Mr. Dev Kumar Benarjee is the lecturer in English in the small town of Ballamgarh. His is an attitude only explicable in terms of a certain inscrutable principle governing that weird language he teaches, or for that matter, the weird culture he mimics. For most part of his daily interaction, he speaks only one language, that is in English, whether he is to talk to his students or his neighbours or even to the rickshaw-puller that transports him to his college and brings him back home. The street dogs are the big beneficiaries of Mr. Benrjee's linguistic preference. 'Aha! I won't fault you for not following me, you the speechless pathetic puppets, I won't. Even my students, my greengrocer, my rickshaw-puller do not try to understand the dictions of this brilliant language. Come eat this English Marie, these are no ordinary biscuits. Good for boosting your English pronunciation, I say.' Saying that he throws a pack of biscuits to the whining hungry street dogs and makes them gambol in happiness.
An admirer of English sartorial perfection, Mr. Benarjee tries his best to dress himself as gentlemanly as possible, to make it sure that his choice of clothes suits the occasion, the context, highlighting his personality to his advantage. He has a set of double-breasted formal wear, another dinner suit of midnight blue and yet another complete light grey morning suit with its tail trailing almost a couple of feet behind. A small town such as Ballamgarh has no shop to provide those formals on rent and hence Mr. Benarjee has made neat acquisition of everything kept in his wardrobe, complete in all respects, from starched bows to top hats and to jaunty cummerbunds. The vagaries of Ballamgarh weather have never discouraged him from matching his outfits with the occasions, perspiration and skin maladies notwithstanding.
A confirmed bachelor, a connoisseur of fine wine and hand-rolled cigar, a person of measured smile and verbal self-restraint, Mr. Benarjee likes to be wished by all so that he can snub a few of them at will. He has actually a few friends and none of them would ever take Mr. Benarjee for granted, for the more-than-life-size ego in him has never ever accommodated into the friendly space granted by his friends. He could be unbearably critical of friends coming late to the parties or slovenly dressed or even of their inattentiveness when he likes to seek their attention.
But that is not the case really, when he intends to interact with ladies. Take for instance, his demeanour with his girl students. With a smiling countenance, a smile that verges on seduction, he goes past a group of girls in front of the ladies' common room or the subsidised students' canteen. While teaching his lessons, his attention is transfixed on the face of a girl of his choice, almost throughout the session, and there are only rare occasions when he moves his eyelids for the benefit of other students in the class. He is not anything if not warm when he returns their wishes with a word or two in compliment, cryptic and coquettish, say "gorgeous", "splendid", "awesome", with a look of wistfulness, as if the next moment an avalanche of flirtatious wink were going to break loose.... Maybe Mr Benarjee, well into his early forties, is late to realise that silent approbation of ladies is what it takes to make a complete man!
Enough said about his warmth in dealings! His special considerations are only for those sweet-faced chicks! A smile as good as derision spontaneously crosses his lips when he is face to face with an unattractive boy that has come from a village school. Extreme hate leads him to ignore the rustic. Why shouldn't he? The likes of him are unfashionably dressed, uncouth and barefooted, with dishevelled sticky hair and unshaven stubbles and they do display all sorts of obnoxious mannerisms like picking noose in the public or scratching their scrotum without an iota of shame!
Students in the college, fresh from their high schools and its all-vernacular ambience, find the English-medium curriculum extremely exacting. They look at everybody speaking English with awe and reverence, as if he or she is a fellow with special trait and unattainable acumen. Girls think if society is not on their way they would marry only the one who teaches them English. Aha! Fantasizing has no charm unless the hero is their English sir, Mr. Benarjee.
Once something unbelievably incongruous happens in front of Mr. Benarjee: an uncouth lout of a boy named Baatara passes by him with a sweet mademoiselle of undergraduate class, Veena-both hand in hand-talking and giggling, admiring each other, as if the next thing they would start doing would be further ludicrous, say hugging each other in public glare or kissing mouth to mouth or even lying down at the roadside for exchange of physical warmth. 'That's too licentious, really too much,' mumbles Mr. Benarjee and hollers the lovers to immediately come to him for a session of emergency disciplining.
'Don't you have scant respect for social propriety, you the uncouth lout of the slum?' Mr. Benarjee bellows.
'Sir, it's not the matter as you think,' pleads Baatara.
'Don't act smart, I know everything. Not for nothing I devote my time for those small slips in decorum. And I know when to strike,' Mr. Benarjee is yet to recover.
'Sir, Veena is my sister and your social propriety allows a sister to move with her brother. So, why fuss?' Baatara means asserting this time.
'Leave Veena behind, she'll be with me alone, at least for an hour. More than you, she needs to be taught how to conduct in public. She is such a sweet girl but with no training on public behaviour. Good I could spot her,' Mr. Benarjee steals a look at Veena. Then continuing his address he goes on, 'Don't worry, boy, I'll train her properly. It's a matter of only one session of learning,' Mr. Benarjee has, by this time, already softened his tone. He was talking convincingly, rather so convincingly that Veena has no problem in realising that it is in her interest to agree with the English teacher Mr. Benarjee who only talks of things appropriate.
'Baatara, you can go now. I'll take care. I'll meet you as soon as I'm finished with this, okay,' said Veena.
Baatara fails to muster words in protest. He just goes away without even looking back for once. Veena and Mr. Benarjee head for their house where proper arrangement is in place for an hour-long session of social propriety.
A. N. Nanda