Baldwin Daniel’s gone! Our ‘Sir’…..and indeed, an iconic mentor, a former of opinions, an instiller of values and discipline, and an exacting teacher of language and a bit of literature, not of the deep and meditative kind, but the stuff that shaped and moulded young, vibrant minds with the stories and poems that set the pace, fostered a seemly culture and educated the listless amongst us.
The news of his demise was not a shock, there was no surprise either, given that sir was not himself and crabbed with a degree of anguish on account of his episodes with sickness, the cessation of his worthy life was inevitable, and perhaps even welcome. But our hearts prefer to keep him ‘alive’, for indeed, he grieves not at all, although we do; our grief is in seeking answers as we continue alive, to the questions that weigh….Who am I? What am I? And Why? It is us who look back and look ahead and evaluate. Our Teacher Baldwin may have done the same. But as we look at ourselves and take an honest account, we have cause to pause and figure what we’ve learned, and importantly, remembered to practice.
Two years, and no more was when his influence was exerted in Lower 4th and Upper 4th forms. The ‘legacy’ ( if that be an appropriate word) lives on and on and continues to wax within the inward mind. I wonder, as I do now, if I would myself ever be able to ‘leave a worthy legacy’ within just a couple of years of a sojourn in a place like at S.Thomas’ College, ere his departure to work in a parish. His ‘engagement’ and success as an instructor and pedagogue with a motley group of callow youth, his debonair style and jaunty spirit with little recourse to harsh words, is surely cause for wonderment. Even his skilled use of the wooden ruler to deftly slice the protruding behind of malingerers, was endured with humour not malice! How come?
He used the names of boys with a certain creative flourish, which was never taken as ridicule (although it could) but rather, endeared him to us. Berenger became ‘burr- ENGER’, Razaak became “RAA-zuk”, R.M.A. Samarasinghe became “rer-MASS”, Kaleel became ” KLeel” (with dropping the vowel betwixt the ‘K’ & ‘L’) , and I was never anything other than “PUN-taa” (with vicious stress on the first syllable and with a ‘P’ instead of a possible ‘B’!!!) . Readers hereof may well remember other examples.
Other teachers had different approaches. Baldwin Daniel reached our hearts and minds, and we scarcely resented his infamous ‘farewell cut’ at the end of term and of the school year.
In my professional career, I perforce must use the English language, on stage, on platforms and behind microphones, and often too in creative writing. I deem it meet to use it well, and above all with accuracy and some skill. Every time I mount the stage or draw alongside the unfriendly microphone, my mind races back to the parsing and declension, the recognition and knowledge of clauses adverbial and adjectival, phrases, conjunctions, similes, metaphors….indeed the whole construction of the English language swims across my consciousness and recall the vigour with which these were inculcated by Baldwin Daniel, so long ago!! I then ask myself, searchingly, have I been able to elicit such noble memories in persons over such a length of time, and will I be able to? Have I been able to, as profoundly, touch the lives, minds and hearts of others?
The boys in class were unequal, in size, in familial background, in knowledge acquired, in abilities, and in given and family names. The wisest of teachers brought us on the level, and Baldwin Daniel did. He detected where adjustment was apt, and were some possessed of a swollen ego, he, with consummate skill and panache, was able, even with the subtlest ridicule, to bring the aberration under control. Surprisingly, we were never left wounded nor resentful. How come? These lessons and doses of gentle correction were administered during the study of language and lit! “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” bespoke an alien culture and a British public school tradition. The text conveyed ideas, noble ideals, the values which are timeless. We learnt the story to pass the exams and learned the lessons for life. Mr. Daniel made sure we did. For, those lessons I still do remember, to this day.
H. Rider Haggard’s “Allan Quartermain” was another of our texts. It fairly reeked with imperial aspiration and fantasy. Today, lesser teachers would have (perhaps justly) bellyached loudly against a rampant self-serving western superiority complex and other political machinations and diatribes. Not Baldwin Daniel. Nevertheless, during the discussions and analyses, we were helped to appreciate that Umslopogaas was as much a gentleman and as dignified as the protagonist. As an aside, I recall, when with innocence (feigned or otherwise) J.K.Hillman inquired of our teacher, what the meaning was of a ‘knobkerrie’. Baldwin responded with “It is a longish stout stick with a sphere at one end, from which protruded some knotty knobs which when coming against an unsuspecting cranium can inflict a delightful series of bumps on the top of the head, the sort of instrument I would like to use when you ask silly questions.”
During his time at S. Thomas’ he lived in the same domain as did that other Thomian icon Rev. Roy Bower Yin, at “Thalassa”,just adjacent to the Warden’s main office. With those infernal ‘fortnightly tests’, there were exercise books with marks that were maintained by the teachers. Although then, at STC, the tutorials were all on file papers tethered to file covers, and our work was not written on exercise books. Once I was asked by Baldwin Daniel to run over to his digs at Thalassa to bring from his homey desk an exercise book, which had the marks given for one of the tests.
I was given the key to the padlock, and I, on my own, ventured into the space which was our teacher’s dwelling. I still recollect the surprise and wonder that overcame my uninitiated mind. The simplicity and frugality that was so abundantly on display, was a world apart from the clutter and featured bedazzlement that was part of my own family home. A bed there was. An upright chair nearby. A table and another chair where he may have sat to eat. A medium-sized clothes hanger standing on the floor held his entire range of accoutrement, two cassocks, three shirts, three pairs of long-pants of tussore, some two pairs of unimpressive sandals (he wore his black pumps shoes to class) and nothing more. A wicker chair was placed by the window, the only device which allowed for a semblance ‘luxury’. There was, upon a wooden rack affixed to the wall, a whole range of books and tomes, many that alluded to a spiritual impress. That was all! And yet, this was a man alive, vibrant, good humoured, eager to serve his charges and better and improve their individual and collective lives. He ‘needed’ little to keep him that way, for material possessions did not define him. He knew, in his mind, what would define him and that is what mattered. My brief exposure to this ‘private’ realm occupied by our teacher, left me with a lesson in life.
Probably, at the time, his most ‘valuable’ investment was likely his pale blue Vespa, on which we saw him flit hither and thither, dressed, for the most part, in his near white cassock, with a faded black leather belt held about his hips, his greying hair cropped short upon a head held erect looking ahead with poise and dignity. Some evenings, his perpetually trim figure covered just in slacks and checked short sleeved shirt. I still am aiming to keep my life that simple, and there’s plenty of space between the reality and my ideal!
There’s a great deal more that might be shared, as relates to Baldwin Daniel, but what is inscribed is sufficient to indicate how grateful I am and shall be, for just two years in a young man’s life, and the enrichment I’ve been fortunate to derive.