Krupa Sindhu: The Man Who Wrote English Grammar Books For Generations Of Odias
No matter what town or village you go to in India, however, remote it may be; there’s bound to be a post office nearby. Every old post office has some history attached to it, trivial or important.
There are intriguing and interesting stories about their origin. Most were set up for the business they would generate, or as intermediate pit stops for long postal routes or for administrative and military purposes.
However, one small post office in rural Odisha had been set up only for a Grammarian, a school teacher who had written a set of grammar books. The small post office at Bari Cuttack was first opened sometime in the early 1900s. It was located on the important Jajpur-Kendrapada route, and had its own building with a small attached house for the postmaster.
Kedar Chandra Mohanty had studied at the Urdu school in Bari and then migrated to Baripada where he got employed by the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj. He was in the Maharaja’s service when a son was born to him. Krupa Sindhu, the son, was put up at the school in Baripada and completed his matriculation in 1947. Post-independence, with the merger of the princely states, his father lost his job and moved back to the village. Young Krupa Sindhu could not study further, there were no colleges in the vicinity and his father could not afford to send him to Ravenshaw College at Cuttack.
He got a job as an English teacher at the village school. Even though it was a low paid job, he was held in great esteem by the villagers. He was a courteous and polite man and the villagers provided him with most of his needs.
In those days, schoolmasters were very harsh and strict towards their students. They used the rod freely and frequently, believing in the maxim, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ The students were terribly afraid of the teachers as most of them struck terror in their hearts. But the gentle and patient Krupa Sir was loved by his students; all that he wanted from them was that they should learn English.
He taught English, but for his students, it seemed like a nightmare. Grammar was tough. Even the students who enjoyed reading and writing had a difficult time getting all the rules right. A bunch of words sounded the same but were spelled differently, or a bunch of words that were spelled the same had different meanings. Most of his students failed in the exams, and once when the Inspector of Schools paid a visit, the young teacher had to cut a sorry figure as his students could not answer even the basic questions.
It was then that Krupa Sindhu decided to write a set of books that would help his wards. He went to Cuttack to meet publishers, but none of them showed any interest in the diminutive schoolmaster and his books.
Printing books was not an easy affair in those times, the presses at Cuttack wanted cash upfront and the poorly-paid Krupa Sindhu did not have the money. He sold five acres of his agricultural land to print his first set of books.
His first book, “The Common Knowledge in English” was published in 1960. It was written in a simple and lucid style. Students and teachers from all over the state just could not have enough of his books. He priced them at Rs 2/- each, which was affordable even to the poor students.
Word about his books spread, and many students came to him for them. Someone in the village suggested that he should advertise in the newspapers, a suggestion that he took up. In 1964, the first advertisement for his books appeared in the daily Samaj. He offered to sell the books by VPP Such was the deluge of responses that the postmaster had to write to the authorities for additional staff to deliver a sackful of letters that arrived. Just packing the small parcels and posting them took up most of the schoolmaster’s time.
The advertisement for his Grammar books would appear once every month. More than 2500 VPP book packets were sent all over the state from the small post office every month, and the return money orders of these packets were an additional burden.
Very soon, the old branch office at Bari Kalamatia was revived, and two assistants posted there. The new post office was set up in a small hut right next to Krupa Sindhu’s house. The Grammarian would post all his parcels there; sometimes the load was such that it had to be carried to the main post office in a bullock cart.
The Kalamatia post office kept busy for the next thirty years. The Grammar books kept it going. In 1995, the last advertisement appeared in the “Samaj”. There had been major reforms in the education system, grammar was no longer taught as it had been and after the Government started to print textbooks, Krupa Sir’s books were no longer wanted.
When I saw the old Grammar books, they were brittle and frayed, as they had been printed on thin paper and losely bound. Age was a factor in their condition: the first of the grammar books dated to 1960, the latter spanned the period from the 60s to the 70s.
Half a dozen generations of students, who found it difficult to travel English Grammar’s road of nouns and pronouns, adjectives and prepositions, conjunctions and interjections, followed Krupa Sindhu’s books. Little did they know of the role of the small post office in the village which made it possible for them to learn the rules of punctuation.
Krupa Sindhu Mohanty died in 2007 at the ripe age of 80. His family was left holding a huge stock of his books. Most of them were given away. His son reminiscences the days when he would help his father make the book packets that went all over the state. Money orders and VPP have become things of the past, but the small post office at Kalamatia still exists.
I had come to know of the background of this little post office from Shashank Das, an intrepid collector who has the largest collection of different newspapers in the country. Shashank is from the same village. We had to make three trips to the village. The books were collected from his son and a few other villagers, the newspaper advertisements from the state archives.
I even met a few persons in their sixties who remembered and cherished the grammar books; some of them had even preserved them for years. As for the little village post office, it still exists in a small room in the village school where the grammarian once taught.