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  • Writer's pictureProf. Mohan Singh

WHEN THERE WERE NO PASSWORDS


I joined a Municipal Board Primary School soon after arriving as a Burma Evacuee during the war, in 1942, but I was about two years behind my age mates. In fact, the subjects that I studied there, English, Burmese, and Arithmetic using an abacus, were totally irrelevant here. Urdu was the main subject.


I started with the Alphabet and was able to get a double promotion and landed in neighborhood high school in 1945 where English was introduced. I took to it as a duck takes to water. While other boys were struggling with ‘cat’, ‘bat’ ‘rat’, I could easily answer simple questions in English. The teacher, notorious for his special cane, appreciated my evenly spaced cursive writing which was a sort of Copper Plate script or just Roundhand English written with a sharp point ‘G’ nib. But that proved to be a disaster.


Signature practicing man

I started copying Master Gyan Singh’s signature and that too in red ink. Two full strokes of the cane, one on each palm, sufficed to bring home the lesson, although I continued to remain the monitor and check notebooks of other boys. On the other hand, the Urdu period was a nightmare for other reasons. This teacher insisted on our greeting him like we greeted other teachers but to remain standing after that. He would ask questions on Urdu grammar. If you answered correctly, you earned a ‘sit down’ otherwise his ‘standing instructions’ prevailed. We never came across his Urdu signature. However, my habit of copying the signatures of some teachers who signed in English continued, to later on including Jawahar Lal Nehru's, Mahatma Gandhi's, Albert Einstein's, Abraham Lincoln's, etc. for fun.


But by the time I was in 8th or 9th, I found myself endowed with a skill to enhance the flow of ink or fix a leaking section of fountain pens, not permitted in lower classes who used dank or dip pens and inkpots built into wooden desks. And, the loss of a fountain pen those days was a news and an actionable event. My nicker belt often had one or two pens tucked for ‘repairs’ to be delivered the next day when the owner would test-write by quickly writing his name or say ‘signing’. Incidentally, I shared my initials with the Head Master Mahna Singh’s and reproduced that on class fellows’ notebooks in Class-X without any fear.


post card writing and calligraphy

My sister’s father-in-law had beautiful uniform handwriting and his occasional postcard was always awaited. When he developed tremulous fingers, I would imitate his writing by putting the clipboard on the lamp head of my idling scooter to get a similar effect. But signatures, yes. Employment makes you sign on a dotted line. You are required to write your cheques, mentioning the date, amount, account number, and your exclusive signature something as important as your password today. By the way, I opened my second account with a negative balance i.e. one by writing a self cheque on the condition that I would deposit my salary cheque only in that bank, every month. That gave me a ready overdraft equal to a month’s salary.


The process of intensive signing started. I observed that cashiers usually scribble only a wave but teachers, like yours truly, perhaps fall in love with their own hand. With the passage of time, the signature acquires unique features like a special ending, crossing, height of letters, slant, and flourishes. I also date, yes. About five years ago, I purchased an air ticket and the agent was kind enough to trust me. He accepted my cheque. But after about ten days, I was stunned to hear him on phone saying the instrument of withdrawal had been dishonored. On repeated inquiries, I was told that the reason ticked by the clearinghouse was ‘signatures do not tally’. I felt small and wrote another cheque which also met the same fate. I tendered a thousand apologies and paid cash. The lesson: With age, you have to accept impaired vision and hearing, yes, but then 'there are other things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.' I had lost the skill to copy signatures, including my own. What once was a pleasure, is now a risk if not a challenge. Hence the lady of the house. Her signature didn't suffer overuse. She manages the account.


Written By-

Prof. Mohan Singh

Books You Should Read-

Full Spectrum: India's Wars, indian kargil war books
RAF Fighter Pilots Over Burma: Images of War

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