It is a great privilege to be asked to say a few words in memory of and in tribute to Mr Tilak Raj Sharma.
When I first heard of Mr Sharma’s passing, there were so many emotions and memories that came flooding back. My relationship with Mr Sharma was that of student and teacher. It is said that ‘one good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a respectable citizen.’
For me Mr Sharma came at a crucial time in my life. He came as no less than a saviour. In my younger years I was struggling with education and couldn’t break out of the lowest mathematics class. My 11-plus exams were on the horizon and it was clear that I was academically underachieving across all core subjects. I didn’t have any older siblings to guide me or for that matter the confidence required to excel in school by myself. The future looked very bleak for me.
Our family came to know about Mr Sharma after we enquired with Mr Rakesh Dutta, who is here today, about finding a private tutor. Mr Dutta said that the Sharma family were by far the best teachers in town.
I remember vividly our first meeting. I was assigned a short task to assess my current ability. Completing the task felt like an eternity. Yet, I was still hopeful that I had pulled off a miracle and would get at least an A if not an A* and save the embarrassment. To my dismay, I remember Mrs Sharma marking my paper and summarising my result by saying: “he’s very far behind. There’s a lot of work to do..”. Mr Sharma looked at the score and nodded in agreement.
However, I also remember Mr Sharma at that moment telling me that I’d have to do a lot of hard work and giving reassurance to my parents, who are also here with me this morning. Challenged accepted I said to myself.
And so, in 1999, a year before the new millennium, the long journey began to put me back on track and continued until late 2005. Twice a week, sometimes three, I would visit Mr and Mrs Sharma for private tutoring.
I don’t hide the fact that then we were a low-income family. We didn’t have the luxury of being able to travel by car when the weather worsened. When it rained, my mum used to dress me up in oversized waterproof clothes and drop me off to Milverton Gardens on her bicycle. I used to sit on the back seat with my homework, pencil case and calculator. As a parent she did this so that I didn’t arrive to class exhausted. She wanted me to focus on everything Mr Sharma taught.
I have said a few words about the student and now I would like to say a few words about the teacher himself.
It has been said that ‘a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell when his influence stops‘.
Over a decade has passed since I last sat in Mr Sharma’s class but I still remember what a profoundly positive impact his style of teaching had on my exam results and later life.
I spent a lot of time with Mr Sharma when I was studying towards my GCSE’s. Mr Sharma had a love for Mathematics, and he was known amongst his students for his firm but fair approach to studying. Some students often got a telling off but they would never utter a bad word against Mr Sharma. They were loyal to him as he was to them.
Every now and again, as teachers sometimes do, Mr Sharma would talk to his students about family life. He would talk about all his daughters, he would talk about his homeland – India – Punjab – and his own childhood and upbringing.
For me Mr Sharma was the embodiment of a generation with a certain mannerism and positive outlook on life. He was always handsomely dressed, well spoken and cultured. He respected himself and he respected others. He knew where he stood and didn’t hold back on speaking his mind. He knew a lot about society and the world at large and he wasn’t afraid of literally teaching us a thing or two.
But under that strict appearance of a teacher, you could feel and see the kindness and warmth of a father. It is for this reason that Mr Sharma gained his students respect.
I always saw Mr Sharma as a tower of strength and full of wisdom. Mr Sharma stood tall throughout all the years I was with him. I never saw Mr Sharma as weak or feeble. Even when the going got tough later in life, when I visited him some months ago, he was still radiating energy.
Mr Sharma is amongst the few men in my life that I will always look up to and if I can be half the man that he was then I will consider myself to be very fortunate.
In closing, I’d like to think that Mr Sharma is with us here today not only in body but also in spirit, and is hearing us.
And if he is listening, I hope that he is proud of me. I would like him to know that I, and all of his former students, are forever grateful for the devolution and service he gave to bettering our lives and that his kindness will never be forgotten. We will miss him dearly..
Mr Tilak Raj Sharma (10th November 1934 – 15th October 2015) of Milverton Gardens, Ilford, was cremated at City of London Crematorium in Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park on Monday 26th October 2015.