My teacher

A few days ago I came across my old teacher’s daughter’s FaceBook profile and sent her a friend request that she accepted within a few hours. While going through her online photo album I saw my teacher’s photograph and it was a unique experience to see her standing with her family just like any other person, wearing, perhaps, a cotton gown and holding one of her grandchildren the way they hold kids in India, by the side, under the arm, resting on the pelvis.

A glimpse of her always transports me to this dreamy, tremulous, enchanted part of my life. I had just started going to my special school. For the first time I was among those who wouldn’t run ahead or feel frustrated because I couldn’t keep up with them. There were merely 6-7 kids there and an equal or more number of teachers. Even during later years when there were 100s of kids and scores of teachers she remained among the most favorite ones.

Back then we didn’t know she was the wife of the Reserve Bank of India’s governor, Bimal Jalan. Yes, we knew her mother was a published Hindi author but beyond that, she was just our beloved Meenu Didi we always desired to be taught by. Sadly, she rarely did. More than a teacher, she was an administrator, a manager. She taught us only when there was no other teacher and she mostly took our Hindi class, telling stories, encouraging us to interact and express our own points of view. While playing in the corridors of the school we would see her passing by, never without a smile, or a few loving words. Even those small glimpses used to fill us with joy.

In the beginning months the school didn’t have transport. Parents themselves had to drop and pick their kids. My mother was a teacher and she used to pick me up after her school. One day she was late. So late that all the children had left with their parents, even the attendants were gone. But none of the teachers left, and we were all waiting at the gate for my mother. I panicked and started crying.

She quickly came to me, sat by my side, hugged me and said, “We’re all going to be here with you, nobody is going to leave until your mother is here.”

The way she said it, I still remember it.

After about a year or so she left for England (I don’t precisely remember but she left India) and she stayed there for a few years.

Teachers are often an important part of your life and it is rarely the other way round. For them, you are just one of the students. You may feel that they treat you better than your classmates, but in most of the cases you’re just, as I said above, like any other kid in the school, simply because there are so many students and a teacher has to care for everybody.

There was a time I used to say, without hesitation, that she’s like my mother. So when we heard, after a few years, that she was coming back to India, my happiness knew no bounds. We knew the date on which she was to come. She came, but she didn’t rejoin the school immediately. We eagerly waited, and then went on with our lives. I don’t really remember when she started coming to school again.

She was not the warm, smiley person we had known. She was polite; she still smiled the way she used to and she still carried her inherent charm, but somewhere, a wall of formality had cropped up. She was no longer the friendly person we knew. I really don’t know what happened. Maybe she was always like that and our childish eagerness to render a halo to every person we love made her what she was for us prior to leaving the school, or maybe something had snapped. Or maybe from 6-7 kids we had grown to more than 50.

After that initial snapping whenever I saw her I felt the distance growing. She had become like one of those higher-ups you are only supposed catch glimpse of occasionally, and you can only talk when they talk to you, otherwise you politely keep quiet. Even the smile that used to trigger a thousand blooms seemed official and detached.

Nonetheless, when I saw her photographs, the trinkets of memories that sparkled were knitted from those initial days. I’m glad for that. I’m glad I have had such people in my life.

0 thoughts on “My teacher

  1. Mai

    Bittersweet.

    This reminds me of when my first story was accepted for publication. I was excited and overjoyed and just had to call a teacher who, several years before, had encouraged and inspired my writing. You can imagine my deflation when she replied, “Oh. Were you one of my students?” Growing up is hard to do.