30 July 2009

T’ta Professor by Manohar Shyam Joshi

The Village School Master
The hero of this book is a writer who goes to work in a primary school in a village in North India so
that he can continue following his literary ambitions and avoid family pressure to take up a government job. It’s just a few years after Independence. There he meets T’ta Professor who has a Dubbul MA but was usurped by an ordinary BA who was unfairly made Principal of the village school. T’ta Professor carries a notebook in which he writes the new words he learns, and looks them up in his dictionary. He asks our hero why he lies down and reads; why he reads a book in English wearing only pyjamas: “You must wear a coat-pant and tie,” he declares, “when you read English books; and sit properly at a desk. After all, Sanskrit scholars have to wear a freshly washed dhoti and sit on a wooden patla, don’t they?” Nearly half the book passes in this type of funny, flippant chatter and the writer, also a Joshi like the writer of this book (we never learn the rest of his name and it doesn’t say anywhere that they are not the same person), lives among the other teachers observing them rather patronisingly as prospective characters for his great literature. Engrossed in the flow of the story, it’s hard to tell when exactly Joshi enters a real relationship with T’ta Professor. Is it as they exchange confidences about their early sexual adventures? Perhaps not, because at this point Joshi is still looking at the “professor’s” confessions as material for plot and setting. But these confessions do make the two more equal as they gently expose the stark, poignant facts of the professor’s life. The turning point is subtle and the tone of the book changes, moving from breezy morning to sullen dusk. This is a Hindi book, very enjoyable and informative, and made available to an international audience in this excellent translation by Ira Pande.

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