And the great shroud of the sea rolled on

I have never lost a teacher before. The experience is a strange and unsettling one. It makes you realize finally, like nothing else, that you are growing up. At the same time, this particular loss, and the amazing number of people who came forth to show their love for this man, despite his ‘lonely’ death, made me feel warm and glad to be part of such an emotionally bonded group.

I will miss Dr Ashish Roy, as I miss college and all the pleasant moments associated with it. He took me in, he pushed me into English, and he did, as any teacher would, guide me down its path. I am grateful for having known him.

When I think of Dr Roy, I think of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’. Perhaps this is because it was one of the last texts we had the privilege of studying with him, but as a literature student, I like to think there is a deeper and more symbolic level of meaning to this association. Never being much of an enthusiast for such readings himself, Dr Roy would probably disagree and tell me not to overwhelm him with the ‘weight of my profundities’, all the while giving his trademark half smile and shrugging laugh. The answer was obvious, he always held, we just had to push past all the symbolic murk clouding our minds.

But in this instance, I hold by my reading. Like Melville’s masterpiece, Dr Roy is for many people many things. A gatekeeper to the doors of college admission, the seemingly ever grim Head of Department, ensconced in his sunny office with the glaring orange and yellow curtains, deep voiced actor who could regale us, when we asked for it, tales of the Shakespeare Society in the days of college past. He was, as my friends put it, an enigma, a ‘character’. Of course, that only lent itself better to our stories, and we made up and embellished so many about him. We did this with all of our teachers, the beauty of the English department being its bizarre and muse-worthy denizens, but Dr Roy could be said to boast a treasure trove all his own.

It says something that, when we heard the news of his passing, what emerged in our many conversations were these stories—how he would send one unsuspecting student to fetch his tea before tutorials, how he would treat us at the end of the year to whatever we wanted in the cafe, his beautiful readings of Pablo Neruda in the original Spanish and of course, his recitation of the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We felt grief, yes, but as good literature students, as good readers anywhere in the world would do, we take comfort in the fact that he is very much here, with us, in the stories we tell, the imitations we do, the general ‘what would Roy say to that?’ that peppers so much of our conversation, no matter how long it has been since we were in college.

In this way, Roy is like Moby Dick, the whale and the text as a whole. He would probably make some quip about how I was insulting him or questioning his size, but I believe that, beneath that crusty exterior, he would understand. And though the great shroud of the sea has rolled on, it can never completely inundate what he was, what he still is, for us today.

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6 thoughts on “And the great shroud of the sea rolled on

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write your comments, your eulogy, to this man, my friend. We studied together in graduate school at Buffalo. We stayed in touch, but then there was a silence until now. Bless you for your kind words. He died so alone, but by what you say, his passing has not gone unnoticed.

  2. Beautifully expressed, Achala! Yes, his tutorials on American literature… We had him all throughout the MA semesters… Was fascinated by his love for Foucault- remember how he was thrilled by ‘Discipline and Punish’ ..His absence will be felt always! None can replace him in our hearts!

    • I hope it was a fitting companion to your poem, Dips! I read it after serenading the audience with your piece. I sent this out to a couple of classmates (Anna, Anuja, Archi, Aparajita, Arjun and Neil) and Anna especially liked your piece. She said it was really beautiful and it was amazing how you managed to weave in every book we did with him! Arjo and I have chosen ‘You knew how tragedies were written/ on a delicate handkerchief’ as our favourite line. Brilliant. Please, please keep writing!

      • Achala, I would just say that both the pieces were heartfelt tributes to Sir’s departed soul. And thank you so much for being there and for sharing those words, feelings and thoughts on our behalf.

        In fact, I have been feeling terribly nostalgic about those college days, especially after reading your piece. But I will always be thankful that college gave me great mentors like Dr Roy and the best of friends and classmates like you, all enough to make memories and life so beautiful!

        And sure, will try and keep writing!

  3. I am shocked to just learn of his passing. He was a dear friend of mine while we were graduate students at the University of Buffalo and I always considered him, besides a friend, the most intelligent man I had ever met. I am dazed at the moment to find out so late of his being gone at a young age. I am too sad to say more.

    • Jack — I tried to find you, send a message about Ashish. I am moved by the response of his students. It was a special time at Buffalo.

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