My home is at Ghorasal in Narsingdi district. I am from a peasant family and my father’s financial ability was not good enough to educate me at an expensive institution like Notre Dame College in Dhaka. However, with mental support from some of my neighbours, I got myself admitted into the college. Some of my well-wishers promised to stand by me if I was in financial trouble during my stay at the college.
After being admitted, I had to struggle for almost a year to commute from Ghorasal to Notre Dame College. The approximate distance between my home at Ghorasal and Notre Dame College in Motijheel was 50 kms. For the first few months, I had to attend the classes travelling this 50 kms. Travelling 100 kms was difficult but in winter, it was more difficult to attend the classes at 8.00 in the morning. When did I have to get up from bed to catch the Chittagong Mail at Ghorasal Flag Rail Station at 5:30? When I used to walk to the rail station, there was deep darkness and fog around! I could not see myself; every moment, I was afraid of collusions with people coming from the opposite directions or with any other animals like dogs, jackals, etc. or going off track in the blackest darkness. Unknown fear would grip me. It took me 30/35 minutes to walk to the rail station. After classes, I used to catch a local train which used to start at 5 pm from Komolapur Rail Station. After running like an old and tired lion and giving side to many other trains, it used to reach Ghorasal Station at 8 or 9 at night. Almost every day, I used to reach home after 8 pm. After sleeping for some hours, I again started to get ready to catch the Chittagong Mail! That train used to run on time; I never saw it to be late. Every day, I decided to stop going to the college but in the next morning (!), I disregarded the previous decision and started my journey to the college again. I wonder now, “How could I do that?”
I could not concentrate on my study; actually, I did not have time to take part in any academic activities. I could not manage to stay in Dhaka in want of money; and for that reason, I had to waste my time and energy on coming and going. I could not eat anything at home before starting for the station. I used to eat a piece of porata (roti/paratha) with dal or vegetables before entering the classroom. During leisure, when my friend used to ask me to go to the college canteen, very often I used to tell them that I would come later. Actually, I avoided them as I did not have money to spend. All the first-year days passed in the similar way. Almost at the end of the first year, I got a family at Merul, Rampura in Dhaka to stay with on condition that I would have to teach three kids. During the year-final examinations, I got so disappointed that I could not answer many questions as could not read the textbooks at all. In the Zoology examination, the situation was worse. Out of frustration, I wrote a poem in the exam script. I cannot remember the poem anymore! My result was kept held-up and I was notified that I would be given TC! I was in profound depression. Guidance Jyoti Gomes asked me to bring my father to talk to him or the college would issue me a TC! I requested Father JS Peixotto, the then Principal, to do something for me; I requested him to exempt me from the allegation of misconduct. He always directed me to Jyoti Gomes by saying, “Tumi Jyotir sathe kotha bolo please, e bishoygulo Jyoti dekhe (Please talk to Jyoti, he deals with these sorts of matters)”. I went to Mr Jyoti Gomes several times and requested him not to issue a TC for me. He agreed on the condition that I would have to bring my father to talk to him. I tried to convince him by saying that my father was an illiterate farmer and he had never been to Dhaka. Finally, Mr Jyoti Gomes was kind enough to exempt my father from coming on condition that he would have to put his signature on my hand-written application. I happily agreed. I am sure that my friends must have been able to identify my first sin (crime) at Notre Dame College.
Dear friends, please keep an eye on my second crime. I stated earlier that I put up in lodging at Merul, Rampura. I wrote an application to the principal promising not to commit any more misconduct like the one I committed by writing a poem in the examination script. How can I collect my father’s signature? Should I let my father know about my offence? I decided not to puncture my prestige in front of my father and other relatives. I asked my student of class seven (the elder son of the family I started to live with) to put my father’s signature in my application. He wrote on the left-hand margin of the application, “Abedonti subibechonar jonno onurudh kora holo (Requested to consider the appeal). Sharat Chandra Podder (name of my father & date underneath the comment). I was thinking what should I say if Mr Jyoti Gomes asked me, “Your father is illiterate, how did he write it?” I did not know the answer because I claimed earlier that my father was an illiterate farmer. I went to Jyoti Gomes sir and submitted the prayer with throbbing heart. It was accepted and I released a biiig sigh coming out of the clutch of the devil (Yamdyut).
That TC issue was settled through the submission of the application. One day, A N Rasheda madam invited me to her room. She told me when I approached her, “There is a training program at Bishwa Sahittyo Kendro on writing poetry held once a week. It may be of great use to you in improving your writing skills.” I said, “OK madam, thank you” but I muttered, “I will never write any poem!” My respected Rasheda ma’am never heard that murmur. I kept my promise. Since then, I have never been so romantic to write a verse or two. I buried the poet in me at Notre Dame College at a tender age!
Ranjit Podder, PhD College Roll: 85694 Session: 1983-84
Dr Ranjit Podder is an Associate Professor of English at Govt. Teachers’ Training College, Dhaka. He achieved his Doctoral Degree from Dhaka University. Before that, he achieved M.Phil. in ELT from Institute of Bangladesh Studies, Rajshahi University; Master of Arts in English Literature with BA (Hon’s) from Jagannath College, Dhaka University; Master of Education from Canterbury University, New Zealand and Master of Arts in Education from Nottingham University, UK/Malaysia Campus. He is engaged in educational research and contributes to the English dailies.