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Lust For Life

Dr P Lal had a distinct way of entering the class. He would virtually float inside and keep his books on the table delicately. Look at the students. His eyes would move steadily from right to left and then back. And the commotion in the first year class of English Honours in St Xaviers College would subside gradually to pin drop silence. Then he would climb the teachers’ dais and sit as delicately as he had kept his books on the table. A colleague narrates the experience of her first class with Dr P Lal. The students had expected that he would tell them the subject he would be teaching them…whether it would be Thomas Hardy or Shakespeare or Blake. He opened the attendance register. Closed it. Told the students to introduce themselves. And then said that those who are not interested in the class may go out and have some fresh air. Although from the first glance most of the students had apprehended that his class was going to be horribly boring, nobody dared to get up. Then he told one among us to recite the first line of any poem. The students were given the freedom to consult books. One of us recited first line of Daffodils. From the second line on, Dr Lal continued. Students picked lines of Eliot, Witman, Neruda, Plath, Dickinson and so many others poets and Dr Lal recited them all without batting his eyes in his characteristic monotone. That is how the batch of first year students was introduced to Dr Lal. He narrated stories about himself and others. He once explained the reason behind his lean form. He said it was because of Gangrene. Students went out and shared the story with others and he would be seen shrouded in a strange mystery. After a couple of classes when some studious ones became impatient and asked him which part of syllabus he would be covering, he said that no syllabus can contain literature. For the rest of the year, Dr Lal taught the students how to love literature. The colleague said that the memory of those lectures were such that each time she comes across a book by Writers Workshop in a book store and felt the markings on the cloth-bound books with her fingers, Dr Lal’s voice resounds in her mind. The association had almost been distant but Dr Lal lives on in her love for literature.
Soma Basu
Soma Basu

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  1. Mohua Mohua November 12, 2010

    To add this – he used to ask questions, easy yet intriguing enough, and whoever answered them was presented those beautiful cloth bound books which his/her name written by Dr. Lal in his fine calligraphy. This prize was 'prized' enough to be lured into his classes!

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