To Sir, with love from across the globe

Septuagenarian Pratul Dutta was born to be a teacher, recall his students

By Sudhir Kumar Mishra
  • Published 5.09.15
Pratul Dutta flanked by wife Banani and daughter Piyu along with caregiver Reena Kumari (extreme left) at his Burdwan Compound residence in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Prashant Mitra nSee Metro 10

His students are guarding our territorial boundaries on land, water and air. Some are holding key positions in the bureaucracy. Others are heading MNCs across the world. A few are even guiding political masters cutting across party lines.

Meet Pratul Dutta (79), who started off as a teacher of Bengali, but is known and loved by all for his ability to bring out the best from his students, be it academics or the performing arts.

Battling Parkinson's and other ailments, Dutta is unable to speak for long. But, he hasn't given up reading. He is most comfortable with a bunch of books on his bedside.

"Even while talking to us, he feels he is still in a class room, helping students find easy answers to difficult problems or making them give their best while performing a play or delivering an extempore speech," says wife Banani.

Educationist, author and quiz master Barry O' Brien's experience as Dutta's student illustrates this best.

"The teacher who influenced me the most was Pratul Dutta, a Bengali teacher at La Martiniere, where I studied in Class XI and XII. I did not attend his class since I studied Hindi, but he still offered me the lead role in a Bengali play. He's spent hours with me rehearsing and helping me with the script. He showed me the Bengali in me," O' Brien told The Telegraph on Teachers' Day in 2004.

Echoing O'Brien is Sanjeev Vasudevan, a student of Dutta's at Sainik School-Purulia. "He is one of the greatest teachers I have ever come across," says the professor of anaesthesia at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Cochin.

Vasudevan started learning the Bengali alphabet after joining school in Class V in 1974. "But, it was because of Dutta's great teaching style that I always came out with flying colours and excelled in other areas of academics too."

That's how most students remember Dutta as.

After graduating from Ranchi University, Dutta secured an auditor's job at the accountant-general's office in Ranchi, his hometown. But, teaching was his calling.

While working he earned himself a Masters degree from Ranchi University. Thereafter, he enrolled himself in B.Ed at Vishwa Bharti University, where he met Banani, who went on to become his life partner in 1961.

From then on, there was no turning back. Dutta lived for his students. He served at Ram Krishna Shikshapeeth in Rampurhat during 1961-68 and then moved to Purulia to teach Bengali at Sainik School till 1978. There, he translated a Hindi play , NEFA ki ek sham, in English titled Sentinel and asked wife Banani to essay the mother's role.

"Sir's son was a toddler those days. His two daughters were very small. But, we used to rehearse at his home till late every evening. The play was staged before the GOC himself, who was so impressed by our performances that he immediately granted a posting of his choice to the school principal," recalls an Indian Air Force Air Commodore.

From Purulia, Dutta left for Calcutta to join La Martiniere for Boys, where he taught till 1981. Then, he went to Kalimpong to teach at Dr Graham's School. He returned to Ranchi in 1984 only to become headmaster of LEBB High School where he had been a student of the Class of 1952.

Dutta retired in 1996.

"The other day one of his old students called up from Canada and could not believe he was bedridden. He promised to come and see him," said Dutta's younger daughter Piyu, who is married to one of her father's students at Purulia who is now an Group Captain with IAF.

"My father has always been our best friend. Despite battling against odds on personal fronts, he taught us to look up... always," she adds proudly.