Chaudhri Sir, a beacon of learning and erudition, passed away after a prolonged illness on 29th April 2021 in New Delhi. An institution in himself, he inspired entire generations and touched innumerable lives in Kanpur.
Chaudhri Harish Chandra was born in a well-known and reputed family of zamindars in Sikandrabad in Multan. The partition in 1947 which led to an exodus of millions from Pakistan to India, also affected the Chaudhri family who flew to Delhi in a plane which was chartered by Harish’s father Ch. Ram Chandra (Bar at Law) to bring to India his family and other families in distress. Harish, along with his brother and sister were received in Delhi by their uncle who was an ICS in the Rehabilitation Ministry. Another uncle helped them move to Kanpur and provided them shelter in his cantonment bungalow from where he started his life in India.
Serendipitously, Kanpur city had got a new resident, someone who metaphorically went on to become the ‘Teacher of Teachers’, an apt honour among several other honours bestowed upon him during his long career of teaching.
14-year-old Harish started his schooling in Government High School and later graduated from Christ Church College in Kanpur. After completing his post-graduation privately from Punjab University, he had many job offers including one from the British Council in Delhi. When he met the principal of Christ Church College, Rev. R.G. Slater with his offer letter, he said, “But I thought you would teach here!” He simply answered, “Yes Sir”. Chaudhri Harish Chandra joined Christ Church as a lecturer in 1957 for English Literature. As part of NCC he also rose to the rank of Major.
In January 1959, he married Asha, the eldest daughter of the renowned Mehrotra family in Kanpur. Together they worked as a perfect team at their perpetually ‘open house’ in Cantt that warmly welcomed all those who entered – including the who’s who of Kanpur. An institution in himself, Sir was a caring mentor to many academically and personally. He took a genuine interest in his students’ lives which reflected in his sparkling eyes. Almost all would agree that time spent with Sir was time well-spent. One left feeling richer with precious knowledge that he readily shared, and his warmth immediately put everyone at ease.
While he was still at Christ Church, Sir was asked by one of his students, Shri Govind Hari Singhania for help in starting the JK School. This idea came to fruition while he was still HOD of English Department in Christ Church College. Sir preferred to be the Vice-Chairman though the offer was to be the Chairman of the JK School. He was also associated with the DPS and Dayanand Dinanath group of institutions. He acted as the Vice-chairman of the Dayanand Dinanath Institutions where he gave lectures till the age of 83. It is to this group of institutions that Chaudhri Sir donated his entire, carefully curated, priceless book collection. As Ashaji, his wife puts it, “His only love was his books. He used to say that books are where he got all his knowledge, and that is where most of his money should go.” Though his first love was English, he was also interested in other subjects which resulted in a varied collection, including books on sociology, economics, psychology and religious texts.
A true-blue Punjabi, he had a hearty appetite and relished mithais. Mathri was his all-time favourite snack. The sitting room where visitors were entertained was surrounded by several glass-doored, wooden cupboards full of books, lending it a unique, cosy atmosphere. Each of those cupboards had been custom-made, one at a time, as money would be kept aside from each monthly salary, especially for them. He wrote a few books on English language and many articles, some of which were published in foreign journals. He was meticulous in filing newspaper articles if he found anything relevant to his teaching. Each one was scrupulously dated with short notes in his impeccable handwriting, next to neatly underlined parts. These were then filed in the correctly labelled folder. One often found him engrossed in this activity, poring over several different newspapers at his desk in the evenings, or reading the journals he subscribed to, writing a speech, preparing for a lecture, correcting papers – while his characteristic thick black framed, square spectacles rested on his sharp nose. In his later years, Sir became more spiritually inclined and was deeply influenced by Maa Jasjit Ji. He was also a trustee of Universal Truth, a trust founded by her.
Chaudhri Sir was a loving husband, doting father to his two children Neelu and Nitin, a revered and inspiring professor, an outstanding scholar and an able administrator. For the generations who attended his classes he was one of the most charismatic professors of English literature at Christ Church College in Kanpur where he taught for over three decades. They still cherish shared memories of his insights and elegant lectures. Witty, with a ready sense of humour and ever encouraging, he touched and shaped many young lives, and through them the conscience of an entire city. As Henry Adams famously said, ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’ So profound was Chaudhri Sir’s influence that he will continue to live in so many ways through all who came to know him.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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