Teaching Shakespeare at Gandacherra

By Saibal Debbarma

December 3, 2023

II

One august evening in the month of January I went to the Post office at Agartala to receive my official joining letter. I held the saffron envelope, sealed with government insignia, with the ardour of a devotee holding an earthen lamp of his prayers, and did not open the letter till I reached home. My father, a retired School Inspector, and my mother, a retired head clerk at the Municipal Corporation, were seated in the drawing room, watching television, when I entered home and declared that I have received my offer letter for the post of Assistant professor. I touched their feet and they blessed me – “Fare well my child. Try to keep this job and happiness will come” – my mother said to me. I carefully ripped the envelope so that I may preserve it as a memory of my success and drew out the letter and scanned it to find my name among the list – “Rahel Debbarma, S/O-Rathin Debbarma, Assistant Professor of English, Place of Posting – Govt. Degree College, Gandacherra, Dhalai, Tripura.” I saw a shroud of concern and stolid calmness fall over my parents’ face when I read my place of posting aloud to them.

            Until then I had heard the name of Gandacherra only in passing when I was at school from the snippets of conversation my father had with his colleagues. And almost always the name ‘Gandacherra’ was followed by the words ‘punishment transfer’. As a schoolboy the name ‘Gandacherra’ conjured up for me a remote and exotic place, eclipsed by tropical jungles where ancient gargantuan rhinos roamed, a site of exile for the sinful outcastes of the state mechanism. A dreary prospect to look forward to. My father offered to intervene about the matter of my posting and discuss the possibility of changing the place of posting with an official in the higher ranks of the bureaucracy. But I reasoned with my father that such an intervention would go against the integrity of a gazetted-A officer.  Although I bore a secret apprehension about my place of posting but I feared that once I begin to pander authorities for such favours, I will develop a slave mentality and lose my pride. My father never spoke about the matter of posting and was glad that I had followed his advice and succeeded at acquiring a respectable public profession deemed noble by most people.

            I spent the months leading up to the day of joining in my new posting in our house in the village. I cleared the yard off weeds and watered the plants and in the cold evenings I burnt a little fire with the dry leaves and branches I had collected in the day. I ate sparsely, often only once a day and spend my empty hours reading books. I did not think about the future, perhaps, willingly, because it aroused a sense of anxiety within me. As the day of my joining drew near, I began preparing for my new responsibilities. I went back to home at Agartala only a day before I was supposed to leave for Gandacherra. On the last night of my stay at Agartala when I sat for dinner with my parents my father expressed his concern about my future stating that it would be better if I stuck to this job and find some stability in life. I said that I would try my best but could promise nothing. This hurt him deeply and he left without saying anything.

            I had previously worked as an Assistant professor at Ramya Institute of Liberal Studies in Bengaluru as an Assistant professor but I had to leave the job and come back home when one day I got the news that my mother fell unconscious in the kitchen and injured her head during the fall. My father assured me in the phone that it was nothing serious but I served my resignation the next day and went home risking the crowd when COVID-19 was at its most dangerous. But I could not find a teaching position in any place for more than six months after I arrived at Agartala and when the opportunity occurred it was for the post of a Guest Lecturer with only a salary of six-hundred rupees per class in a state run university. To escape my father’s continuous promptings to get a B.ED Degree  which was the most sought after professional course during the time I took the job. Because the post of Guest Lecturer was a great fall from my previous status as an Assistant professor at a liberal arts college where I assumed a high sense of worth substantiated by my decent salary, I took the job of Guest lecturer with a sense of stoic submission and resentment. And I loathed the fact about myself that teaching literature and talking about it is perhaps the only thing I am capable of doing.

            Any one fairly acquainted with the public buildings of Tripura will know that they are built without any sense of aesthetics or a vision for future development. The State run university where I was appointed stood at the end of an oblong shaped football ground. It was a large white building and was decorated with a dome atop the flat roof that resembled the domes that adorned the tombs of the Mughal kings. The staffroom of the English Department only had few chairs and tables, and was mostly empty. I walked towards my table sifting the thick dust with my worn sandals raising a small cloud of dust. The white walls were spattered with muddy spots, I imagined, were caused by someone practicing his catching with a sooty tennis ball by throwing it on the walls. The large, vacant, arid room was suffused with a blank emptiness that weighed heavily over me. Despite my sternest sense of purpose inspired by a new place of employment I felt an overwhelming sense of worthlessness in the empty room.

Saibal Debbarma is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Government Degree College, Gondatwisa (Gandacherra), Dhalai District, Tripura.

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