Father Figure & Icon: St Stephen’s College Professor Dr David Baker Passes Away
For all of us in St Stephen’s, especially those who studied History, Dr Baker was someone we admired and respected.
Historian and Delhi University professor Dr David Baker passed away on Monday, 23 August, at the age of 89. Dr Baker had joined St Stephen’s College as a history teacher in 1969 and had remained a vital part of the college ever since, going on to be ‘block tutor’ for many batches of students.
His passing was announced by St Stephen’s College principal Professor John Varghese on Monday, with a notice that read the ‘Passing away of an icon’.
For all of us in St Stephen’s College, especially those who studied History, Dr Baker was someone we admired and respected. His wonderful teaching of British History in our first year, made everything and everyone come alive. Storytelling with crisp and insightful rendering and the interpretations of the events that shaped history was something that was inherent in him.
A Stickler for the Rule Book, Yet Always Willing to Lend a Patient Ear
I loved attending his classes, but even more, I loved the tutorials in his room. There was that delightful aroma of coffee that he served with cookies and if we were lucky, it was the cake that he had received from his home.
An Australian by birth, he chose to become an Indian citizen, made college his home for good and never went back. What a teacher and what a wonderful human being! He was the warden for Rudra South (hostel block) and his character and integrity were considered to be somewhat legendary.
He was a stickler for the rule book, yet always willing to lend a patient ear if someone had a genuine problem.
My classmate in History Honours (Batch of '82), Chaudhary DK Roy recalls, “Dr Baker was a sweetheart and he kept chasing us to submit tutorials in time. We never signed the residence register and this was a major bone of contention between us. Finally, we sat down one day and had a long chat, and it was also mitigated to a large extent by bribing our hostel caretaker, Haridas. I did meet him with my wife in 1989, and we had big laugh about it.”
Roy remained in touch with Dr Baker even after leaving college and has a wonderful letter that he wrote to him in 1985.
A Room Full of Books
With an inimitable style of teaching, Dr Baker would get down to business as soon as he entered the classroom. After his notes were neatly laid out on the blackboard, he would commence the session briskly and firmly as we all tuned in, fully focused, because with him, it was impossible to do otherwise.
I believe that once every few years, he went back to Australia to visit his old mother as long as she lived. After her passing, his visits to Australia ceased almost entirely.
"Books were his passion, and I can clearly recall his set of rooms where the bookshelves were crammed with delightful books."
Sometimes I wondered if he had actually read all of them. But looking at his capacity for knowledge and sharing the same with all of us left me with no doubt.
He always seemed to be borrowing the tomes from the college library for making his extensive notes and that gave one an indication of the kind of person he was.
Dr Baker remained a bachelor and treated his students as family. From 1969, when he joined college, to this morning, when he passed peacefully, it is difficult to think of a finer human being to have walked its corridors.
The notice on the college notice board this morning says it all — “Passing Away of An Icon”.
Rest in Peace Dr Baker, we can never forget you.
Sunaina Serna Ahluwalia
History Honours (79-82)
(Sunaina Serna Ahluwalia is an author and communications consultant based in Gurugram. She has written three works of fiction — 'A Safe Harbour', 'Point Of No Return' and 'An Autumn Melody' and is currently working on her next book.)
(This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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