The Selfless Mentor
( To the Bengalis da after a proper noun indicates respect to a person looked upon as an elder brother )
“Look, there is someone watching us closely”. Tony whispered to my ear. We stopped the game momentarily and could find a young man, lean and tall, around 24 years, of fair complexion standing outside the ground but behind the wicket and watching cricket minutely. Precocious few among us commented that the man must be mentally deranged as otherwise why he should give so much attention to us. But I preferred to reserve my comments on his activities which appeared typical though. I got deeply interested in the man who would follow us ritually almost every day when we played cricket.
We students of classes Vl11-1X were soon introduced to the man, our George da, who offered to participate in our games as a player cum coach and every time we made some mistakes he would invariably come over to us voluntarily and give friendly advice on different aspects of the game like taking stance at the crease, proper bowling line and length and throwing a ball at the wicket etc. Soon George da turned out to be our guide and assured us that he was prepared to lend us all the support we needed to improve our performance.
We were then living in Jalpaiguri a northern district town of West Bengal. We had covered and uncovered grounds galore-abundant areas of delight in the sixties, where we could play Cricket, Football, Volleyball and what not. A resident of the place could boast of its culture, education, sports, tea gardens- in every sphere it produced eminent people. We were lucky enough to have been brought up there at that time and had the rare privilege of associating with George da who was cut out to be a good leader. We gradually gathered that Geogeda was never a bright student. He was not very good at games either but he had an indomitable spirit and natural inclination to help anyone in need. So he had picked 4-5 boys among us for a thorough grooming in his inimitable way.
Once he decided to take us to his house. We had imagined him to be wealthy enough to afford such luxury of spending so much valuable time, energy and money for no personal gains. But we were proved wrong when we entered his thatched house and found him living in a single room with his widowed mother. We were treated to a good afternoon meal to our fill. His mother told us that George da had still been unemployed after graduation and had been eking out a living by giving tuition to boys and girls. Our respect for George da grew all the more since he lent us support so generously during our formative years.
But despite his own problems he was always available to us as a friend and mentor. I still remember one day as we were walking with him leisurely discussing sundry topics one of us spat in the middle of the road. At this George da was annoyed and the guilty boy was ticked off and practically shown how to spit on a road. We were dumbstruck watching him gradually mending us in every realm of our lives.
Thus growing under his close supervision we were becoming a cut above the rest of our friends who had not been lucky enough to come under Gorgeda’s all caring umbrella. He would drop in at our house any time and make inquiries about our studies. He was even interested to improve our English so that we can speak and write with felicity avoiding grammatical mistakes, although he did not have much proficiency in the language. We wondered that he must have some magic wands for we began to improve considerably.
It was not that George da was spending his time with us only. He was literally available to anyone in need. He was so neat in manual jobs that not a single day passed when George da would not visit any neighboring house for ironing of clothes or mending of garments using a sewing machine. Only compensation he received in exchange was a cup of tea which he relished much to the comfort of the neighbors who took advantage of his selflessness. He was always eager to take active part in funeral processions or accompany critically ill patients to hospitals without any qualms.
Dedicated to the cause of humanity
My association with George da lasted for about 5 years and it broke abruptly as I had to leave the town for higher studies in Kolkata where I eventually passed out and settled permanently. From time to time I used to receive information about him initially but contact almost snapped as the years rolled by and I got deeply engaged in family life and heavy office responsibilities. One day suddenly I received a phone call from one of my school mates intimating me that George da had been lying seriously ill and that he had sought to see us urgently. I lost no time in reaching my old town and standing by our beloved George da along with other friends whom he could groom to his entire satisfaction. He was visibly very pleased to see us and tried to tell old anecdotes incoherently. We were really upset seeing our mentor dying. But despite our best endeavor we could not save him from the clutches of death. We paid our last respect to the departed soul in a befitting manner. As I was then leaving the town his sobbing mother came up to me and said ‘’you all know how much kind he was! How his marriage proposals fell flat. He was so devoted to the services to the people of the town that he hardly had time to marry”. Saying this she handed over a scribbling pad with notes from his departed son. We pored over it to see if George da had left behind any last wishes and request for pecuniary assistance for his helpless widowed mother. The note only listed the details of his unfinished jobs he had promised to his neighbors.
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