My school is celebrating 130 years and I was asked to write a few lines about my time there. Toughest 3 lines I have ever written. It is not that I hated the place, it’s just that I didn’t love it. I spent an awkward 4 years at the school. I was probably the only girl during my Class 10 graduation who thought ‘Right, let’s get on with this and get it over with’. No tears were shed and I left in Class 10 as indifferent to the place as when I joined in Class 7. As adults we forget that school isn’t just about learning. That’s the easy part. Also something I was good at. It is the stuff outside of accumulation of data that most of us struggle with in school. I was painfully shy and was surrounded by extremely confident, boisterous girls who at the time seemed so worldly and ‘with it’. I always felt different. Starting with my name, everything about me was different. School is hard enough but when it’s an all-girls school, it makes it a bit worse. At home my parents never gave my looks much focus. And rightly so. I was not the nicest looking tween. I was stick thin and looked like a poster child for the World Bank and Unicef. I had the worst possible dress sense and spent ages 12-15 swaddled in clothes 2 sizes too big. The fact that it was by choice made it worse. I’d like to think this is the reason I have personality. I was forced to obtain one to compensate for the lack of physical appeal. Thankfully the phase ended as soon (at least I hope it did) as I hit 16 but I will always have the soul of an uggo. Growing up I found it much easier to keep myself company than make the effort to acquire friends. Maybe it was because I had no siblings or had no one my age to hang out with. I remember struggling to relate to girls my age. I was and still am an old soul. I couldn’t do the silly or the giggly or the boy talk. I do not remember liking a movie star and I’ve never had posters of a celebrity on a bedroom wall. I can also truthfully say the Josephite/Cottonian lot did nothing for me. As a result throughout school, I felt I did not belong.
The school like most in Bangalore had a few good teachers some of whom I remember fondly to this day. And thankfully they remember me the same way I’m told. But it also had plenty of not so great ones. Teaching should be the way David Chatterjee taught. With passion. Maybe a bit too much passion if one has to ask every Josephite he taught. On second thought Dr. David Chatterjee because so God help anyone who forgets his PhD. He taught me to balance equations at 6. It is because of him that my love affair with the sciences continues. He might have been terrifying to his students but to me he was indulgent and kind. Every time he visited, I’d ask him if he thought I was smart and he’d twinkle at me and say that my IQ was way above the average level. He was a fantastic Chemistry teacher. But he could teach Biology, Physics, History and Literature. He had the finest brain of anyone I’ve known. Unfortunately there was only one Chat and after God made him, he broke the mould. My school did not have its own Chat. And so what I learnt, I forgot once that exam was over. I disliked Hindi as much as I loved Chemistry. Both because of the people teaching it. I do not recall my Hindi teacher’s name and vaguely remember her face but all I remember is that feeling of dread each time we had a Hindi class. I have also exaggerated her evilness in my head- she was sarcastic all of 3 times but with my ego (even as a child), that was 3 times too many. All these years later, I still have not taken a shine to the language although I now realize that it might do me good to view it with less hostility.
Even as a child I could never kiss tushy, not with my teachers and not with anyone. Time has still not taught me that skill. I could never give a teacher flowers or chocolates because I always thought that an extra chocolate should not change my grade-if it did my grade was not worth it. That heady, youthful combination of idealism and stupidity. In retrospect, my indifference might have been viewed as arrogance and maybe it was. Teachers are meant to convert the data in textbooks into knowledge. Few have that capability. As a child in India, learning by rote is more important than understanding why or how to. Teaching like medicine and religious orders is not a profession. It is a vocation. It isn’t just an 8-3 job. Teaching cannot be a last resort sort of a job- it is not a plan Z. It cannot and should not be made a career when the alternative is unemployment. Teachers should strive to break down a child’s insecurities and not their spirit. They should build on their strengths instead of highlighting every weakness. Teachers have to realize that they’re shaping young lives, hopefully into adults that they are proud to have taught.