A High School Anecdote
Pankaj Kumar Neog
This is an incident that happened to us when we were students of Class-X. One day our class teacher Sri Jogendra Narayan Devchoudhury Sir walked into the class room with a visibly angry and irritated look, holding the attendance register in his right hand. The students had given Devchoudhury Sir a nickname and he was popularly known as “Particular”. Even the old students of the school knew him by that name. To date I am not sure why he was named so. I guess, Sir was very meticulous and particular about what he did or taught to the students in school. Whenever Sir found an opportunity to brag about his past, he would recount to us about how he had qualified thrice for the Assam Civil Service but had still decided to embrace “Teaching” as his profession.
Like any other school day, Sir started with the roll call of the class but we could sense that he was not in a mood to teach us that day. He appeared to be pre-occupied and agitated. After the roll call, Sir got up from the chair and started pacing up and down the classroom. We tried to fathom his mind; it appeared that he was trying to mull over something in his head and articulate a speech. Eventually, Sir burst out in an angry tone – “Who amongst you, early this morning or late yesterday evening, had gone to the teachers’ common room and tried to meddle with this attendance register?” All of us in the class kept staring at one another but nobody said anything. Sir repeated the question for the second time in an angrier voice but there was nothing but somber silence in the whole class. ”Very well”, Sir blurted out, “ it seems none of you have the courage to confess your guilt. All of you please keep standing in your respective places for the rest of the period”. We had no other alternative but to obey Sir’s order and stand up in our places.
Devchoudhury Sir started pacing up and down the classroom again, this time determined to deliver his speech well. The harangue seemed to be directed towards a few students of the class. Sir went into a tirade about those students who had gone or were on the verge of going astray by cheating their parents – the students who on the pretext of going to school, never reached their destination but took refuge in secret vice dens of alcohol, drugs and gambling. He started pointing towards the case histories of the students who siphoned off money from the unsuspecting parents and instead of attending school roamed around in the city the whole day, watching cheap Hindi movies one after another and then treating themselves with sumptuous meals in luxurious hotels and restaurants. The ranting went on and on! We were really taken aback as to why Devchoudhury Sir was so angry or what exactly had prompted him to lose control himself that morning. We could, however, make out that some serious incident must have taken place at the teachers’ common room and something was amiss with the attendance register of our section. We had to remain in the standing position for more than twenty minutes before Sir took pity on us and we were finally allowed to take our seats. By that time, Sir recovered his normal composure and sangfroid.
Once we settled down in our seats, Devchoudhury Sir slowly started to unfold the whole incident of the morning. The sum and the substance of the story was as follows:
Every morning before coming to the class, Devchoudhury Sir used to check our attendance register. He counted the number of students who were present and absent the previous day and then recorded the same at the bottom of the register book. Through his long experience as a teacher, Sir knew that there used to be a few absentees every day in class due to various reasons. To his surprise, that morning he did not find any absentee in our attendance register for the previous day. That made him suspicious immediately as he could recall from his memory that there should have been at least 6-7 absentees on the previous day. He had vividly remembered marking them absent by putting a “dot” (.) against their names. During roll call, Sir never used to put a “cross mark” (x) against the absentees during the first pass; this was to help the students who sometimes arrived late after the roll call. Sir would definitely reprimand those coming late to the class but later, before leaving the class room, used to mark them present by putting a “tick” (ü) over the “dot”(.).
It seemed somebody had entered the teachers’ common room early that morning or late last evening and in our attendance register of Class-X, Section-A, marked all the absentees of the previous day present by putting the “tick” (ü) marks over the “dots”(.). The job was performed meticulously like a skilled artisan. It was impossible to differentiate the ink colors too. The culprit was never found. Devchoudhury Sir probably suspected somebody in particular and to me, his long tirade was only meant for that suspect. Had one of our classmates seen or known about the incident, would he have ever divulged it to Sir or the school authority? For the sake of friendship and solidarity, the others in the same class/section generally tend to protect the culprit, hiding all the facts and evidence in such cases. Although Devchoudhury Sir had somebody in his mind as the culprit, it was not possible for him to bring the suspect to book for lack of any proof or witness.
Many would probably be interested in knowing the modus operandi of the culprit as to how he had committed the misdeed without anybody’s knowledge. It was an equally interesting story. The teachers’ common room was rectangular in shape with two doors and three or four windows. The doors had round glass panes at the top; in fact, all the class rooms had a similar design i.e. plywood doors with round glass panes at the top. Unfortunately, almost all the doors had lost the panes bearing testimony to the escapades of the students. One of the doors of the teachers’ common room had also somehow lost the glass pane leaving a round hole of about six inches in diameter at the top. After the school hours, the chowkidar in charge of the teachers’ common room hooked the door with the hole from inside and locked the other door from outside. The first door was bolted-up only at the top without any additional hooks/L-drops etc. from inside. Due to security issues, the locking strategy of the teachers’ common room should have been the other way round i.e. bolt the non-defective door with glass pane from inside and hang a lock properly outside on the other door. Ideally, both the doors needed locks from outside. Neither the chowkidars nor the teachers took any notice of the lapses. Nobody was vigilant enough to identify the flaws in the locking system. Fortunately till that time, no security related incidents had taken place at the teachers’ common room and everybody was happy.
As I could gather, the suspect must have entered the teachers’ common room by easily unhooking the door without the glass pane by inserting his arm from outside. For a Class-X student of average height, it was not an issue at all to unlock the door bolt from outside. If required, a couple of bricks could have also added to the culprit’s height to assist him in the misdeed. The culprit must have committed the deed early in the morning before any chowkidars, teachers or students arrived at the school. I do not think the suspect dared to enter the teachers’ common room the previous evening or night as it would have been necessary to switch on the lights and thus attract attention from outside. So far I knew, two chowkidars with their families used to stay in the school compound. However, I doubt if anybody was daredevil enough to enter the teachers’ common room at the dead of night with a pencil torch in hand like a professional burglar. It didn’t seem probable that somebody would have dared the risk for the sake of one day’s attendance.
I do not know if after this incident Devchoudhury Sir had arranged for enough precautionary measures to ensure security of the teachers’ common room to prevent similar incidents in the future. By that time, we had already appeared in the HSLC examination and passed out from school. Whatever tough measures are adopted by any school or teacher, it will always be possible for some students to flout norms and escape punishment by virtue of their wiliness. I feel, a section of unruly students perennially play tricks on the teachers and derive pleasure out of their escapades while causing headache to the perpetrated. The scene is not expected to change in the future either as long as the teachers’ and students’ communities exist in the world. When I mentioned this school incident to one of my female classmates who is now a senior professor at the Guwahati University, she confided in me that even at the University level, they face multitude of escapades from the students which, according to her, are sometimes difficult to handle or settle.
Pankaj Kumar Neog is an expatriate working in Muscat, Oman for the past eighteen years. He has worked as a Senior Reservoir Engineer in several oil companies