A school friend informed me that you died of a massive cardiac arrest yesterday. I am glad it was massive, not giving you an opportunity to survive. If teachers like you stayed for long, it would create more of ‘me’ and more of ‘myself’ is directly proportional to more of 28-year-olds, scarred, phobic, and neurotic. That is the clinical name given to me along with Prozac for dessert every night. Dr.Mohapatra, my psychiatrist has been patient with me because I am showing signs of recovery, though, what she does not know is that nobody recovers from abuse …ever.
You really thought Gargi Viswanathan was the best student? How? She was already brainy. 90 /100 to 99/100 was no big deal for her. 17/100, in red, the color of ‘fail’ to 57/100 was a big deal, bigger than the word itself. I was your 17.
Huh! How the world romanticizes ‘TRYING’. ‘Keep Trying’ is a hoax, a big sham, an even bigger fat lie. Sometimes, you keep trying and yet cannot ‘tag’ success. Sometimes you are the only one trying because your parents are caught up in the rat race and pushing their little rat as much as they can, the teacher more interested in the smart, fast rat, leaving the poor rat to keep trying without any cheese in sight. I was one such rat and I know that some failures stick like a tattoo. The only difference, this tattoo was made on my heart, it not only punctured my skin but needled its ways to the layers of my being, tarnishing the soul. Some failures stay, stay long enough to char and later the ashes sprinkle on the offspring too. Some failures remain incomplete- you don’t get to settle whether you were a true failure or stood a chance. Mine was one such, Mine is one such. Do not consider my lamentations as a romantic predisposition for “crying over what might have been”. My failure was real, my destiny a reality I live every day.
The biggest mistake I made was to secure a 100/100 in UKG Math test. My parents, both scientists at ISRO, Maths and Science according to them should have come naturally to their daughters like breathing, walking, eating and pooping. Genes can only go that much; when fractions and decimals compound your fear, the area and perimeter of your anxiety can dump you into a total loss. The story doesn’t start when I got a 100/100, it starts when I encountered a 27/100 for the first time on my 2nd term paper in 6th grade. Shame and fear gripped me as I tried hiding my paper from Gargi Vishwanathan who was busy figuring out where did the two marks go which would have fetched her a perfect 100/100. I tried to hide, duck, run but I couldn’t carry far, my heart sank- cliché but that is exactly how it felt, tears rushed sooner than expected to keep the heart afloat but 17/100 is heavy.
In 7th grade, you made a dramatic entry into my life. It didn’t take me long to understand that while your hair was more salt and less pepper, your heart was all pepper-a mean pepper with a sting. In your kingdom, no phoenix could dare to rise ever. Simple. I can understand you love for the subject but to despise those who do not pay the equal amount of allegiance is like Shahrukh Khan in the movie Darr----Kiran either loves him or loves him. I was not Kiran and by 9th grade, I dismissed my affairs with Maths and you ensured my fate was sealed. I scraped through 7th and 8th grade while Gargi Vishwanathan continued to Rank 1. I won the talent competition at school, elocution, debate, dramatics and scored an almost perfect 94/100 in history. Gargi Viswanathan continued to rank 1. In a class comprising of 50 odd students, the Viswanathans stole all the attention and the understanding. If they understood the Pythagorean theorem, we all understood. Did it matter to you if I gawked at why a2+b2=C2? You would not even pick me to attempt the quadratic equation, you knew I was a loser. I saw it all the time. My aversion for numbers spilled on Chemistry and Physics as well. I was good at English, History and Economics but life is directly proportional to MATH. So is success and happiness and well-being.
From Subba Rao to T. Mukherjee to Ajit Taaunk, I braved the tutors, trying, trying hard, but what I couldn’t face was the shame my father felt.
“Mr.Tuli, Naina is too weak in Math. She is slowing the class down. I am sorry.” My father and I walked back home, hand in hand, though abandoning me on the deserted roads of Bokaro would have been better.
I have few words you Mr Taunk though-----Thank you for your precious words spoken to an impressionable 14 years old eager to learn and try, though not sure about success. I hope you are dead too.
With a begging bowl, my father reached your doors. My weakness was finalized for 300Rs a month. Did I expect much out of myself? I am not sure but I was ready to try…for my father.
During 9th grade final exams, I memorized the questions which you had divulged to losers like us to ensure we got a passing mark. Why memorized? Don’t know. Just did. I could manage only the first sheet of the question paper, the last two sheets reserved exclusively for Gargi Vishwanathans of the world who had by now created a deep chasm between the intellectuals and the dunce. The former mingled with their pride and the losers hung together like a herd. It was a hard law of the world I learned: knowing only winners and losers.
Fifteen days later-
“Naina Tuli,?” You called my name in a strident voice, slicing through my ears, and I went to stand next to the chair. Giving the familiar ‘loser look’, you flipped the pages of my answer sheet in red and stray ticks, tossed and turned the sheets and out of the 300Rs deal, put one marks against some arbitrary geometry drawing which to me was a Ferris wheel and to you too, nonetheless, you gave me a grace mark for getting one step right. The beggar was rewarded with a precious penny.
Handing me the answer sheet you mumbled, no screamed, no shrieked, ‘DUMB’. I heard it, the frontbenchers did too, they giggled. I was thankful to you. With this 40, I stood a chance to get ranked. The ‘DUMB’ shredded me apart. It was an assault on all my senses. I walked back.
“Did she call you dumb?” Gargi Viswanathan tried sympathy but her eyes gave it all away.
“Gargi Vishwanathan?” Your voice had turned fruity. Gargi rose and walked like a lioness.
“A perfect score this time, well done Gargi. Class, I need to share with you that Gargi’s mother called up yesterday and shared how she owes Gargi’s progress in Math to the guidance and support she is getting at school. This is so humbling. I am proud of you Gargi and convey my thanks to your mother again.” You roared. My world stood still.
Mrs. Vajrapati, tell me something….how does it matter if Gargi got a 98/100? Why should you be feeling elated? Are you such a good teacher? Then make me get a 60/100. When I didn’t do my homework, you hurled my notebook out of the class with such force that it tore into half.? I felt ashamed. I was hurt. I was all of 13 or 14. The class of 40 students stared at me as I went collecting the strewn notebook. What was my fault? I WANTED TO DO THE HOMEWORK BUT I DIDN’T KNOW HOW! Did you care what was going wrong? Did you care to hold my hand, the hand of your weakest student and not the one who is born strong? I say born because I worked equally hard, rather more, more than any student in the class. So, to bring hard work in between will not be fair. You didn’t trust me, you had no confidence in me, I was the weak link who could embarrass your capabilities as a teacher. You dropped me out like the boogers you nose picked. Gloat if you must but for me, you are a loser…just like me. You didn’t even try, didn’t ever believe I could, just like everyone around me. Later, my own self started believing in it too. You may wonder------------Did I have it in me to become an Einstein?
May yes/Maybe no. I wouldn’t have got a 97/100 but I wouldn’t have landed up with 27/100 either. I would have been a different person.
The word Dumb accompanied me, like a rat gnawing at my soul, relentless, unceasing. The emotional marathons I ran, I bled. The final nail in the coffin came soon, the day the orchestra started. In 10th grade, ‘the pride’ would gather around me and do a drum roll while singing-DumbdamaDumDumbDumbDumdamadumDumbDumb. At recess, during dismissal, in the morning and in the washroom, they followed me, like lupine packs-feral, frightening, attacking. Then the boys joined in the fun too. Pushing themselves on me…the gang… deliberately, to get a feel of my breasts and pinch -DumbdamaDumDumbDumbDumdamadumDumbDumb . The molestation continued for months, my grades dropped further making life difficult for me at home and school. Later, my father’s got transferred to Kolkata. Everything silenced. An inferno raged within. Nobody saw.
I never saw you again, but you continued to hammer my self-esteem. Gargi Vishwanathan sprang on the FB page, a month after I joined the uber glamorous world of Facebook five years back. Her Bio read-working at Google Inc, in America with two daughters and a husband who boasted of an MIT degree. Each day I dragooned to it with a secret mission in mind- HOW HAPPY IS GARGI VISWANATHAN? Her pictures buzz around me like a fly I can’t swat. How can someone win a lottery in all aspects of life-Beauty, Intellect, Salary, Husband’s beauty, intellect, salary? Marriage. Love. Children. House. Job. Vacations. Shoes. Handbags. Watches. Gowns. Bikinis.Necklaces. Nail Paints. Brows. I would sell my husband, my child and my soul just to be her for one day…a stray thought crosses my mind. Phew! 2887 photos and I know them all, down to her micro-expressions. The biggest of all this, the question which hurts my head, jabs my ribs, tears open my heart---IS IT ALL BECAUSE OF MATHS? Math reduced me to an ordinariness which I had not planned and aspired for. 20 years later, the mere sight of numbers in my kindergartener's textbooks makes me wince, cower and my fingers tremble to help him learn addition.
The world I come from is a world of subtraction, subtract till the point one can take in no more. Yesterday, I did BODMAS, all by myself and gave myself a star, a big star, in red ink and marked 50/50. You may wonder------------Had it not been for you, would I have become an Einstein? May yes/Maybe no. You squashed the 'Maybe'; I would never get to know if I stood a chance.
To the world, I am a henna artist, but if you cut open my heart, all you can see is shame.
#ThankyouTeacher-Because of you, I exactly know what it means to be a teacher- the one who never leaves the hands of her weakest student.