By Alok Joshi
A thousand words can’t bring him back or a million tears. Yet I don’t know how and where to begin talking about someone who for me was an epitome of strong determination, indomitable spirit, patience and hard work. He was knowledgeable, intelligent, intuitive, attractive and above all, always helpful. Family and students were his only love.
Yes, he was my father, Professor JN Joshi, who passed away just a few weeks ago. The inspiring story of this self-made man is one of struggle and an arduous journey from a small farmer’s home in a tiny remote village of Garhwal (which had no school) to reaching the heights of glory in the field of education and touching the lives of thousands of students across the country.
Dad never forgot his roots and often narrated stories of his childhood. He had to walk several miles barefoot to his school, even in icy cold waters. Being the youngest of six siblings, he was very close to his mother whom he called “Maa ji”. After some years, he was sent to Mussoorie, where his elder brother was a teacher. In return for his schooling, he had to clean the family’s utensils every day. Later, he moved to Dehradun for higher studies. He went on to complete his MSc in Mathematics, MEd (Gold Medal) from Gorakhpur University and PhD (Education). Very few people know that he accomplished all this despite the fact that he had lost vision in one eye after a fall as a child in his native village. He told us that he himself was not aware of this until he got rejected in a medical exam after qualifying in the Police officers’ entrance competition. It is simply amazing how despite the handicap, he excelled in his personal pursuit of higher education and guided scores of doctorate students later.
During this journey, he got married to the eldest daughter of the Rawal of Badrinath shrine. My mother was a housewife who took care of the four sons. Teaching was a low-paid job those days but dad wanted us to get good education. He wanted stability in our studies. So, he moved to Punjab University, Chandigarh, and devoted the rest of his working career to his passion, teaching and research.My mother (and I presume my dad) were proud of us at least for one thing. We had five gold medals decked in my mom’s closet (one of dad and the other four were won by us four brothers).
The same village boy, through sheer hard work and dedication, rose to become a renowned educationist of the country. He was Head and Dean, Faculty of Education, Professor Emeritus at Punjab University apart from holding several higher positions. He was Secretary to the Punjab Education Reforms Commission and Committee Member of HRD Ministry at the national level. After retirement, he continued to work as Chairman of the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, for many years until he lost his vision completely to a stroke in 2017.
He was amazing as a father. He was immaculate in his dressing and a very organised person. As a child, I remember watching him get ready for work, taking cold showers even in winters, polishing his shoes, tucking his white handkerchief and pen in his pocket. He was tall, fair and very handsome (often mistaken as a foreigner). His leather wallet was usually empty since he gave all the money to my mom for running the household. He had a great sense of humor and was the life of every party. He wanted us to grow as strong men and often pretended to be tough and strict with us. On the contrary, my mom was highly emotional and would cry at the smallest pretext. It was only much later that we realised dad actually had a soft heart inside his hard demeanor. He was like a friend to us as we grew up into young adults. He gave us all the freedom, be it choosing our careers or life partners. Honesty, uprightness and fearlessness were the virtues he taught us.
Like many parents, my mom-dad also became lonely in old age as all four sons left home to pursue their life. More than the sons, I think their seven grand-children gave them real love, happiness and joy in life. I happened to be the eldest of the four and my daughter’s birth apparently changed the home environment and brought some sobriety in a male-dominated family. They were also very fond of my son who could joke with dad without an iota of fear. The strict father magically transformed into a very affectionate and caring grandfather.
I returned home from abroad in end-2019 to take care of my old parents. Mom passed away unexpectedly in 2020. That broke my father. A totally independent man, after losing his eyesight, was helpless and totally at the mercy of illiterate attendants. To my surprise, he never complained about anything or anyone. I took care of my father for a year during the critical time after mom’s demise and then he moved to Delhi in the care of my younger brother who had always been a great support since three of us worked overseas. I was blessed to be with him on a one-to-one basis and take care of him. At the time of saying goodbye, I hugged him and said, “I love you Dad”. He told me he loved me too and we both cried together profusely. I will always cherish that memory.
Age does not spare anyone. His movements were restricted because of loss of vision, body became weak but he had steely determination. Gradually, he gave up and left us without troubling anybody.
As a teacher, he was immensely popular. His students loved and respected him for his expert knowledge and intelligence. He had helped many students during the course of their academic career. I was in tears after reading the flood of condolence messages from his past students. One of his favourite students, Prof Nandita Singh called it “the end of an era”. A student named Kavita Droch wrote, “Once in a lifetime people get to meet an amazing teacher like him”. Sandeep Sawhney said, “Legends like him never die. They remain alive in their students.” One particularly from Chandra PS Chauhan really struck me. He had lost all his original certificates in the train while travelling from Varanasi to Allahabad including matriculation certificate of 1965 from PU, Chandigarh. He happened to meet Dad during his official visit to BHU. Dad dictated a letter to him, took it back to Chandigarh, paid the necessary fee on his behalf and after a week, to his surprise, he received the duplicate certificate by post.
Such is the inspiring story of my dad. He was a good father, a good teacher and a good human being. In his last days, he always repeated one word “Maa ji”. He must be at peace to be finally united with his mother. Heaven must be beautiful now since he got there. My heart won’t let him out of my mind. I will always cherish sweet memories, be proud of his accomplishments and remain grateful to God for giving me such a great father.
(Alok Joshi is an HR Advisor, a freelance writer and author of two popular books, including” Twelve Sweet & Sour Years in China”.)