An article on Father Eugene J Power by Anirban Basu
There are teachers who teach within the precincts of the classroom.
There are a few who teach outside the boundaries of the classroom.
There are a handful who teach by setting examples and continue to do so even after they have retired from their profession.
Fr. Eugene J Power, who taught at Loyola School, Jamshedpur belonged to that last rare breed. He was one of the many Jesuit teachers who were instrumental in transforming Loyola School to a hallowed institution which carved a niche for itself amongst the so many other English missionary schools in an around Jamshedpur. It was no mean feat in those days, considering that opportunities were fixed, funds were limited and the horizons stunted. But there was no dearth of vision or sacrifice.
Fr. Power taught with a devotion which few could equal. Physically, an imposing six foot four, with an equally robust structure and a deep voice to match, he was an awesome personality. When he walked down the corridor in his white robe, peering at us from his black framed spectacles, it was a stern look, but later as we were to discover, it harbored a kind heart with twinkling eyes.
He implanted in us a love for the English language and the theatre. We were indeed lucky to have him as our English teacher and also as our class teacher in the tenth standard, our final year at Loyola School. I have had no formal training in the English language or in the Arts subjects after having left school. Yet, I love to write in English and continue doing so, thanks to the groundwork of Fr. Power. My love for acting found its roots from the plays Fr. Power put up at Loyola. I still shiver when I think of his production of Macbeth staged at Loyola on the Prize Distribution Night of 1970, which I had seen as a child studying in Standard five. I was lucky enough to see this, only prize-winners were invited to the performance. Even now, whenever I read Macbeth or watch Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’, I cannot help but think of him.
I still repent for not having given my name when he was hungrily looking for boys to act in Reginald Rose’s courtroom drama - Twelve Angry Men. Needless to mention, it was a runaway success, thanks to the grueling rehearsals the boys had to put up in the hot summer afternoons, despite the heat and the summer holidays. On the day of the show, the introduction by none other than Fr. Power himself behind the curtain put the discerning audience to an edge and later, when Fr. Michael Love, the Principal of the school, introduced the cast, he unflinchingly admitted in his opening remark – “... in India we have Satyajit Ray and in Loyola School we have Fr. Power.”
Later, after having left school and wanting to direct a play, I came to Fr. Power looking for some scripts of one-act plays. He gave me three books and asked me to read them and choose as many as I wanted. I chose three and set down to copy them from the book. The fantastic Xerox machine was not in vogue in those days. Fr. Power opened a locked classroom for me, saw to it that I had ample amount of paper and pen and left. A minute later, he was back again. Without a word, he took the book from me, thumbed a few pages, sat on one of the desks, and then looked out absent-mindedly from the window. I peeped over his shoulder to find that there was an action in the script which had caught his attention. There was an innocuous remark in it which said – “They kiss.” It was an American play about two lovebirds. It was obvious Fr. Power doubted this particular action’s reaction to an Indian audience and its consequences. He thought for a while, cut out those two exciting words, and then scribbled in pencil – “They hold their hands and look very sentimental.”
We had the singular opportunity to watch Fr. Power in his acting bouts. It was not a play, but a reading of some of the passages of Great Expectations. He asked me to read a few lines and when we reached the passage of Pip’s first encounter with Herbert, he decided to enact the role of Herbert himself. There he stood, right in front of me in his flowing white gown, shaking both his fists toward me, a burly six-foot four, his eyes bulging, his forehead set in a deep frown as he lurched backwards and forwards in one position, bellowing – “Come on sir, let’s fight!” Thankfully, it was a dialogue of Herbert in Great Expectations!
Another rare moment was the rendering of the ride of Sir Lancelot in Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’. The song ‘Tirra lirra’ in his rich baritone voice was an added bonus along with it.
My wife and I were lucky for he had come to bless us on our wedding in 1987. I had just gone over to school and invited him. My children have never seen him, but whenever we see John Wayne on screen, and even if I so as even open my mouth, my wife, anticipating my remark to my children, admonishes me with her authoritative statement – “Fr. Power has better looks than John Wayne.” I never argue with her.
The latest letter which I received from him a couple of days back, also happens to be the first letter from him. It was in response to my first book of short stories in English which I have dedicated to him. While apologizing for the delay in replying, he as usual as written something which we need to reflect and think about. He still remains a great teacher. While I wrote to him using MS Word, he wrote back in his own flowing handwriting, though at places, the trembling of the hand is clearly visible. He is eighty-seven years old now and age certainly has taken a toll. He wrote - " ... Gradually we are dying out. But old Jesuits never die. They just hope to go to heaven... all the new scientific information that men and women themselves are teaching us also gives us a clear idea of what God is doing. ...I am sure that God is leading us all to eternal happiness if we but listen to the inner voice or conscience which he has given each one of us that he has created. ...I look back on my days in India with great joy.... I can remember your name and faces. I still have photos of events there and show them to others. I see and hear from many old boys regularly. ....I was not able to get into teaching here but I did do religious work and I have done a lot of writing and some publishing of articles. .... Jai Loyola, Jai Hind." He finished the letter saying - "In Love and Friendship and thanks" and signed his name.
Fr. Power taught us how to love the English language and the theatre. But he also taught us something else. Perhaps, it can best be explained in the incident which I have written below.
It was the monsoon months and the skies seemed to have opened up to pour all the water on to the world. We had managed to reach school, but the raincoat did little to provide shelter from the rain, and we found that we were soaked to the skin. Our classes were on the top floor, and while we were drying ourselves, we looked out of the window to gauge the situation, hoping a ‘rainy day’ be declared, which in effect meant an unlicensed holiday. It was a total downpour and down below we could see the desultory traffic being heightened every moment, thanks to the cars each trying to race and drop the kid inside the shelter of the school building before the school started. During that time we had a huge mango tree in the school premises, which was called the Greenwood Tree. The tree provided little shelter. Amidst all the chaos, stood a tall man braving the blinding rain, in a half-sleeved red shirt and jet back trousers with a simple umbrella to protect himself. He had a whistle on his lips and he kept on blowing till the traffic came to an order. Very soon to our surprise, we found a traffic system was in place. The cars came, circled him, and then stopped in front of the portico which was sheltered from the rain, the kid got out and then the car went its way. One car tried to act smart and went past, without circling him and the offender was immediately rebuked. And so it went on.
The rains did not stop and so didn't the man.
It was Fr. Eugene J Power who taught us how to love the institution to which we belonged and in the process inculcated into us a sense of discipline. But he did it in his own unique way – by setting an example.
Anirban Basu, '75