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Father Eugene Power taught English language and literature at Loyola School , Jamshedpur , for several decades. Generations of students benefited from his erudition, his sense of duty to those committed to his charge, and the imagination he effortlessly employed to make his classes a treat not to be missed for anything. The Brothers Chatterjee – Goutam, Bhaskar and yours truly – felt/feel privileged to have been taught by this towering figure.

By Vidyarthy Chatterjee. Published in the Motif, February 20, 2006

(Father Eugene Power belongs to the same religious order – the Jesuits – which produced St. Francis Xavier, whose 500 th birth anniversary is being observed this year all over the world.)

Father Eugene Power taught English language and literature at Loyola School , Jamshedpur , for several decades. Generations of students benefited from his erudition, his sense of duty to those committed to his charge, and the imagination he effortlessly employed to make his classes a treat not to be missed for anything. The Brothers Chatterjee – Goutam, Bhaskar and yours truly – felt/feel privileged to have been taught by this towering figure.

In my final years at Loyola, Father Power gave life to Macbeth, The Mill on the Floss, A Man for All Seasons and My Family and Other Animals ; the first three tragedies, each tragic in its own way, and the last providing much-needed comic relief. It volumes about my teacher that even today, some 40 years after writing my school-leaving exams, I think I remember much of what he taught us.

The Mill on the Floss was a tedious reading but even George Eliot (actual name Mary Ann Evans – I hope I have got the names and spellings right) who could go on and on describing a single scene or situation or character, was enlivened by father Power's almost magical powers of condensation which left out nothing of importance and handed to us the narrative essence of the novel as if on a silver salver.

When I came to direct Robert Bolt's famous play, A Man for All Seasons , about the ordinary life and the extraordinary martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, as a first year student of history at Presidency College, Calcutta, in the mid-sixties, quite conveniently I forgot to mention to anyone that the success that enactment of more dramatic passages owed not a little to ideas inherited from my teacher.

I remember with what vividness father Power created before our eyes the image of great medieval Englishman; loyal and loving family man, loyal citizen and diplomat, loyal above all to one's own conscience. Unfairly accused of treason by Henry VIII, Sir Thomas lost his head to the executioner's blade, but rode with grace and pride into the youthful imagination of many in that class of '65, with substantial help from the Jesuit padre.

Father Power was normally stern to view, which gave him an unfair reputation of being aloof and inaccessible, but even those who seemed to hold this opinion would be amazed at his gift of transformation once he took on something light-hearted but eminently readable (or teachable) like Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals , a hilarious account of the Durrel family's sojourn on the Greet island of Corfu.

Finally, today, as a professional film critic, I find it easier to appreciate the late Japanese master Kurosawa's adaptation of Macbeth , called The Throne of Blood , in the light of Father Power's approach to play. I am constantly reminded of his explanations and ‘readings' of Shakespearean text even as I watch Kurosawa's rendition of play of dark passions and flawed greatness as a samurai epic.

For many years after I left Loyola, I lost touch with Father Power. The untimely death of my brother Goutam, one January morning in 1994, when Father came to look up the family, restored old ties. There is nothing like grief to bring people together. Verily, death unites as surely as it divides. What would life be without its unending mysteries, its apparent contradictions, its profound paradoxes!

Father writes to me one in a while from his distant perch in a Jesuit spiritual centre in Wernersville , Pennsylvania , to which he has retired in the evening of long and distinguished life. I wish to share with my readers some of the contents of a letter he wrote some years ago:

Dear Vidyarthy,

I am going to just let my mind wander and see what comes out. I am like Rip Van Winkle, even more so, since I was away from America twice as long as he was.

One of the good things that I notice is that America is treating immigrants from all over the world very well and these immigrants are enthusiastic about being here, even though they often have the poorest jobs.

I notice that Indians who have immigrated are in the most successful category. But even among them are a lot of poorer people, like taxi drivers.

You will be happy to know that Indians are not abandoning the good side of Indian culture. It is amazing how many Indian cultural events are advertised. Unfortunately, I am tied down and have not gone to any. I haven't even gone to an Indian restaurant, even though I have heard how good they are.

I am sweating out the last few years of my life preparing for after-life which I believe will be fulfillment of my life on earth.

My love to your father and mother especially. (Both since deceased. – VC)

Your family seems to be typical of the greatness of Hindu or Indian family life at its best. This is one of the great strengths of India which makes even the very poor able to find happiness even in a difficult life.

Maybe Indians will have some effect on American family life which has died in many places.

I am now 80 year old. Getting out of bet in the morning is the hardest part until I get going. The bones in my hips and back seem to freeze up until I get a hot shower and do a little exercise on a stationary cycle. My cycling days in India help me out.

Jai loyola, Jai Hind,

Fr. Eugene Power.

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  • good-humored
    Definition: (adjective) Disposed to please.
    Synonyms: amiable.
    Usage: He was generally a good-humored, sensible man; but if his temper was a little out...nobody liked to come too near his fist, for he could deal a very heavy blow.
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