The tough lessons of a tough coach: the Tribune India

Alka Kashyap

It was his retirement day and his eyes were a little wet. Our PT teacher was saying goodbye to the school where his tireless efforts had created immaculate discipline. But we X-class devils, who were usually part of the heckling, secretly partied.

We had often been taken on the wrong foot and our history with him was not flattering. Our second year minds didn’t realize that in the years to come, we would miss our formidable teacher the most.

Paul sir, as we called him, was strict and when it came to punitive action he had the wild card. Ours was a school for girls. Therefore, his options for punishing us were severely restricted. Nevertheless, his aura and his air of authority did what was necessary. Besides the occasional setback with him, we had never heard him raise his voice. He was barely smiling and the only time we would know he was very angry would be when he said, “Why did all the Shimla monkeys come to this school?”

Whenever we got caught out, we had to make several rounds on the ground, which depended on the seriousness of our offense. No matter how lax on our part, two more rounds would be added to our quota. I feared him more than my math teacher, in whose subject I was totally at sea.

To escape the alert eyes of Mr. Paul was difficult. It was no surprise that our schools were doing quite well back then, even without modern CCTV cameras. Any mischief, and sir would materialize out of nothing. He was omnipotent, omnipresent and, I guess, omniscient too. His eyes scanned all the latecomers and neglected dressers. While they were getting their corrective actions, the rest of us were rushing into our classrooms.

Several subjects were taught in our school program, but the actual schooling took place during the period of the games. Trying our nerves to catch a ball, jump, dodge, jump, somersault, and balance on a beam, were all seemingly minimal efforts, but they gave us the greatest lessons in life. We were in the process of soaking up the competitive spirit and building a nerve to make this winning move. We have acquired not only physical strength, but also mental strength to face the ups and downs of the outside world.

I remember losing heart when I narrowly lost in a table tennis match. Paul monsieur showed no sympathy and once again put a strain on me. It all sounded very harsh and hateful, but years later I thanked him for teaching me not to waste time feeling sorry for myself, getting up and starting all over again.

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