I am born and brought up in Raiganj, a small town in the district of North Dinajpur in West Bengal. I remember as a kid my perpetual quest used to be to spot Raiganj in whichever atlas or geography book I came across. And never being able to spot it used to disappoint me and at the same time also give me a reason to discard that book claiming that it din’t contain enough information. Probably a part reason to why I could never fare very well in Geography. Very recently, to my pleasant surprise I found a small wikipedia entry for Raiganj. The wiki says that as per the 2001 census Raiganj has a total population of just 165,222 with 75% literacy (which is notches above the national average of 59.5%).
Since my mother foresaw a bright future for me, she was very adamant that I do not go to any Bengali medium school and English be my medium of instruction. Being a small town in West Bengal, Raiganj had some renowned Bengali medium schools, but no good English medium school. Hence, as a kid the schools I went to had leaking roofs, no fans and no tube lights. On a rainy day the roofs would leak to fill in the buckets kept under them and on a sunny day the tinned roofs would get as hot as possible and with no fans overhead only added to the torture. My mother had to donate some fans to the school, which followed suit amongst other parents thereby enabling some infrastructural development. However none of the English medium schools had managed to get an affiliation from the central board to conduct the tenth standard examination, so for two years I had to go out to a neighbouring place called Balurghat. I felt Balurghat was only bigger in size and population but much less developed than Raiganj, though that can be argued by some. Those days I missed Raiganj so much that I was ready to pay any price to go back.
So for the final two years of schooling called the twelfth boards, my mother put me into a renowned Bengali medium school with the exception that I would be allowed to take my examinations in English. This meant that all the lectures would be delivered in chaste Bengali. Bengali is my third language but the great deal of fascination for the language helped me manage to understand most of the theory lessons. I, however, found the Mathematics classes very difficult to follow. Knowing a particular language does not guarantee that one can also know Mathematics in that language. I used to struggle to ask questions to the Maths teacher as neither did he understand the equivalent English terms for some of the mathematical concepts. My classmates would make fun of me by calling me a ‘firangi’ meaning a foreigner. And very surprisingly I actually used to love hearing so from them. I never saw it as a mockery; rather I took it as their admiration. I guess I was good at selective hearing and also in extracting the essence that I wanted to hear from a remark/comment. My teachers loved me and appreciated the extra efforts I was putting in to understand all the subjects in a third language. It was a nice challenge to me, and I had a heavy incentive to win as I knew if I dint fare well in exams, then this challenge would only get extended meaning having to do university in third language as well.
I scored the highest marks in not only Raiganj but also in the entire state of West Bengal to which Raiganj belongs. I was on the newspapers and the local TV. I chose to give my interview in English which was commended by the Union Minister on an award function to felicitate my achievement. Raiganj Coronation High School would celebrate its centenary year in 2010 and I feel very proud to be associated with it. Those two years preparing for the twelfth boards were the last years that I spent in Raiganj and the most memorable times of life. Raiganj gave me the recognition for my hard work, and the recognition gave me the confidence that I can do something in life.
This piece of writing is an acknowledgement of my indebtedness to Raiganj and a reminder to my self to work towards my childhood dream of gifting Raiganj with a good English medium school. May God guide me!