Teacher Sulekha Sen


Easterine Kire


My day started with an email from an unfamiliar name. It was nothing out of the ordinary. The writer was reviewing a book of mine and requested some answers to questions. She piqued my interest when she mentioned that she had grown up in Kohima and spent her younger days in my hometown. Very interestingly,she added that both her parents had been teachers during their stay and that her mother had been a teacher at my old school for many years. I eagerly wrote back asking for more information on her parents. Her next email provided more light. My correspondent was none other than the daughter of our High School Geography teacher, Mrs Sen. The daughter was writing under her married name and was now a senior editor at a prestigious newspaper house. Many years, in fact, decades, had passed since our last encounter.It was all quite exciting for us both. My sister dug up a very old family photo we had taken at Christmastime in 1971 or 1972. In the photograph were the usual several family members and aunts and cousins standing in rows behind our seated grandfather. In the front row,a bright-eyed, curly-headed little girl was smiling at the photographer from where she stood between my younger sisters. It was Teacher Sen’s daughter, the same person who was now emailing me. 

It’s amazing how something so casual can just drop itself into your everyday world and roll back the past without any effort. That Christmas day we had been to church in the morning in our new clothes and shoes, and after morning service, we had gathered for the traditional Christmas lunch at Grandfather’s. Teacher Sen and family were living in the neighbourhood. Her daughter often played with my younger sisters who were closer in age to her. ‘I remember having tea and biscuits in the kitchen,’ she wrote back as we shared our memories of what she described as a warm house. Indeed, it had been that. In traditional Naga manner, my grandparents would make sure there was food for visitors at any time of day. Situated to the left of the present-day Baptist Mission Church, Grandfather’s lands stretched upward along the path to the village, and downward to just above the Tanquist road. The house and estate was taken off by the great landslide of 1974 that swallowed our neighbourhood in the night. People reported that the slide was accompanied by ear-deafening sounds of rocks rolling down and mountains of earth sliding downward to accumulate in the areas next to the Ura Academy hall.

Only people who have grown up in that colony will remember what a good place it was for children to grow up in, with Grandfather’s orchard as our roaming grounds all afternoon. To make contact with someone from that era was a blessed experience. Teacher Sen had been a big part of that era, and her daughter, who had been very young in the seventies could still relate her cherished experiences of the times she had spent in that house.

Our teacher Sulekha Sen was tall and slender. She always looked dignified dressed in a sari. She would exude a touch of the Tagorean scholar about her as she regularly strode across the courtyard from the teachers’ office to the classrooms on the land bordering the village path. Teacher Sen taught Geography and Commercial Geography and Domestic Science. I cannot remember seeing her flustered or agitated on any one day. When I go through the list of old favourite teachers, she stands out among the rest and I can easily remember how patient and forbearing she was with her students. Imagine trying to teach classroom after classroom packed with adolescent boys and girls in a coeducational school where the after-recess hours were abducted by the student population trying to generate as much mischief as possible before getting caught. A teacher needed to be made of sterner stuff just to be able to get information through to those dizzy knuckleheads! 

In an age when many teachers carried a cane and used it liberally on uncooperative students, Teacher Sen was remarkably tolerant of naughty pupils, and she was known to use her ‘teacher’s stick’ mostly to point out something on the blackboard. In today’s world, she might be defined as progressive and liberal-minded. We didn’t have these definitions back then. 

With Teachers’ Day barely two weeks away, I cannot help thinking nostalgically of my old teachers. Mrs Sen has left her earthly home now. As each of these teachers get older and are lost to us, realisation comes to me that many of us have not thanked them properly for their roles in our lives. If you are fortunate enough to still have teachers around who sowed good seed into your life, don’t miss the opportunity to thank them and remind them of the difference they made in your life.