My name is Amar Nath Maheshwari. I was born on 10th May, 1943, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. My father, late Shri Bhola Nath Maheshwari, was an officer of the Government of India. Since he was on transferable postings, he thought it appropriate that I should stay with my grandparents in Shikohabad (also in Uttar Pradesh), and study there. I have hazy memories of my childhood. I am happy to recall some of them.
I was brought up with great affection, all the same, I could not understand why my younger brothers and my elder sister stayed with my parents and I stayed with my grandparents. My father was hot-tempered and I was afraid of him. Therefore, I did not mind staying with my grandparents (whom I addressed as Babaji and Ammaji, respectively). Shikohabad was a small undeveloped town. It had dry sanitation. Its streets were wet and filthy. But outside our house, there was an open ground where the neighbourhood children played gilli-danda (a game played with a wooden stick and a wooden bail), and marbles. One of my uncles, late Shyam Bihari Chachaji, was fond of flying kites. He also kept pigeons and rabbits as pets. I admired him and considered him as my role model.
Although I enjoyed living in Shikohabad I disliked going to school. It involved walking through wet and dirty lanes and I was afraid of my teacher. His name was Pandit Har Swarup. He would beat students with a wooden rod for acts of indiscipline, the norms of which only he knew. A favourite punishment he loved to inflict on children was ‘murga banana’. This punishment involved squatting and looping arms behind knees for holding ears. I remember one day Pandit Har Swarup tied a boy in that posture with a rope and hung him from the ceiling of the classroom. Even now thinking about it makes my hair stand on end.
I was the first grandchild in the family. There were no other children at home. Whenever I mentioned at home that the teacher, Masterji, punished students mercilessly, one of my uncles felt amused rather than angry. I used to feel sad at his response to my anguish. I believed he laughed at me because I was a child. I would wonder why I was a child and not a grownup like him. I thought if I was a grownup I also would not have to go to school and escape the ordeal of punishment inflicted upon me by the Masterji.
One day, another colleague of Pandit Har Swarup punished me with a wooden footruler. While beating he kept on repeating that it was his beating that had made my father dipti kanastar and he would make sure that I too became a dipti kanastar. I protested that I did not want to become a dipti knastar and implored him to stop beating me. Many years later I realized that by ‘dipti kanastar’, Masterji meant ‘Deputy Collector’, the position my father probably held at that time. I now thought that it would be better to be beaten by my father than get beatings from the Masterji of the school in Shikohabad. Therefore, on returning home that day I told my Babaji that I did not want to be a dipti kanastar, and I would like to live with Jiji (which is what I called my mother). Babaji laughed on hearing it and said that if I did not want to go to school I should study at home. I liked this idea because I could play outside the whole day with my friends and also join Shyam Bihari Chachaji in the afternoon and fly kites. My uncle was skilled in flying kites and would easily cut other kites in the sky with his, an ability I found quite amazing. I wanted to save enough money to buy glass-coated maanjha (the glass coated string used for flying kites) and cut off others’ kites the way my uncle did. I now enjoyed living in Shikohabad.
I recall another incident from this period. I spent my summer months with Jiji and Pitaji. At the end of my stay with them Jiji would double the money I brought with me. When I returned to Shikohabad, I had enough money to spend on my interests. Therefore, I would save a part of the money I got on festivals and from my Buas (father’s sisters) when they visited their parents instead of spending it all on buying kites and marbles. To mend torn kites I needed lehi, a paste made with flour, and used it as glue. Lehi could be made only in the kitchen. But nobody was allowed to enter Ammaji’s kitchen except the cook. I had to cajole the cook into providing me lehi.
One day Babaji asked my uncle to engage a tutor for me. Pandit Dau Dayal Sharma was appointed as my home tutor. My tutor was a pleasant person. He was impressed by my ability of solving mathematics problems. His other students found mathematics difficult. I found it easy and interesting. I was also fond of reading Hindi story books. I learnt to read and write Hindi on my own. As a result I did not learn its grammar, normally a part of formal primary schooling. When I look back at my basic education I find that my early education had remained incomplete.
My tutor did not follow a regular curriculum taught in formal schools. He monitored my progress and helped me whenever I went to him with some difficulty. What impact this non-formal schooling had on my subsequent life I cannot say. But I can say that it made me a self-learner and gave me the confidence that I could learn new subjects on my own. This ability has helped me throughout my life.
After sometime my tutor suggested to my Babaji that I was ready to take the Class V public examination given at the end of primary school education. I qualified the test. I went with my uncle, Lala Chachaji, for admission to class VI in the Narain Inter College. He did not know my date of birth. I was being admitted on 7th July and he guessed the year of my birth as 1944. He entered for my date of birth 7th July, 1944. It became my date of birth in the school record. In 1959 when I was filling the form for examination of ClassXI, the school in Delhi where I was studying then informed me that I was underage as per the requirements of the Board of Secondary Education. Pitaji went to Meerut to get my birth certificate from the hospital records where I was born and my date of birth was corrected to 10th May, 1943. This date became a part of the official school record, and of the passport and all other documents which were subsequently issued to me.
Narain Inter College had good teachers. In this institution, to my big relief, there was no corporal punishment. I always performed the best in my class and it made my Babaji extremely happy. He used to proudly tell his friends, “Amar Nath is following in the footsteps of Bhola Nath and one day he will also become a high officer in the Government”. My Babaji exposed me to outstanding persons. I recall that once the Governor of the State of Uttar Pradesh, Shri K.M. Munshi, came to Mainpuri, the district headquarter. Babaji took me with him to listen to the Governor’s speech.
Connected with Shikohabad, I have another remembrance of childhood. When I had entered Class VIII Lala Chachaji thought that I should study from another renowned teacher by the name Kulshreshthji. He was a teacher in a degree college. When I went to meet Kulshreshthji, he said, “You sat on the ground for your study in Pandit Dau Dayal Sharma’s house, you will now use a chair and table to study in my house.” I did not like this statement of his but I did not have the courage to say anything to him for fear of being called disobedient. One day he boxed my ears and said, “You are learning theorems in geometry by rote without understanding them.” I could not tolerate this accusation and did not go to him thereafter.
Two persons of Shikohabad left an indelible mark on my life; one of them was Dr. Om Prakash and the other was my art teacher Shri Pathakji. Whenever I met them they would say to me only one thing, “Amar Nath you have to bring prestige and honour to the name of Shikohabad”.
I was fond of watching plays in my childhood. On the last day of Dussehra, after the coronation of Lord Rama a play was enacted on the stage. Disregarding my body’s need for sleep, I would never miss watching the play. Pandit Dau Dayal Sharma became the Principal of the Midddle School in the village Dadiyamai, which was five miles from Shikohabad. One day a play was to be staged in his school. He offered to take me with him on his bicycle to see the play, but I would have to spend the night in Dadiyamai. Acceptance of this offer required taking permission for an overnight stay from Babaji and Ammaji. Somehow I succeeded in persuading Ammaji to let me go with Pandit Dau Dayal Sharma ji for one night. I cannot recall the play I saw but was thrilled to spend a night away from home.
I was ranked first in the class VIII examination. I was to go to a secondary school. Babaji was happy and said to me, “You can now continue your studies staying with your Pitaji and Jiji”. From Shikohabad I went to Aligarh where Pitaji was posted. I had not planned to continue with my narration after writing about my childhood. As mentioned by me in the Introduction I could continue with my narration of my memoirs. My reminiscences of boyhood spent in Aligarh are the next chapter.
I am happy to close reminiscences of my childhood recalling a blessing of Babaji, which came true later in my life. In 1963 I was a student of M.Sc. in the University of Delhi. Babaji’s health had deteriorated. I went to Shikohabad to see him and to inquire about his health. Seeing me, Babaji blessed me saying that he was keen that I should become a Government Officer like my father. But I wanted to go abroad to do research and become a teacher in a university. Touching my Babaji’s feet and with great timidity I told him that I would like to become a teacher in a university. He responded, “You become a Vice-Chancellor”. It was perhaps because of this prophetic blessing that, in 1990, I became the Vice-Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology.