The students lovingly, and out of respect, call Montu “grandfather”
Golam Mostafa’s, alias Montu Chakladar’s “baganer pathshala” (garden school) stands in a picturesque garden amid fruit bearing trees and flowerbeds on a 25-katha (41.3 decimal) plot. In the garden, there are a few sheds where the murmuring of lessons and the chirping of birds become one at 6 in the morning.
Montu also teaches acting, poetry recital, music, and art at his “garden school” in Khitibdia village of Churamonkati union in Jessore’s Sadar upazila.
Visiting, this correspondent found some low tables on a jute mat, where some students were studying while others were practicing math, or simply reading.
Orni from Khitibdia village, is a first grader at New Madhghop Government Primary School. Her father has a job and her mother is a homemaker. Orni says she learnt her alphabets at “grandfather’s” (Montu’s) school. For the last two years, Montu has been tutoring her and several other children.
The students lovingly, and out of respect, call Montu “grandfather.”
Soheli is a Class V student of Churamonkati Government Primary School. She said she has been studying in grandfather’s school for the last five years.
Nishan Biswas is a fifth grader. His father is a grocer. He says he completes his daily lessons at the garden school every morning prior to classes at his regular area school. If he fails to understand anything, he says grandfather makes the concept clear. The students also gather at Montu’s garden after their regular classes are done at their respective neighbourhood schools.
“Besides narrating stories, grandfather [Montu] also teaches us poetry recital. We have a stage where we perform plays as well,” said Nishan.
Sharifa Khatun is a ninth grader at Chatiantala Churamonkati Secondary School and one of Montu’s pupils. Her father is a tailor. As extracurricular, she also recites poetry and play-acts besides formal education .
In 2017, she stood first in a spontaneous one act play competition organized by the district Shishu Academy. Another pupil of the garden school, Suraiya Akhter, secured second place.
Why the garden school?
Montu Chakladar is a retired banker. At the time of his retirement in 2011, he thought of starting a pathshala in his village.
Many people go into retirement and while away their time at tea stalls, says Montu. He thought that a mostly younger crowd haunts tea stalls and engages in chit chat and gossip. He did not want to waste time indulging in this pastime.
He believes that the current generation does not have any interest in sports or other worthwhile activities.
“I got a substantial pension upon retiring. Other than that, the family land we inherited can sustain a family and I live here with my wife,” said Montu.
Since childhood, Montu had a special bond with trees. Growing up, he was also involved in sports and drama when he was in school and college, and even while working at a bank.
He said: “During my student life, I took part in jatrapala [plays]. For 16 consecutive years, I played in first division football league. During our childhood, adolescence and youth, we spent our time playing sports, maintaining friendships at a time when there was tolerance and empathy in our society.”
“In 2012, I managed to bring in two kids to my school. The parents of other children in the village thought I was out of my mind. But after seeing the transformation in their behaviour towards adults, their mannerisms, and academic results, the number of students eventually rose to 36,” he said.
“In the morning, students come and revise their lessons while they come and play in the evening. Their mothers come to learn about humanitarian and moral values,” Montu said.
Twice a week, music classes are organized, he said, adding: “Even I am learning every day along with the kids.”