When I pick up stories from the attic of my mind, I remember how I used to be picked apart. But more importantly, I remember the glee, the energy and the roar of my spirit. I remember teachers who used to braid my hair in class just because my mother was in a hurry that morning. I also remember a teacher who smeared my face with frosting on my birthday. There was a teacher who inspired me to be a better person and one who invited me to her house to play with her dog.
These experiences shaped my understanding of how a teacher is a guide but, more importantly, a dear friend. Time moved by in a whiff of the air and the definition of a teacher underwent a drastic change in my world.
I became a competent woman who could handle situations masterfully thrown at her left, right, and centre. I could not have done that on my own. Someone had to break down the earlier sturdy version who could already look after and fend for herself. I owe the success of the updated version of myself to some of the teachers who taught me valuable life lessons. They did not inculcate rich, applicable qualities into me. They taught me to draw out my sword and pin the enemy down to protect myself. So, to train me, they transformed themselves into malicious demons.
Bullies were there in the form of disguised friends and outright enemies. But the best ones wore sarees with grey overcoats, claiming they stood on the moral high ground. They were teachers who stripped themselves of their dignity. These were thirty and forty-year-olds walking through the school corridors with a copy of “Much Ado About Nothing” and notebooks with scribbled derivative equations on the wave optics(Edition 2017). I can understand teenagers feeding off the story of a girl who dumped her baneful boyfriend – The one who wanted me to cover my already covered breasts with a dupatta and threatened to beat me with a belt if I refused to obey him.
The girl then swiftly moved on to dating her best friend because he understood her better at the time, or so she thought. I can understand the teens sympathising with the bane of my existence. (not in the romantic way as is said in Bridgerton). ‘Aval avane thechu’ was the school anthem then, and everybody had memorised it. It translates to” She dumped him”, but if you add the sentiment with the dialogue, it translates to: She dumped him and moved on to her best friend, so she is a witch and a slut. The story then progresses with rumours of me doing things I never knew I could do. The best version was when I had sex in the classroom. Remember, this is a sixteen-year-old who is desperately trying to find a home somewhere, a safe space to untie her emotions.
Coming back to our teachers who did not(not sure if I should use the past tense, but anyway) have the emotional maturity of an earthworm, the staff room was buzzing with tales of the unleashed girl. I remember the striking analogy of me and a rotten apple in a basket full of fresh red apples. Seriously? Apples? Then, there was the example of how pure water gets impure when mixed with waste. Waste was the adjective that the teacher had used to describe me. From then on, I had become an easy target. Someone smoked a cigarette; it could only be me. Someone puked in front of the classroom; I had to have poisoned their food. Some girl was in the yellow house mime makeup room when there was strict instruction for the girls to stay away. It had to be me and not the head teacher’s daughter who accused me of it without proof (the daughter is a sweetheart, but the teacher cannot be indirectly mentioned without a reference).
But the most striking of incidents was when a teacher while teaching p-n junction diodes, caught sight of a group of girls laughing in the classroom. We were laughing together at some lame joke cracked by a classmate. But the situation had turned out quite differently than one would expect. I was picked apart from the group in front of the entire class. The teacher assumed that I interpreted the word junction differently and associated it with some sexual metaphor. She told me: “Atraykk mutti nikkuvaanenkil veetkarod kettich vidaan para”, which roughly translates to, “If you are that horny, ask your parents to marry you off.” The girl she is talking to is not even 18 at that moment. Something burst inside her that day, and she sat in a pit of her blood.
Looking back, I feel proud of the 17-year-old girl who withstood all the pain, but no little girl should have to go through all that, and I would never wish something like that on my worst enemy.