“My Story” Chapter 24

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1914)

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Father Taylor’s predecessor, Canon Burgan, had given the school a plot of land belonging to the vicarage for doing practical lessons in school gardening.  The pupils fenced the land with materials gathered around the vicarage and they grew various ground provisions, peanuts, beans, squash and the like which were shared among the pupils and the teachers.  Among the pupils was a boy we called Charlie, a recalcitrant who gave his parents and teachers much trouble.  I befriended him and we got on well together.  His mother noted this and was happy that I could have influenced her son.  Charlie became a regular visitor to my home.  I got him to pay attention to his school work.  At a time when the rod was frequently used to stimulate good performance, there was the inclination from the weak to copy from the more gifted. I tried to eliminate copying by not administering corporal punishment for results.  I made it clear to them that I would not punish them if they give wrong answers, but they must try diligently to do what they were capable of doing.  I stressed neatness and arrangement and good handwriting.  I got good results and was able to discern the weakness of every child.  I also got full attention when I taught.

To come to the point: Charlie blundered one day in the garden when he challenged another boy who was sent by the vicar’s maid to collect some beans.  This annoyed the vicar who shouted from his window, saying; “Has no one ever heard of a vicar’s glebe”?  He ordered him suspended for two weeks.  This pleased Charlie’s class teacher as he could not handle him.  It looked wrong to me and vindictive that a man of God would be so severe in judgment for the transgression of a little boy.  Charlie had to lose lessons and bear the stigma of his suspension.

Many impressions were made in my mind about the behaviour of priests that removed me further and further away from the church.  The vicar is the representative of Christ in the Church and he should be the living example of patience, compassion and humility – not the object of rumour and gossip.

Shortly after, the senior assistant, a trained female teacher died in her early forties.  This was a great loss to the school as she was a hardworking, dedicated and conscientious teacher, a good role model for the girls.  She taught singing and elocution and deportment and also helped in training for the pupil teachers’ examinations.  The yearly May Festival was directed by her and it attracted large numbers of villagers and their neighbours.  Her presence and cooperation with the head effected good discipline and tone of the school.  Her funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the village of Buxton.  All the school children except the youngest attended.  Those girls who recently danced around the Maypole wore their shimmering dresses of various colours which contrasted with the black and white of the other mourners.  With such a huge concourse, the church overflowed and many were the tears that were shed.

After her death, the head teacher very much wanted to fill the vacancy with Albert Ogle who was his very close friend.  Albert, who was a very good friend of mine, like David and Jonathan as the head teacher used to say, was a good choice, but he was younger than I and was single. So, like the true friend he was thought the position should be given to me.  We both had the same qualifications.  The headmaster agreed.

The matter was put to the manager, but he had his own choice, a teacher who was already promoted to a neighbouring school and whose relationship with his present head was not cordial.  He was an efficient teacher and a good administrator, but his relationship with staff and pupils was not that good.   He drove fear in the hearts of his pupils with his beatings so that one of his pupils, an Indian, was so afraid of him, that he stopped going to school and could not be persuaded. His education ended in the second standard of the Primary School.  On the contrary, his eldest brother, a contemporary of mine pursued his education and became a notable doctor of medicine.

As Woodrow Telford walked into the school, Mr. Frank H.V. Russell walked out. He had set his heart on the new building which was being erected by the Government, who had recently come into power after gaining independence, but he was not a fighter; he chose to leave, and I too, asked for a transfer to another school which was under the same management.  My chief reason being that I did not like the new headmaster and also to save a female teacher with a disability from being transferred to a school a distance of three miles away.  When Mr. Russell left, a greater friendship developed between us; we wrote each other frequently.  One feature of his writing was that he used a common pen with a relief nib and he wrote a uniform legible script with indelible purple ink.  I have all his letters among my collection of letters to this day.

When he left, I had the privilege of preparing a farewell address which was approved by the manager and teachers.  He was invited to receive the address and the accompanying gift one evening at the vicarage.   The vicar was very gracious and they became reconciled.  Our friendship lasted until his death when I was inspired to write a eulogy in verse to his memory.

Here is what I wrote:

Requiescat

He is no more, this man of many parts,

Death claimed him as he wills us lesser mortals too;

But in some fair sky beyond this misty vale,

A soul will rise resplendent and unique.

He was a man, in whom there was no guile,

God gave him life; he gave his life to man;

What talents he possessed he used them much;

Salt was he of this earth, a light upon the hill.

Many he taught, his interest knew no bounds,

Broad in his vision, he treated all alike;

His music touched the soul whene’er he played

In church, upon the organ that he loved so well.

He was an artist though he painted not,

Life was his canvas, and mankind his theme;

He gave to life all that he had to give,

He loved too well, and so was loved by all.

Now he is gone! No more for us his work,

Death’s icy fingers shut the heavy tome,

But in some brighter realm where waits his Lord,

A soul will rise effulgent and at peace.

At the time there was a vacancy about three miles away, in a branch school at Nonpariel, a sugar estate, where there was a predominance of East Indians whose parents worked in the sugar-cane fields.  I did not remain long; the headmaster retired and another came; both were trained teachers, but I did not enjoy the relationships like the one I had with my former headmaster.  I had no scope for initiative, the education was irrelevant – mainly academic, with no manual training, no cultural diversions, and there was the usual arrogance of the head who, on the assumption of office suddenly became all wise and flaunted his authority.  This was the Colonial mentality which created a gap between those in authority and their subordinates.  A word from them could have caused a transfer or dismissal of an employee.

However, my transfer was not all that frustrating.  I met with a few good teachers, one a pupil of mine who was a vegetarian, a bright individual and a lady who never seemed tired of working.  During lunch, I too was a vegetarian at that time, we would share our fruits or nuts – I never ate cooked food for lunch – and we would carry on pleasant conversation.  The lady, of course would be doing something with her hands all the time until the bell rang.

Also the children were fond of me.  Almost five years later, I met an old pupil, who in the custom of Hindus touched my feet.  He was a dropout from the Primary School but now resides in the USA.  He has two small businesses and is a prolific writer of brief Philosophical poetry.  I spent New Year’s Eve and New Years day with him and the family.  Besides his business and writing, he keeps a Kitchen Garden,

1 Comment »

  1. SHARON BASDEO said,

    You are so right Mr. Butisingh Christ teachings are based on love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. Most christians put his teachings to shame.


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