Providing medical help, financial support and companionship to elderly teachers to bring joy to their lonely lives, the alumni of a leading Kolkata school are paying unique 'gurudakshina' - traditional offering by students to their gurus.
The Association of South Point Ex-Students (ASPEXS), an alumni association of South Point school , has constituted a 'care wing' which endeavours to reconnect with retired teachers to provide them emotional support in their twilight years.
"It was during a medical camp arranged for our retired teachers that we first realised that many of them were living all alone, some were in bad financial shape and a few in helpless situations mentally, physically and emotionally," said Sharmila Roy, a caregiver.
"With a view to providing continuous medical, financial and emotional support to the retired teachers whenever they need it, we formed the care wing in 2007 which now boasts of 40-odd members."
The South Point School, established on April 1, 1954, at Mandeville Gardens in south Kolkata, is not only the first co-educational school in the city to be affiliated to the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education but has the rare distinction of winning a place in the Guinness Book of Records (1984-1992) as the world's largest school in terms of number of pupils.
Talking about the effect of personal visits to retired teachers, Debaraya Mukherjee said: "Shriti (Dasgupta) Aunty lived all alone in her house with practically nobody to talk to. When we went to see her, she found it difficult to talk. You can say she had almost forgotten how to talk, which shows how secluded a life she had.
"We made it point to visit and call her regularly and a time came when she said 'I cannot talk so much like you people. Since you all came in my life, I have been only talking, talking and talking'. She embraced us as tears rolled down her cheeks."
Medical support and financial help are also provided if necessary during medical emergencies.
Taken on a picnic or for a visit to religious places or participating in cultural programmes, the teachers have found new joy in their mundane and mostly lonely lives. Touched by the gesture, the teachers are grateful to their students.
"I have been filled with admiration and pride. I could not have asked more from God than to see my children grow up to be good human beings. It is a wonderful feeling to be remembered," said retired English teacher Mili Mukherjee.
The strict disciplinarian Neelaveni Vincent, whose name was enough to send a chill down the spines of students, says: "I always thought nobody would remember me. But now, when these people come and call me 'aunty', a thrill runs down my spine. It is so gratifying to know they remember me and find time to meet me. It is the best gift that I have got. I am very happy and touched," added Vincent.
Apart from giving emotional support, the team of caregivers also keeps a tab on the teachers for any requirement, especially medical needs. Year-round events like picnics, visiting religious places and cultural programmes are chalked out in advance for the teachers.
"All of us meet once a week or a month and keep all the members posted about the teachers. There are over 150 retired teachers in our list and we make sure that we are constantly in touch with them either through phone or personal visits. We also update the details of our personal visits on our website which helps other pointpersons also to get in touch with the teachers," said Atin Dutta, a care wing member.
The school administration too is very supportive of the idea.
"As a teacher and member of the South Point family, I feel pride in the generosity, compassion and understanding displayed by members of the care wing. There is also a certain reassurance that when retirement sets in from the fast pace of life, there will be warmth and laughter in the love of such caring students," said principal Rupa Sanyal Bhattacharjee.