August 17, 2012

Respect over Fear: A tribute to Harold Sir

During my school days at St. Vincents,  I had a physical training (PT) teacher whom we all knew as Harold Sir. I did not know his last name, Joseph, till I saw this obituary being shared on Facebook a couple of days back.

Harold Joseph, or Harold Sir to me and my classmates, stood apart from all the other PT teachers we had. Though he used to sit with the other PT teachers, in a room near the primary assembly area, he was visibly more disciplined than the rest. For example, one could easily spot him in a crowd -- you just had to find a person with the perfect posture. His spine would be as straight as any line can draw and his physique could put any olympic gymnast to shame. At St. Vincents the entire batch for a year used to be randomly shuffled into four divisions.  Each division that had him for PT was to a large extent, thanks to being naive, sympathized -- he never missed any class and was very particular in mixing exercises with sport. Some PT masters would just make us run one round of 400 m around the field and then hand over the footballs and basketballs. Harold Sir was different: he paid attention to the PT drills, push ups, sit downs, and other exercises, and would give the footballs only after the exercises

His face was always free from any emotion -- he was a no-nonsense kind of a person. I only remember him being visibly happy on very few occasions. For example, when someone ran by pacing a 400 m run well; I remember him saying "Very Good!" with smile to me once on one such occasion. Because I used to play tennis, I once overhead him express his  pleasure on watching the technique of one of my classmates (Ankush Chabra) during a tennis match.

His past was always mysterious to most of us. It was normal to hear stories floating around during lunch breaks that he was some senior member in the armed forces. The stories evolved with each passing year -- the smaller the kids floating the stories, the more hilarious they used to be. But the essence of these stories -- he had some military past -- was undeniable. This was also evident because during most march pasts that had members from the Indian Army marching with our NCC troops. During such march pasts the senior Army officers attending the event would look up to him with respect.  On one such occasion I remember that the chief guest, a senior military officer, got up from his seat and walked up the place Harold Sir was sitting and greeted him. For me it was his death that shed some light on this mysterious past; I just came across an article on him in sakal times titled,"Harold Joseph, St Vincent’s PT instructor no more." Indeed he was an officer in the Indian Navy. Now the only mystery is the number of enemy ships and submarines he sank with his bare hands.  

His biggest lesson and his biggest gift to me is defining respect and detailing the process to command respect. He is amongst the teachers that command respect. But this respect is the result  of distillation of innocent childhood fears, and Harold Sir refining it with time to produce respect in the purest form. He is the perfect example of how pure respect leaves a life long impression. Most primary school students began by fearing him. His presence and his name read out as the PT master for your division would be associated with trembling feet for a few. Trembling feet were completely natural thanks to his physical appearance -- standing with a posture supported by a gravity defying straight spine and muscular enough to sink ships with his bare hands. With each lesson his qualities distilled out every measure of fear to produce pure respect. It is difficult to express in English, but the best way as to how I saw him was "स्तिथप्रग्य" -- no-nonsense, disciplined, and the absence of any kind of favoritism. His dedication to his work is largely unparalleled. He truly loved to imbibe his qualities and his knowledge is each child and paid complete attention to each and every student in his own special way.

I wish that all kids can experience at least one lesson from a true teacher like Harold Sir!

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