Teacher and taught

Cornered students are great story-tellers. I usually listened to their tall tales unmoved.
Last Updated : 08 October 2015, 17:22 IST

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The soft knocks on the closed door graduated into insistent raps. I looked determinedly at the blackboard and willed the eyes of the 50-odd students to follow the examples on the blackboard. Fifteen minutes into a class on signal processing, we were making good progress. Closing the door at sharp nine was meant to discourage stragglers. Their delayed entry set off confusion. Unable to comprehend the lecture midway, they would whisper amongst themselves. Thrown off gear, the lesson would move sluggishly and I would end up cross and worried, having fallen short of the target for the day.

But the persistent knocks continued and I gestured to a student to open the door. The Principal met my angry stare with a smile. A bunch of sheepish boys stood behind him. “These fellows were ragging the juniors in the canteen. They said they couldn’t attend your class as the door was locked. They have been warned. Allow them inside today.”
Cornered students are great story-tellers. They routinely bump off distant relatives in their villages, marry off non-existent cousins and meet with accidents (without injuries) frequently. I usually listened to their tall tales unmoved. I had learnt the hard way that a soft-hearted teacher was taken for a ride. But then, it’s so hard to be sure.

Amit had been rushing inside the classroom a few seconds before nine for a while. All he proffered by way of excuse was a smile. Many mornings he was stopped by the closed doors. As the topics grew tougher, he met me during recess one day and requested help on those he had missed. I lectured him on punctuality. He apologised. The truth emerged slowly. He had lost his mother two months ago and was getting his little sister ready for school every day. His father hadn’t emerged from the shock yet.

Unused to the sudden load of housekeeping while playing mother and brother to the small bewildered girl still crying for her mother, he had vowed not to miss a day of college. I was speechless. But soon, he was running in before the bolts fell in place, his shy smile in place.

Manav had noticed a lump under his armpit that morning and wanted to visit a doctor. “Ma’am, please let me go.” He was already late for the practical class and I guessed he was using this ploy because his lab records were incomplete. I had often spotted him on the campus laughing and chatting with a group of friends even during class hours. Did he want to play truant with my permission?

I reminded him of his falling attendance but he wheedled my consent and left with his best friend. His fears were not unfounded. “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” his subdued friend informed me when I enquired the reason for Manav’s long absence. I swallowed the lump in my throat. After a year of treatment and well on the road to recovery, Manav called to wish me a ‘Happy New Year’.

These are brave pupils who taught me unforgettable lessons in courage and good faith, reversing, as many times the young unwittingly do, the roles of the teacher and the taught.

Published 08 October 2015, 17:22 IST

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