Sunday, November 21, 2010


“At Shibpur Dinabandhu Institution, I was a backbencher. Those of us who sat at the back were treated shabbily."

What makes people take note of a backbencher? Today's edition of The Telegraph comes up with this ennobling article.

A 73-year-old retired teacher, who has almost lost an eye to glaucoma and suffers from throat cancer, has been taking classes gratis at his old school for 12 years in a state where the government had to ban private tuition so that teachers do not neglect classes.

He is Prasanta Kumar Banerjee who retired in February 1998 but his passion for teaching soon drove him back to the classroom. The Shibpur resident had cut down on classes only a year back, on the advice of doctors who had diagnosed his throat cancer.

“I love teaching, especially those who are considered backbenchers. From my experience, I know each student can do well if he is taught properly and confidence is instilled in him. Poverty and family problems keep many children from performing to their potential.”

In Banerjee’s case, poverty forced him to concentrate on studies so that he could contribute to the family income. His father Jatindranath, an employee of the Survey of India at Shillong, Meghalaya, had died when he was only a year old, leaving the family of eight desperately in need of money.

They returned to their ancestral home in Shibpur. Prasanta and two of his elder brothers were admitted to the primary section of Shibpur Dinabandhu Institution. In Class IX, he failed twice and had to switch to Praganananda Saraswati Vidhalaya.

Banerjee returned to Praganananda Vidhalaya as a teacher in 1960 after completing his BA from ND College, Howrah.

“Soon after joining, I discovered that there were many students who needed extra care. I asked them to come to my home for extra classes, for which I did not take money. But since I believe that students should give their teachers gurudakshina, I used to take a haritaki (chebulic myrobalans), a poitey (sacred thread) and 25 paise from each.”

Milan Chakraborty, a Howrah doctor who is one of the many students whose future Banerjee shaped, recounted: “All students, whether they were meritorious or not, liked to attend sir’s history and Bengali classes. He taught so well that the classes seemed fun.”

Now comes the turning point. What made this backbencher beat all where it really counts?

"At Praganananda Vidhalaya, the then headmaster, late Makhanlal Chattopadhyay, was a wonderful teacher. He encouraged and motivated me. I soon became better at studies. That was when I realised that teaching with care and affection could turn a bad boy into a good one.”

"Each soul is potentially divine," says Vivekananda, "The goal is to manifest that divinity."

(The content appeared in today's edition of The Telegrapph.)

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