A journey of many years
To her four year old self, her teacher was a demigod. Nothing made her happier than handing “Miss” a clumsily wrapped present, or taking home a progress report she couldn’t read but knew was great – it had a star on it, see? She loved going to school, bursting with stories of her home life. She loved teaching her dolls how to count past twenty.
She soon grew into a ten year old who liked and feared her teachers. If they demanded she didn’t sit next to her friend, she listened. If the homework was due tomorrow, she made sure it was finished tonight. Or tomorrow morning, quickly scribbled on the way to class. Any rules they set, she followed without question. They were teachers, after all. They were always right, even if they shouted at her.
Sixteen years old and highly opinionated, she now liked a total of three teachers. She challenged everyone and everything. If she was asked to leave the classroom, she made it clear that it wasn’t fair. She no longer thought they were right – in fact, they were out there to get her. Why else would they call her out on her mistakes in a classroom full of judgmental teenagers? She was sure she could take them down in an argument — if there were no consequences to answering back.
Six years later, she was a ceremony away from officially graduating college. Teary eyed, she wrote her favourite professor a farewell note. He was smarter than anyone she’d ever known. They could talk about upcoming field research and share juicy gossip about other students and teachers, all in one sitting. He was her over-qualified best friend and mentor. How would she find anyone better?
“So what exactly should I do about his shyness?” A bright eyed mother demanded of her five year old son’s teacher. This teacher was about her age, a sweet faced lady with a commitment to the boy’s future. While interrogating her baby’s demigod, an idle thought caught hold of her. She had once seen them as idols, feared them, thought of them as monsters, looked up to them as guides and finally, here she was – an equal.
What a journey it had been.
Eighteen and overexcited, his daughter sat in the driver’s seat. He could feel his stomach clench – wasn’t this girl three years old and driving a toy car yesterday? Swallowing his insecurities, he said nothing when she avoided ditches by the skin of her teeth. He had promised not to be the mean parent who panicked at her slip-ups. “Next time, don’t slam the breaks so hard. You’re doing brilliantly,” he said, smiling encouragingly as his hands tightly clasped each other.
His daughter made more than one mistake over the next few years. She parked in No Parking areas, jumped traffic signals, and over-sped. She would call him hysterically, or go home and explain the new dent in her car. He gave her the furious lecture she deserved, but never once took away her keys. He needed her to know each incident on the road is a lesson in itself. He never shattered her confidence and she, in turn, always came clean when she messed up.
To her, it was a lesson in driving. To him, it was a lesson in trust.
In a house down the road, a ten-year-old changed out of her school uniform. For someone who always wore shorts and a Tom N’ Jerry t-shirt, music class was another world. Salwar kameez or a silk lehenga was the dress code, no exception. Once she stepped into this world, also known as maami’s home, the collective sound of singing and instruments would greet her. It was usually the same drill — the seniors were hitting complex notes in the living room, the violinists were relying on luck in the main room, and the beginners were enthusiastically practising their basics for the twelfth time in the back room.
Classes with maami were never shorter than three hours. First, she would sing everything she’d learnt in last week’s class. If she learnt her old lessons by heart, she would learn something new today. The new song always came with a story – if she didn’t know why it was written, why sing it? Whether it was a verse that brought summer showers to a drought ridden village or lines of poetry a poor man offered as his only possession, these stories didn’t just keep her starry eyed; they gave her context. When she sang, she wasn’t a scruffy school girl. She was a poor, yet staunchly devout man.
It’s been more than seven years since she last saw maami. It’s been longer than that since she last sang. One evening, she caught the opening line of a song on the radio and instantly recognized it. She was alone, so she decided to test herself – how much could she still recollect? She realized she could remember every last verse, word perfect. What she didn’t realize was that she was no longer a college student with potential jobs to worry about. She was an 18th century poet who could condense rain clouds with his voice – just for the next six minutes. ____________________________________________________________________________________
While executives sit around a table, wondering how to translate the emotions of this day to the ‘cha-ching!’ of a happy cash register, a fraction of us hunt for words to tell you what you mean to us, dear teacher. In every role you played in the classroom, across the table from an anxious parent, or in a car a teenager revs to life, you’ve taught some unforgettable lessons.
For presenting reality, either as a gentle truth or as a harsh reminder, thank you.