Brother M.G. Shannon: Tribute to a principal
This is my tribute to Brother M.G. Shannon, formerly Principal of St. Edmund's College, Shillong, who passed away on 24.09.2012. He was the apostle of education and an excellent human being. In 2010 too, I had published an article on him on merinews.
One day I had a free class, and I was standing in front of the notice board. He asked me what I was doing. I replied glibly that it was a free class. I was quite confident because that was a fact. But somehow I got the impression that he did not like students loitering in the campus even during class hours, or even if they had an off period. What he perhaps wanted was that some profitable time could be spent in the library. But, that was the last thing on my mind, at least on that day!
A few days later he saw me again in front of the notice board. Actually, I was waiting for a friend and the idea was to go and see a movie. What are you doing here, he demanded? A free class Sir I said, that was a lie. He looked at me curiously, paused and then said: "Oh, you always seem to have free periods" and, with a swish of his cassock he went away. I thanked my stars.
I didn't have an off period and had told him a blatant lie, but since he had just started as a Principal he was perhaps not clever enough to catch me. But that day I took a vow not to bunk classes in this manner unless I was unwell.
In 1981 I joined the college as a lecturer. He had perhaps seen me since I was seven or eight years old in the school where he taught, and which was housed in the same campus as the college. He insisted on addressing me as 'Sir'. His humility embarrassed me, but he did the same to my colleagues who were of my age, and whom, he taught either in school or in college. He had a disarming simplicity about him. But when it came to attending classes he was tough. He would not tolerate any truant and woe, if he caught anyone doing the same; he would thrust or literally push the errant student into the classroom. But in his inner being he loved the boys and always smiled happily at them when classes were over or, when he was satisfied that they attended classes.
His heart went out to the poorest students who came from villages and neighbouring states of North East India
and, who subsisted on their scholarships; to be educated. He would personally remind some of them that they had to go to the college office to collect their stipends. Such was his sense of humaneness.
After my selection in the college, he met me and told me that though I had joined on the 15th of May; he would clear my salary from the first! Words failed me. I mumbled a thank you. Those days after passing Post Graduation we had very little to do. Teaching was over by 3.00 p.m and sometimes much earlier than that. One day I had evening classes which would begin at 5.30 p.m but I was in the common room at around 3.00 p.m. What are you doing here he asked. Just reading I replied. He felt that just as teachers needed to take classes punctiliously, they should also be given space for freedom.
Attending and taking classes were the upper most things in his mind. He could not bear to see young boys creating a pandemonium in the classroom, if a teacher was absent. He explained this to me one day: "You see Sir, they are very young, they get restless and they disturb the other classes".
He knew the psyche of children and young adults very well. He knew that they needed leisure time as well, but a class going amiss for no good reason was something; that he would not tolerate. He would do the rounds of the college every morning and in the day time. He would look into each classroom and see if the teacher was present. Obviously, in his scheme of things teachers bunked classes as well, and he had a 'mental' attendance for each one of them! Such were his rigour and discipline.
I learned from him the virtues of punctuality and commitment to one's profession. He was also the college curator, gardener, postman all rolled into one. When classes were over he was busy pruning the hedges. Not a single paper would be put to waste. He would recycle them and use them for office and college notifications or enrollment numbers.
He was endowed with a wonderful sense of humour. One day he espied a student across the field smoking, the student probably noticed that he had seen this and, tried to ward off the smoke. He remarked: "This is the first time I have seen smoke coming out of a person's ears". There were other stories about him such as, he spotting a student in a restaurant in Police Bazar and then taking him by the scruff of his neck to the college.
Then there was this instance where he literally dragged the student out of the toilet after finishing his ablutions, to the classroom, knowing well that his ploy was to bunk classes! But the one that takes the cake was when he was teaching the theory of light to students. Explaining the process he said: "Then the light hits the brain. . . provided you have one!" Once when a student told him that he was going to ask him a question on the subject he said: "Ok, but provided it is within the syllabus!".
Brother Shannon passed away on 24.09.2012 in Ireland in an old age home of the Irish Christian Brothers. "May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace".