For me teacher’s day is as much about teachers as it is about my mother. My mother was a teacher for 38 years. She loved her job and never tired of narrating anecdotes from her class or school to us on a daily basis. Two open heart surgeries later, she is still the most enthu cutlet I have ever known, and her stories never end.
At 4 feet 10 inches, she could barely scale half the black board, yet she stood tall, and commanded pin-drop silence (a much abused term in our school days)
She treated all her students equally and never played favorites, unlike other teachers I knew who only favored the ‘bright ones’. Her heart was always where the underdog was, and I still remember one instance towards the close of her career when I returned from work and she wanted my advice on something.
They had a fancy dress competition that day, and the boy who won (by popular votes) had performed an elaborate KBC gig. But she felt there was another boy who did a Kader Khan as beggar gig and he was outstanding, yet didn’t even make it to runner-up. She felt it was her duty, as a teacher, to celebrate him. “Should I give him a prize on my own anyway?,” she wondered. “But then that wouldn’t look good, as it would seem I am not supportive of the school’s judgement,” she answered herself. When Amma asked questions, you never supplied answers. She knew them, but she just had to say them aloud, so they sounded right. I learned this about her pretty soon. I am like that too.
So she decided to celebrate him the next day. She asked him to stand in front of the class and asked the class to clap for him as he had given a really good performance, and so what if he didn’t win a prize? The boy surprised her by saying, “I never did it for the prize teacher, I did it because I like to do it.”
She cried a little that night when she told us about this boy. She was so proud of him. Sometimes we were even jealous of how much she cared for her students.
The first time she was diagnosed with a heart complication (her mitral valve had degenerated to 80% and she needed immediate surgery), the cardiologist who performed her Color Doppler (a scan) turned out to be her student. He was so moved, that he was getting to treat his own teacher. She was so proud that someone she taught was now treating her. She told him she was okay with the surgery as long as she didn’t have to wear a silly hospital gown. They laughed. I cried.
I once found my “Black Beauty” copy missing when I was in class four and when probed, she told me she had gifted it to one of her students. “She writes so well. She wrote a poem about a horse that was beautiful. I know the school doesn’t award prizes for poetry, but I thought she would really appreciate a book about a brave horse.”
But like most of the great teachers in the world, she never stopped being a student. My mother learned to make the most elegant, free-of-lumps sabudana khichdi from her student Prasanna. She also learned to bake her trademark sponge cake from him. She learnt to make torans with beads from another student. That year, enough torans were made for the entire family.
She was gregarious and easy-going, but when she meant business, everyone knew. Once she couldn’t find the duster in the classroom and wanted to erase what was written on the board. She sounded off the entire class, telling them how they ought to be responsible not just for their own things, but the space around them, and treat the classroom as their own and look after it. The entire class heard her in silence. They had seen the duster in her hand, underneath the book she was holding. One girl piped up and muttered softly, “But teacher, the duster is in your hand”. She laughed a lot that day.
A few years back, to ease her into retired life, I got her into writing. She would write for HT Café, a paper I used to work for, and I often had dry days when there were pages to fill and not enough content. I began to give her assignments. She was thrilled that someone would actually read what she wrote. She would eagerly wait for the next assignment, and one day, they dried up, as the paper cut down pages drastically.
Every time Re returns from my mother’s house, he has learnt a new mantra, or how to clean methi or how to string flowers into a garland. She in turn is learning about the adventures of Maya the Bee and Winnie the Pooh from him, things that were never part of her childhood. And I watch fondly as teacher and student trade places with such ease.