Following is a feature article about Ms. Supriya Bhattacharya. She has single-handedly run a Bangla school and taught a majority of the 2nd or 3rd generation Bengali kids who wanted to learn Bengali. Her engaging teaching methods and tenacity has made her a beloved and trusted name across the Vancouver Bengali Community. She is Bangla’s One Woman Army in Vancouver
Our correspondent enjoyed a heart to heart conversation with Supriya. Following are excerpts from her meeting.
As I stepped out to the rainy platform, I saw her waving from the window of her car. She had come to pick me up from the station. She looked comfortable and snug, in her loose kurta and jeans.
“Where is your rain jacket?”, was the first question she asked me, just like my mom would have. I mumbled some excuse under my breath and buckled my seat belt like an obedient child. Thus began my conversation with Supriya Bhattacharya.
On the short distance from the station to the warmth of her home, we exchanged pleasantries. Soon we made ourselves comfortable in her living room with cups of tea and hot Jalebis! Even in our short acquaintance over the last few months, she has established a soothing, motherly authority over me. It did not take a genius to figure out why the kids love her so much. She loved them back! Her congeniality has to be a major reason why she has been able to run Vancouver Bangla Bidyalaya for 26 years, single-handedly.
Supriya is fondly called MoonMoon Mashi, or Dida by her “bachhara” (her students). Her class is essentially a big room, that hosts a piano, a sitting chair in the middle of the room and large space for the kids to feel comfortable. These kids are mostly of Bengali lineage, 6000 miles away from the land and the language.
What inspired her to start this project, I asked. “My heritage and my strong desire to pass it on to my son”, she said proudly.
“Ethnic identity is important if you want to feel confident about your own self, even as you welcome a global culture”.
When her son was 7 years old, she wished her son had peers to egg him on during his Bangla lessons. One thing led to another and Vancouver Bangla Bidyalaya was born. The local Bengali association and few interested people helped her over the years. The cost of books and logistics are sponsored by them.
Supriya’s father was from Bihar while her mother was a Bengali woman. This was an arranged inter-community marriage in the pre-independence era in India. She grew up in Patna but preserved Bengal in her heart. This just goes to demonstrate the ethnic diversity of the family she was raised in. Love for the language came spontaneously. And till date, that strong sense of belonging towards Bangla culture is what has kept her going.
“I am not a Bangla expert! And my school is an amalgamation of formal and informal approaches”, Supriya tells humbly.
Informal because the kids can exercise their freedom while exploring the language of their ancestors, and yet they have to bring set books and practice lessons at home, much like a formal course. Supriya uses innovative methods to keep the kids engaged. She often starts with a song or a poem. And the students are not allowed to rattle off mugged numbers until they have understood the meaning. They are rewarded with tasty snacks and warm hugs.
Supriya’s eyes shone with pride as she recalled her oldest student, now 37 and a mother of a 5-year-old, who in turn is a current pupil. The conversation flowed seamlessly to D.L Roy’s songs, and Tagore, like all passionate Bengali conversations, do.
“Did you ever feel that you can’t go on?” I asked her. She promptly replied, “The love of the kids and the interest of their parents kept me going”. Parents urge her to keep her school up and running so that their kids can get her famed personal care while learning Bangla. Supriya proudly says that she has never canceled classes for her convenience. She has arranged for substitute teachers, if and when, she has ever been unable to take a class.
What would ultimate success look like, I questioned, hoping to capture her spirit in a finite goal. “Even if one or two of my kids can hum the songs of Roy and Tagore years from now and recollect that they learned this in Moonmoon mashi’s class, that will be my success”. I smiled at my inane need to know the destination, while here was a traveler, clearly besotted with the journey itself.
The students of Vancouver Bangla Bidyalaya participate in multi-religious functions and are ambassadors of acceptance and harmony. These kids speak, recite, and sing Bangla songs, and talk Bangla literature and their parents couldn’t be any prouder.
Supriya never thought she will be the face of the only Bengali school in Lower Mainland (British Columbia). She wasn’t ever gunning for it. All she ever wanted was to keep her beloved language alive in a foreign land. But her Tagoresque teaching style, her love for the kids, and passion for the language has made her initiative one of the most respected institutions in Vancouver.
All pictures are sourced from Tathagatha Ghosh. He is a filmmaker and photographer. His works can be found at his youtube channel.
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