What about your handwriting?

MRS GILLIAN K SINGH was the first one to make valiant attempts to sort out my problems with spelling. She was our English teacher in Yadavindra Public School, Patiala. I got the place of honour in her class, right in the front, so that she could keep a better eye on this “outsider” who had just joined.

Yadavindra Public School, Patiala, Class V photo taken on November 12, 1970

I managed to keep my head above water, since at this school, they did not insist that I write with my right hand, something I had found difficult to do when I studied in a convent school in Chandigarh, where the nuns forced us to “take the right path,” till my mother intervened. However, by that time I had developed the skill to be ambidextrous, right hand for the class and left for homework. The result was handwriting that was truly atrocious.

Later, Mr Christopher Duffy, a US Peace Corps volunteer who taught at YPS, took our class. He spotted something that had evaded everyone’s gaze, a sliver of talent in yours truly. He encouraged me to read more, and write. He did not react as much to my handwriting, which at that time I attributed to his goodness. Only much later did I see the handwriting of my American friends and colleagues—they surely made me feel much, much better about my scribble.

Particularly pleased with my work one time, Mr Duffy declared that I could be a writer one day. Of course, I didn’t believe him at all, but a seed was planted.

I told my parents about what he said, and soon I was being encouraged to write more.

My father offered to pay me a rupee a page for every short story that I wrote, in Punjabi, his language of choice. Mother matched the offer in English, and thus came the only period when I truly felt that I could get rich through writing.

Mr Duffy left school, having introduced us to baseball and kindled our minds. Other language teachers followed, notably Mr Sadhu Singh Deol and Mr R K Bhardawaj in English and Mrs Darshan Bakshish Singh in Punjabi. Writing became much a part of life, even as I took Philosophy Honours in college. Interestingly, Mr Deol called me “Philosopher” when I was his student in YPS!

In college too, my teachers were intensely involved in the way thoughts were communicated through the spoken and written words. Dr R K Gupta, then Head of Department of Philosophy at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, was rigorous in his examination of the tutorials submitted to him. Dr Ashok Vohra made me rewrite a tutorial many times till I got it right, and Dr Vijay Tankha exposed my mind to much more than the subject at hand.

After college, I went to New York and when I wrote to Dr Gupta to inform him that I was working as a journalist, he wrote back: “But Roopinder, what will you do about your handwriting and spelling?” Pat went the reply: “Sir, I have found a solution to both: a computer.”

This middle by Roopinder Singh was published in The Tribune on November 15, 2010.

NOTE: Dr R K Gupta passed away two years after this middle was written. You may also like to read my tribute to him.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.