khurana,who joined the Army School in 1981 as a teacher,has watched many a young carefree boy transforming into a disciplined army officer over the years. He speaks of his own dreams. “When I could not make it to the National Defence Academy,so I thought that teaching here would be my indirect contribution to my country.”  

“During his school days,Anuj was a very gentle child,very responsible. But I never thought this sincere little boy would one day lay down his life for the nation,” he says as he walks the corridors with pictures of officers adorning the gallery wall.

“Students then,especially Anuj,were always very respectful to their teachers,” he says. “He would touch the feet of his teachers.” He adds,“While parents serve as inspiration to their children,a teacher’s influence on a student’s life is indirect.”

Khurana vaguely remembers the last time he met Anuj. “It was just two months before the war started,during his annual leave. He came with a friend and met all his teachers,” Khurana says. “He then introduced me to his friend and said he was going to marry her. I blessed him and was happy for him. I didn’t knew I would never see him again.”

— Maroosha Muzaffar

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