While the science department experiences frequent change, with teachers coming and leaving annually, one face remains a constant.
Vinod Tonk, or Vinod-ji, has been a part of Woodstock for 24 years and currently works as a lab assistant. He is loved among all students.
“He always answers my questions, and he doesn’t judge me even if I ask something dumb,” Sapna Tayal, Class of 2021, said.
Many students feel the same way. “Vinod-ji is so helpful. Whenever we need anything for AP Biology, he’s always there,” Meher Datta, Class of 2019, said. “He’s great at what he does!”
Although Vinod-ji is originally from Mussoorie, before joining Woodstock, he worked at a travel office in Himachal Pradesh. He said that he came across opportunities and he grabbed them, which led him to where he is now.
He started working at the school from the age of 20.
“I’ve seen Woodstock change so much; when I joined in 1995, everything was so different: the people and the place. This change is good but it makes me nostalgic at times. I miss the old Woodstock, but we all change, and I surely have changed right beside Woodstock,” he said with a big smile.
During his time here, he hasn’t just seen Woodstock undergo change, but also himself. “I know so much more. Every day I learn something new, a new device, a new experiment or just something new about science. This new knowledge changes me.”
After he graduated from high school, Vinod-ji wanted to attend college, but due to his family’s financial conditions, “it wasn’t an option for [him] at the time.” And so, he joined Woodstock.
Initially, when Vinod-ji just started working at the school, he was a receptionist. He also worked with Mrs. Sanjaya Mark, director of Community Engagement.
He believes Mrs. Mark is one of the many people at Woodstock who has taught him a great deal. “She is so organized and she maintains everything so well that just being around those skills made me realize that organization is very important to complete anything,” he said.
Science came to him in the form of an accident. He said that he learned a lot about science from one of the science teachers at the time, Dr. Paul Taylor, who helped Vinod-ji become a lab assistant. They used to work together during Vinod-ji’s first few years, and he still looks up to him today.
Vinod-ji arrives at the school every morning at 7 a.m. He sets up all the labs that will be used during the day and is always there in the science lab in case any of the science teachers need any assistance. Although his job is that of a lab assistant, he has always meant way more than that to the teachers and students.
Mr. Darab Nagarwalla, MY Science teacher, has known Vinod-ji since 2006. He was a substitute teacher for Mrs. Christine Anderson when she was an MY teacher. Mrs. Anderson was the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) coordinator until she left in the fall of 2018.
Mr. Nagarwalla said, “I was working at Hanifl Centre at the time and was sent on deputation to substitute for her. I agreed to help her out and Vinod-ji was a lab assistant then.”
“The most memorable thing about Vinod-ji, I think he got from Mrs. Anderson. She was extremely methodical, she would send him a list of lab supplies, with a picture of the set-up weeks before she was planning to do that lab,” Mr. Nagarwalla said.
Vinod-ji was very observant and he used to file away all these lists carefully, to refer to them later. “For me, as someone who had never taught science before, it was extremely helpful,” Mr. Nagarwalla said. Vinod-ji used to assist him in all the experiments and ask him which experiments he was planning and whether he could help in any way.
Mr. Nagarwalla also pointed out how Vinod-ji was always eager to learn from everyone around him. Vinod-ji has always wanted to do his work, the best way he could, and he always said: “I’ll try!”
Vinod-ji cares about students just as much as they care about him. He always hovers when experiments are being performed in case there are any safety issues.
“Vinod-ji is a humble man, he never imposed and was never disrespectful. In his own quiet manner, he would step in and speak to the student,” Mr. Nagarwalla said.
According to Mr. Nagarwalla, there was a hierarchy among the lab assistants and Vinod-ji was lower down in that hierarchy. He used to complete, not only his work but also that of the high-school lab assistant (who were higher up the ladder). “He had a lot of responsibilities and he fulfilled them all without complaint,” he said.
Vinod-ji said, “Woodstock bahut accha hai” (Woodstock is very good). “It allowed me to stay close to my parents in Mussoorie. It is a great community, one filled with respect and joy. It makes me happy to see everyone smiling and laughing in the halls and in science classes.”
He believes that respect and humility are a large part of one’s life and how they choose to live it. “My parents taught me to respect everyone and to always be humble. They believe that everyone is equal and so do I,” he said.
Just like respect, he has learned many other life lessons that he believes have made him who he is.”I have learned so much from so many different people here,” he said.
He also believes that his wife and his daughters have made him the happiest. He said that his perspective on life changed the moment he became responsible for more than just himself.
“When I was a bachelor, my life was mine. Now I’m a family man,” he said. “I have three girls: Natasha, Khushi, and Shikha. All I want from my life is for them to be healthy, happy, and for them to have everything I couldn’t have at their age.”
He is very proud of his daughters: he believes that they will so great things if they work with the right mindset.
“Growing up in Mussoorie I played a lot, I didn’t care for studies which made my parents very mad,” he said. Later, as he matured, he realized the importance of education and hopes his daughters do too.
“I want my girls to be respectful, just like my parents taught me and I hope I passed on the same, to them,” he said. “My children have also taught me many things: to be patient and to care about more them myself. I’m so proud of them. My daughter Khushi just won an art and poetry contest.”
According to Vinod-ji, the most important lesson one can learn is to be respectful, and put effort into whatever you do because by being respectful, one becomes grateful.
He said, “I’m very thankful for everything in my life: my parents, my brother, my wife, my daughters, and Woodstock too.”
Nupur Agrawal is the Arts and Entertainment editor for The Woodstocker
Edited by Janvi Poddar
Photo by Knema Gardner