When Mr Rose left for Australia he sold his teak bureau to dad; both are still around to keep reminding me that sometime, in our heart and mind, we have to salute those innumerable unknown persons who have worked silently in the background to contribute to the making of our destiny
By Dr Rajagopal Soondron
What did we have to drink after our bread and butter lunch at primary school? We had no plastic gourde — unheard of at that time. Did we go to the school tap and drink some water? Maybe. After milk at 10.30 am, courtesy of Her Majesty’s Service Department of Education, there was no fruit juice, tea, cocoa drink or bottled water as is the case nowadays. It was quite normal to go to school without such these beverages. How we did manage is still a mystery to most of us.
So fancy our frustration when, on being seated for the next lesson after recreation, our teacher — the tall gentleman, half bald, with curly hair, a roundish face, slightly grey eyes and more on the wrong side of the weighing scale — would pull out of his desk his tall glass and pour his liquid milk, courtesy of the school kitchen; he would then add a few spoonfuls of cocoa, and stir the milk slowly. We children would be all agog, amazed and envious of him as the white milk gradually changed to a terrific pale brown chocolate hue.
In front of the pop-eyed kids, who just had water at the school tap, Mr Rose did not know not what an affront that chocolate drink was to our childish mind! We sort of gazed on that lucky, tall, terror-inducing man sitting in his chair behind his lectern on those summer days as he slowly sipped that wonderful beverage. Not only he held our fate in his hands – a ruler was always handy – but, to top it all, he twisted the knife in the wound by titillating our throat and salivary reflexes to the utmost. And I suppose that after months of this daily mental torture we had resigned ourselves to our student’s fate with some self-pity. So after depressing our mood for the rest of the day and with himself on top of the world, Mr Rose would start his afternoon class. Those who could hardly resist falling asleep, or who had failed to do their homework had every interest to keep as low a profile as possible. The satiated master would make no compromise with his thirsty, docile non-performing wards. Not a fly would move.
That’s how we went through our 5th and 6th standard classes; the teacher might have rightly felt that his responsibility was to see us through our primary school with excellent results so as to get admitted to a good high school the following year.
As if the hard life at school was not enough for us, our parents, in connivance with the teacher, would accede to the current practice of shoving us after classes into the care of Mr Rose for further coaching and private tuitions. That’s how some 20 of us found ourselves heading unhappily towards the teacher’s residence, at Napier Broom Street, Beau Bassin. Many would dash to the water tap for a face wash or to quench our thirst after the long walk from school in the summer afternoon. No parents or car were there to shuttle us in between. We would go at the back of his shingle-roofed (bardeau) house in a decent room with a concrete floor polished with red evershined concrete floor and a large table in the middle and benches all around. There we would sit skin to skin, squeezing ourselves together on the bench to wait for our fate, feeling a better camaraderie and comfort here than at school, for we were after all in the same boat.
If there was a long delay before our second class would start, we would have time to relax and become more playful; but there was no such luck. Within minutes our teacher would walk in and sit at the head of the table, and we espied his face to gauge his mood: a reddish tinge would spell trouble for us, while a large smile could mean better, pleasant tuition. We have the feeling that it was more the reddish face that predominated during our stay at Mr Rose’s. Our biased student psychology could also have led us to judge Mr Rose severely and wrongly.
If in the morning we had thought that his cocoa drinking ceremony had taxed our throat to the maximum, then we were in for more surprises. There would sit the grand Manitou at the head of the table and his maid would bring him a large bowl of hot tea, for tea it was; had it been coffee the aroma would have permeated all around and haunted us more. The morning scenario would be played again; we students had water swishing inside us while Mr Rose, holding his large bowl of tea in both hands like a child, sipped his piping hot beverage with relish, as if to stir our thirst centre to the limit. We threw oblique glances at Mr Rose, and now and then we averted our gaze to our notebook while controlling our rising envy, convincing ourselves that it was futile to stir yet again memories of the morning torture. Yet, all of us children knew that we would give a lot to lay our hand on a goblet of tea at that instant.
After that non-academic session, our attention became riveted on the teacher; his severity of the morning never abated. We saw to it that we had done our homework; a few might default now and then – but it was better not to have any sympathy for them – why tax our faculty of pity further while it was already stretched to its maximum since the morning? “Boeuf dans di sable…” — and who knew we might need some more of it ourselves later if our own homework turned out to be below Mr Rose’s expectations. What a relief it was when we finished tuition at around 5 pm or so and headed back home about a km away; we enjoyed that trip the most in winter. What unforgettable cool air! That was how our primary school life went along for two years or so near the end of primary curriculum.
But for me it was different; after joining secondary school my dad sent me again to Mr Rose, who went on coaching me alone! And the most depressing time was during the vacations. I had to report every day at his place for further tuition. Dad had an undying faith in him; I would realize quite later that Mr Rose took special interest in my school progress, and had been instrumental in seeing that I got better grades.
Years later, I said goodbye to him as I left his ring of influence and started looking elsewhere for more advanced tuitions. And Mr Bayaram, the very one to have taken me to high school on the very first day of secondary school life, was recruited by dad to coach me in advanced maths after his HSC. On my way home, I’d stop in Belle rose for tuition. And here there were times when I would think back to those cocoa and tea episodes of years gone by with a sly, pensive smile on my face, as Mrs Bayaram, the elderly, would always bring a cup of tea for me just before her son would start coaching me.
About 20 years ago, whilst window shopping in town, I came across a large, transparent deep sea-blue glass cup. I smiled and thought of those tea cups of Mr Rose. I bought it and have used it ever since for breakfast. But the irony is that I rarely use it for tea or coffee, for I have learned to do without them. At least I have the sensation that I am having my belated revenge on those tea-less afternoons nearly 60 years ago at Mr Rose’s – or maybe just to remind me of him.
When Mr Rose left for Australia he sold his teak bureau to dad; both are still around to keep reminding me that sometime, in our heart and mind, we have to salute those innumerable unknown persons who have worked silently in the background to contribute to the making of our destiny.
* Published in print edition on 25 January 2019