The day I got my postgraduate degree, I didn’t waste a minute– I rushed back to my village, Ausgrum in Bengal to become a teacher. Yes, I had higher salary offers from schools in bigger towns, but for me, the 169 Rs. I was offered at my school village meant everything; I was hungry to teach the students from my village who needed a good teacher the most.
And I taught at my school for 39 years and only retired because I’d hit my ‘retirement age’– 60, what a ridiculous concept!
So there I was at 60, retired and expected to spend my years drinking sugary tea and whiling away my time on the charpoy! But I was restless, I didn’t want to retire and kept asking myself, ‘What shall I do now?’ A few days later, I got the answer.
One morning, around 6:30 AM, I saw 3 young girls enter my house. I was shocked when they told me they’d cycled for over 23 kms to see the Master who’d retired! They were young tribal girls who were desperate to learn; with folded hands they asked, ‘Masterji, will you teach us?’ I immediately agreed and said, ‘I can teach you, but you will have to pay my school fees for the whole year–are you ready to pay?’
They said, ‘Yes, Masterji, we will manage the money somehow.’
So I said, ‘Yes, my fees are Rupee 1 for the whole year!’
They were so happy, they hugged me and said, ‘We will pay you 1 Rupee and 4 chocolates also!’
I was elated! So, after they left, I put on my dhoti and went straight back to my school and requested them to give me a classroom to teach…they refused. But I wasn’t going to stop– I had years of teaching left in me, so I went back home, cleaned my verandah and decided to start teaching there.
That was in 2004–my Pathshala started with those 3 girls and today we have over 3000 students per year, most of whom are young tribal girls. My day still starts at 6 AM with a walk around the village and then I open my doors to students coming from all over– some of the girls walk for 20 plus kilometres; I have so much to learn from them!
Over the years, my students have gone on to become professors, heads of departments and IT professionals– they always call me and give me the good news and as always, I ask them to please give me some chocolates! And last year, when I won the Padmashree, my phone didn’t stop ringing; the whole village celebrated with me–it was a happy day, but I still didn’t allow my students to bunk class!
And my doors are open to all– come visit me and my Pathshala anytime; our village is beautiful and all my students are bright–I am sure you can learn something from them!
So that’s my story– I am a simple teacher from Bengal who enjoys his tea and evening naps on his charpoy. The highlight of my life is being called Master Moshai–I want to teach until my last breath; it’s what I was put on this planet to do!”
President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Shri Sujit Chatterjee for Literature and Education. A retired school teacher from Purba Bardhaman, West Bengal, he is recognised over the state for his free coaching center named “Sadai Fakirer Pathsala”.