Is First Impression Really the Last?

Today, the only major reason that I have to visit Nainital, is to meet Mr. Pant. Had it not been for his continued guidance, I probably would never have the courage to pick up the pen and express myself in words. He became the sacred lighthouse which I could always approach—both in times of success and failure. And yet, all this started with that horrible first day in school at Nainital.

Rajshekhar Pant- the person who inspired me to experiment with the pen.

(This article was published in Garhwal Post on December 29, 2014)

First impression, they say, is the last impression.

It was June 2009. After studying for seven years in Shillong, I had newly shifted to a heritage residential school in Nainital. It was probably my first day in the new school and as advised by parents I was consciously doing everything to give a perfect ‘first impression’ of myself.

The bell rang and in stepped Mr. Rajshekhar Pant—our English teacher. Being a highlander like me, I immediately had a liking for him.

Mr. Pant’s approach to teaching was observably different. Something I had not seen in my 12 years of hostel life. His method was more of a story-telling and conversation oriented, infused occasionally with photographic description in the mind’s eye. Like the head priest performing the sacred rituals by narrating the enchanting tales of Gods, demons and our forefathers in the Jagar tradition of clan worship in the hills of Uttarakhand, Mr. pant would often transport us to the works of literary masters and occasionally perfume the discourse with very mundane yet interesting examples. His gorgeous voice and delivery was a teaching in itself.

Naturally enough, I wanted to immediately establish a healthy rapport with him.

I was occupying the second last seat in the class and beside me were two other students who had joined a couple of days earlier. During the course of the lecture one of them cracked a joke and everyone nearby started laughing. I turned around to see what the matter was and unfortunately Mr. Pant saw me. Assuming that I was the one disturbing the class he pointedly asked me what the meaning of ‘mundane’ was. (He had just explained it while I was busy inquiring the joke.)

‘I don’t know sir’, I said.

‘What is your name and where from have you come?’, he asked in a polite yet piercing tone.

‘Sir, I am Mukesh Rawat from Assam Rifles Public School, Shillong.’

‘Irrespective of where you have come from and who you are, here you will be thrown out if you disturb the class once more,’ he thundered.

I was speechless.

So the ‘first impression’ did horribly go wrong.

Within a month, we had our quarterly exam. I did perform well in his subject and that was the first time he spoke to me personally. “Your answers suggest that you can do exceedingly well with your pen but how could you commit two grammatical blunders! Look upon it and feel free to ask.”

A sketch of Mr. Pant by Karan Dhawan- a student of his. Photo: Karan Dhawan

This, by all standards in the school, was a big thing. To get a a word of appreciation from Mr. Pant was considered like a badge of honour by his students. In the first day itself, I was told by a student who had been in the school for some years, that scoring a 70 in Mr. Pant’s paper was a big achievement. If my memory serves me well, I scored 76 in the first exam. Added to this were the words of appreciation!

Months rolled by and I continued my ‘good’ performance in his subject. Seasons changed and so did the impression of the ‘first impression’. Into the second year of my stay in the school, I was now being trained under by him for All India inter-school debates and like.

During the run-up to the Annual Day celebrations, he  called me one day. “Have you ever been in theatre?”, he asked.

‘Not exactly sir.’

‘Perfect! In that case, you will enact the soliloquy of Dr. Faustus this year for the school.’

‘What is a soliloquy sir?, I innocently inquired.

“To put it simply, a one man act extracted from a larger work.”

“Will I be the only one on stage?”

“Yes”.

‘But I haven’t been in theater ever’, I reasoned.

“That’s not your headache, I will train you. Abhi iski ehmiyat samajh nahi aayegi…kal  jab samaj main jaoge tab yaad karoge.”

The training commenced in a day or two and by the end of each session my vocal cords were dry and I exhausted. But he would be in time for the next rehearsal.

Just two day before the event, taking advantage of the busy schedule of our house master, along with my friends I sneaked out on an adventurous track to a distant Air Force station, of course an out of bound area for us. It was a demanding task as it involved crossing jungles, a steep climb and navigating cliffs at an altitude of 2300m.

By the time we returned, I was exhausted from the day’s toil. Just then a junior rushed in to inform that Mr. Pant had called me for rehearsal. To give it an escape, I asked him to inform Mr. Pant that I was down with fever and a sore throat.

By dinner time, I had received a packet full of medicines from the Vice Principal, the House Master and the school infirmary. Apparently, Mr. Pant was very worried about my health and had asked the authorities to arrange medicines. Seeing all this, I was covered in shame for having lied a guru like him. I wanted to confess, but could not gather the strength to do so. Next day after the assembly Mr. Pant called me to inquire about my health. “I am all well sir”, I replied (of course with the stigma still haunting me.)

The Annual Day performance was a success and praises for my performance from friends, teachers and guests were flowing in. But I, ultimately had failed myself.

The days rolled and it was now time for the results of the Board Examinations. I did not perform well and scored a meager 85 in his subject. Shattered, disheartened and down-spirited that I was, I called him up to announce my poor performance. He had been expecting a good result and I had promised one. He replied, “These marks don’t disapprove you of what you are. You are what you are and I know what you are.”

Four years after leaving Nainital, today I am a freelance journalist with work published in reputed international, national and regional publications. Given my age and qualification (still in my graduation), I believe I have achieved a lot in relative terms. No doubt, there is an ocean ahead to learn about, but the journey so far has been fascinating.

Today, the only major reason that I have to visit Nainital, is to meet Mr. Pant. Had it not been for his continued guidance, I probably would never have the courage to pick up the pen and express myself in words. He became the sacred lighthouse which I could always approach—both in times of success and failure. And yet, all this started with that horrible first day in school at Nainital.

The first impression, they of course wrongly say, is the last impression. Don’t they?

  • (This article was published in Garhwal Post on December 29, 2014.)