“The earth must revolve around the sun. And the moon must revolve around the earth. When the moon decides to revolve around the sun, there will be chaos in the solar system.”
These were not words from a science class. These were words spoken by one of my teachers at our farewell function at school just before our Std 12 board exams. And it didn’t need rocket science to decipher that it was a tangential remark directed at me.
It was one of the mixed blessing-curses that I was born with. My father happened to be the Principal of the school I studied in- and he was a strict disciplinarian. Errant teachers were often unhappy when he reprimanded them for taking their teaching casually. So I learnt early in life that my relationship with my teachers was never to be taken at their face value. Yes, there were genuinely fantastic teachers who I have kept in touch with till today. But then there were always those who were very generous when they I didn’t deserve it, as they wanted to please my Dad. And others who would trouble me unnecessarily because they had been at the receiving end of his sharp tongue. What happened in his office often reflected in how they treated me.
This particular gentleman who uttered those memorable words taught us Physics. He was thin and scrawny, with eyes that bored into you. He walked with a peculiar jerk in his step. I always thought that his gait was the physical manifestation of all the energy that bubbled inside him.
The boys in my class had given him the strange nickname ‘Bechu’. The origin of that name was because he couldn’t resist telling us students in every class that he was “a gold medallist from Bechu”. In case you are wondering what Bechu is- it was his way of pronouncing B.H.U. or Benaras Hindu University which is one of the premier universities in the country.
The problem with Mr Bechu was not his lack of knowledge- he had loads of it. It was his attitude. He had loads of that too! And he spent half his energy taunting us miserable students of how we studied “Boilogy” with more earnestness that we studied Physics. The logic that we had no choice but to study both subjects did not occur to him at all.
What we didn’t know was that he didn’t get along with our Biology teacher. She was a formidable lady who would go to any extent to see that we got good grades. And she was the kind who would grill us with assessments of every kind to see that we understood the nuances of Biology. No wonder we excelled at her subject (and I got into Medicine even when I didn’t have the heart to choose this profession)!
It didn’t help that the Physics Lab and the Biology Lab faced each other. Or that our Biology teacher fractured her ankle and was told to restrict her movements for several months. To help her recuperate faster, we would walk to the Biology Lab for our lectures, instead of making her walk all the way to our class. And Mr Bechu would sit in his chair and glare at us from his Lab.
For my Biology project I had decided to study the entomology of Chandrapur district. And I was supposed to gather specimens of all kinds of insects and write about them. To help me do this quicker, I had asked my younger brother’s friends to help me. And they were all too eager to help their favourite Didi with this task. Trust my luck. Right in the middle of the Physics period, one tiny tot from Std 3 walks in with a leaf insect in a bottle saying: “Excuse me Sir. I have to give this to Anshu Didi for her Biology project”!!! I can never forget the dirty look he gave me that day. And he never forgave me for studying “Boilogy” so sincerely!
As I said earlier, the gold-medallist knew his stuff, but was callous and careless in how he taught us. One day he would teach half-heartedly. The second day he would throw some numericals our way and sit and do his work when he should have been teaching. As a result most students were on the look out for external tutors who would help them learn Physics better in this crucial year. This of course reached my Dad, who always had an ear to the ground.
And one morning as he was taking his surprise rounds, he found this gentleman sitting in front of our class, instead of teaching. He walked right in and sat in the last row, waiting for the teacher to begin teaching. A flummoxed Mr Bechu jumped to his feet, grabbed some chalk and gathered his wits. Clearly he wasn’t prepared for the class.
So he did the next smartest thing he could. He started teaching us about X-rays which he had already taught us a week ago! And so he went on about Roentgen’s experiments with cathode rays. We students were having a hard time keeping a straight face. And then went on to tell us how he discovered X-rays in his dark room. “Mr Roentgen saw Mrs Roentgen’s hand and her wedding ring in his dark room”, he went on, ” and that was how the first roentgenogram was developed,” he jumped. He clearly didn’t remember much more. Because he went on about Mrs Roentgen’s hand and the first X-ray for another good five minutes, before my Dad walked out.
I didn’t need to tell my father that this was a repeat lecture. It was quite evident to him from Mr Bechu’s unpreparedness. But the brunt of my teacher’s discomfiture in that session fell on me. He never forgave me.
Every time someone mentions the solar system, I grin. And then I visualize dear Mr Bechu waltzing with Mrs Roentgen (who always has a wedding ring on her finger) along an elliptical orbit around the sun.