Then there's this girl. Sumathi, if I correctly remember. She sits in the last bench along with a few other rowdy girls. A bit plump. Fair. Slightly loud mouthed. Good in sports, good in fights. Kinda opposite to shakir in every way.
One evening someone whispers a secret and we wait for the classes to get over, unable to control our glee. Then we hurry to the last bench, to the place where Sumathi sits and look under the wooden seat. There it is! A small pencil scrawl on the rough wood. 'Shakir, I love you'.
Whoa! Its an absolute scandal and we are over the moon, gossipping, discussing, analysing, guffawing a lot amidst all this. Suddenly we spot her, Nalini teacher! We run to her almost screaming 'teacher, teacher, teacher'.....'Sumathi has written something under her desk'.... Nalini teacher has a slight smile. 'Teacher teacher, she has written, 'Shakir, I love you', and the small group starts laughing. She has an understanding smile as she says, 'Ok, I'll look into it, now you all go home'.
The next day is judgement day and we want justice to be done! See sumathi punished for daring to cast her eye on our boy. Love!! At this age!! We wait for Nalini teacher and once she enters the class, our group is around her. She has an amused look observing our excitement. 'Nothing is there,' she says. 'No teacher,' we are horrified. Someone runs to the last bench and peers under the seat. The love signature is gone, neatly erased!!! 'But teacher,' I protest, 'it was there, I saw it with my own eyes. 'Shakir, I love you'. And it was sumathi's handwriting. She only wrote it and now she has erased it.'
Nalini teacher just waves us off, gently. 'Its ok, you must have seen something else. I'll look into it. Now get back to your seats,' she says. We return in disappointment, our small adventure fizzling out before taking off. The whole class seems to have got wind of the issue but its soon forgotten. There are a thousand other things in the world of 10 year old kids.
What keeps this small memory fresh is the way Nalini teacher handled it. Not punishing the 'offender'. Not admonishing the 'adventurers'. Just understanding the curiosity, excitement and inquisitiveness of kids on the threshold of adolscence and being gentle about it. There were other teachers and pt masters who would have taken the same situation and created a huge mess out if it. But she was different.
She taught social studies, just for less than a year before she was transferred out. But how the class loved her! How carefree we were when she was around. There's one lovely incident where, with any other teacher, I would have been skinned alive and scarred for life. A small assignment which we had to do at home, and I had faithfully flunked it. Nalini teacher picked me up and asked, 'Have you done the assignment?'. 'Yes, teacher,' I say, full of confidence. 'Ok, open your book and read it'. I open my homework book, and my hands begin to shiver. I open an empty page, and start saying something ....totally from memory. My voice is shaking and is on the verge of choking, fearing that I'll be found out. 'MN, stop for a while,' she says. 'Are you really reading from your homework book?'. 'Yes teacher,' (bloody guts!). 'Are you sure,' she has a smile, 'because, I feel that you are reciting from memory and not from the book'. I should have shut up and admitted, but being the reckless guy i was I stand my ground. 'No teacher, it is here in the book, see if you want', I hold the book towards her, covering the empty pages. She looks at me for a few moments. 'It's ok, sit down,' she says, before she moves to another student.
The whole class knows that I've made an ass of myself, and Nalini teacher saved me from further embarrassment. Did I dare do that mistake again? Hell no! Did I learn a lesson for my lifetime? Absolutely. It looked like any other incident then, but when I look back now, I sit back in wonderment at the way she took care of my budding self-esteem and ensured that I wasn't traumatised--just with a small gesture. And such gestures were a part of her daily interactions with everyone in the class, in other classes.
When she left, there was probably nobody who didn't bid her farewell with a heavy heart. 'Write down something about me on a piece of paper', she told us on the last day. 'Anything...good or bad, what you liked in me, what you didn't like, whatever. And don't write your name, so that I'll not come to know who it is if you have written something bad about me.' We all faithfully scrawled our anguish and sorrow at having to see her go away, expressing our love and admiration for this gentle lady.
There have been many teachers since, but this lady....she remains in memory as one of the first persons I came across who had this very sublime, very unique and rare quality---'to influence and inspire others just by her presence, nothing else'. Somewhat similar to Him.