|Patra at the Science City function on Saturday
'I have no regrets. All I need now is a peaceful death'
The words were spoken by Gopal Chandra Patra, former headmaster of Baikunthapur Primary School, West Midnapore, after being inducted into The Telegraph Education Foundation Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Saturday.
Less than a day after being wheeled on to the Science City stage, Patra died in a nursing home, 5 km from the school he had nurtured for 30 years.
Patra was in the last stages of gall bladder cancer. He died in his sleep at 6 am on Sunday. The 53-year-old was surrounded by wife Saila Rani, son Pranabesh, 12, daughter Swati, 20, and other relatives while hundreds of his current and former students and residents of neighbouring villages thronged the nursing home compound.
His body was taken in a silent procession to his beloved school and then to Daupur village, his home, for the last rites.
Mastermoshai had insisted on attending the awards ceremony. He was driven to the occasion and back on Saturday in an ambulance. Even four days before the event, he was too ill to sit up but his eyes lit up with emotion as he spoke about his work and the honour that awaited him.
'Amake ekbar stage-e uthte din (Please allow me to go on stage)' was his request. Get up on stage he did, where he was joined by 78-year-old Nurulbhai, who was inspired by Patra to learn the letters three years ago.
'He told me after the awards that he wanted nothing more from life. That's why he was crying when the entire auditorium stood up to applaud his achievements,' Nurulbhai later said.
Patra's father was a daily labourer and so was he till he asked for, and got, a job as a teacher in the school 30 years ago. Since then, with limited resources and unlimited determination, he set about improving lives.
Apart from half his monthly salary of Rs 8,000, which he gave to his school, Patra donated the money from the various awards he received to the needy.
Set on the edge of a nameless jheel, the school has but three classrooms. But even the drab walls are decorated with murals by artists. The school has students up to Class V, but it is the way education is imparted that sets it apart.
In a letter to The Telegraph Education Foundation after learning of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Patra wrote: 'I shall die' (But) I hope that the torch which I kindled will never be extinguished'.'