As an entrant to the middle school of a reputed institution in the metropolis of Madras — as Chennai was called then — I found myself rather awkward and lacking in self-confidence. My fellow students, who appeared intimidating compared to the bonhomie of those in the primary school I went to since nursery, did little to help me out of my discomfiture.
I returned home most of the initial days with feelings of being a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. I would have continued to go through the rest of my school days in isolation had it not been for the understanding of a teacher who reached out to the diffident little girl in me, with empathy and kindness.
Perhaps she sensed my inability to make friends despite my good intentions, or perhaps she noticed the indifference meted out to me by my classmates; perhaps she had this remarkable quality to notice and mend the unease in a student, or perhaps reaching out to uncomfortable children was at the core of her being!
Whatever was behind her spirit, I could not tell, young as I was, but now I know she was nothing short of an angel who could touch lives.
We had her subject on a daily basis, and being the language teacher, she would make her class interactive. It looked like she was pulling me up all the time for an answer when she threw an open question on the lesson she was doing.
Yet, with every question posed to me, I was forced to stand up and face the class, and it lightened the coyness lurking within me. She began giving me little responsibilities such as collecting the workbooks for her and distributing corrected classwork to the students. All of these in some way indicated to me that she trusted my capabilities. Again, by sandwiching little compliments such as “Well answered, dear” and “Good work, my girl” between her lectures, she boosted my enthusiasm to excel in studies.
Slowly, I was coming out of my shell and my confidence gradually rose from the rock bottom it had hit. At the end of the new term in a new school, I re-discovered the zest for school life that I thought I had left behind in my cosy little primary school. All the eyes that looked at the newcomer with resentment now beckoned me with affinity. The world around me turned friendly, welcoming and inclusive. It was the beginning of a glorious school life that not only gave me a splendid education but a wealth of values and memories for life.
To the language teacher who rebuilt my confidence and instilled in me the truth of self-belief and the value in breaking walls to go beyond oneself, I owe not just the study of the English language but also the importance of embracing change and growing beyond negativism.
Though they are honored only once a year, the spirit of Dr Radhakrishnan, in whose memory Teacher’s Day is celebrated, guides and inspires every noble teacher who touches the lives of scores of students in some inexplicable way, as it did to this little girl decades back.