Jyothy Sreedhar

"If I can write this, I thank a teacher!"

"Who is your favourite high school teacher?" A question like this can be asked atleast once to anyone, may be immediately after you pass out from school or may be in the grey days of your life. When it is the former, you will have crystal clear pictures in your minds, with even the colour of the most recurred costume of that teacher. When it is the latter, or rather as years make the memories aged, the pictures may fade out, the shades may vary according to the twilight that you are in, but you opt for some dear smile from the group photo of your high schoolhood. I guess the answer in the latter situation would be the best proof that the teacher had some profound influence in your lives, by some means. When you recollect the name and the reasons for your favouritism too many years after passing your school, it would appear sweeter and more respectful. The years make the memories sweeter and more realistic. I guess I am not wrong. Everyone’s life is a process that proceeds through the milestones, each of them where some teacher stands as a landmark. Our character, perceptions, culture etc. get to change with some teachers in our lives. They may not have appreciated you. Instead they may have blamed, slapped and had moments of violent behaviour to you. At that point of time, you would have cursed them with all anger and all revenge that sprout up with some words or acts of theirs. But while rewinding such ‘worst’ experiences, we realise that they only made you sweeter and your life more beautiful. So let this be my rewind of some of those teachers who had made memorable changes in my life till now. I am here opening to you the gates of Nirmala English Medium Girl’s High School, Aluva, Kerala that had got changed by now to a Higher Secondary School. My twelve years of childhood were spent there, from LKG to my tenth standard. The convent system in the school with white dressed sisters and the cream shirt- maroon skirt uniform of the girls there describe the picture. There were pebbles all along the path inside. There were a few numbers of boys as well, since boys were permitted till their seventh standard. But in a class of around 40 students, the boys were only around ten in number, who were destined to hear all blames if some noise gets started in the class. My first memory of an influential teacher traces back to my second standard- Sr. Vincent, a well- built strong character, who taught English. The reason for my calling her ‘influential’ may appear silly to you, but it was just a day that made her important to me. For some special occasion, some student gifted her in class a very beautiful bouquet almost in red with occasional greens, blue and yellow. Being a girl of six, I was amazed with the first look of that bouquet. I had never seen a bouquet so alive in front of me till then, all my life. I remember that it was not a regular day, as I recollect that I had sit in a class where only some 5-10 students were spread in benches speaking to each other. All those clock rounds, I stared at the bouquet and gazed at the beauty of it. She took it in her hands very often and pampered each flower that seemed to me as if she was lulling them to sleep. As my father came to pick me up to home, I said a bye to sister and started walking with my turning back to see that bouquet once again. To my surprise, she called me back, as I reached the door. I walked fast and happily reached to her table; she gave me that bouquet with a smile, and said “this is for you”. My expression was more beautiful than the most beautiful smile that I could ever give out. For the next two days, until the last flower had turned the ashest, it was hung on the wall of my bedroom to be seen even between my sleep times. After I ‘placed’ it aside a circle of waste around a coconut tree, its fragrance has passed years to where I am now, making me realise about how happy and memorable that moment was for me. I think of my blooming smile at the moment of being gifted with the most wished thing of the day. It might be what my Vincent sister had valued and wanted more that the bouquet of red- my first lesson about how you will be remembered with your little deeds and cute sacrifices. As a clear proof, Vincent sister still stands as an angel in her white dress with that beautiful bouquet of rich fragrance. In my fourth standard, there was another sister named Phlavia. She was well known for her strictness and punishments. I had got a few slaps with a bamboo stick that was her trademark. I don’t remember her taking a single class and I am not so sure about whether she took Malayalam or English for us, but the way she changed me in manners and made me a little more strict and disciplined was definitely remarkable. With a few slaps, I got more punctual in everything that I do. Even now, when I get a bit lazy and try to delay something for a minute, some inner voice tells me to do it then and there. I believe that inner voice originated only after Phlavia sister’s punishments. Now, when I scold my husband for his innate procrastination, I believe, what makes me deserved to tell that is only Phlavia sister’s lessons for life. She also made me neat and well organised in all my affairs, personal and official. Respects to her for making me someone like that, even when she is totally ignorant that she only made me so! If you ask me whether I like Suni, our English teacher of eighth standard, I won’t say yes, just because I hate her with all my heart. She had so much of partiality that used to be evident in our English answer papers and also in her attitude towards everyone. Some students were highly considered, and others were totally rejected. I remember her for my low marks in English, when I refused to consider myself as just an average in English. I was well aware about my learning English. Just a Suni teacher won’t be able to inject misunderstanding about myself. While she gave marks lavishly to certain students who used it for ‘self- praising’ and for hurting others, I started to have some revenge for her. But purposefully I started caring too little for English then, being aware that even if I study, I will get just the same marks that I will get without studying anything. Once she got replaced with another English teacher (I don’t remember who it was) I started to really study English. The next exams started to show a graph that was going up. I smiled to myself, on my sweet revenge, without anyone being aware of it. I was an average student at school generally, and hence no one bothered to see my marks or so. The revenge was mine, the necessity of proving my caliber was mine and to myself. I did it, most sincerely and most efficiently. Thanks to Suni teacher who made me do that, which I believe was the basement of my opting English for graduation and post-graduation, even this flow of writing in English. I owe it to her with all hatred. And now let us move on to a very funny moment with Mercy teacher in my tenth standard. She taught Malayalam for us, only for that year. By high school I had already started writing something that I used to call poems, but each of those creations went straight to the waste basket as just torn pieces of old paper. I guess it was for our model exam that I had a tough Malayalam exam. Even when I studied almost well, the questions appeared to me as some out- of- syllabus ones. I then thought that I should take my literary ability to be on the safe zone. Praying to all gods, I started to write my answers in literal language without not actually hinting to the points. The purposefully polished, indirect answers, as we can call it. While receiving the answer paper, I was too tensed. Mercy teacher called out my name. I walked to her table. She held the paper in her hands and said “Athimanoharamaaya kayyaksharam… (beautiful handwriting) Then oliykkunna saahithyabhaasha (Language as if honey was dripping into it) … Ullil onnumilla (there is nothing in it though)”. That second I was a little blank, hearing the laughs of my classmates. My head bowed down thinking that I failed. But I got not bad marks for it, all thanks to my ‘literal honey’. But that was the first moment of realisation that I have language in me. Till that time, I used to laugh at my poems even when it was written just the previous day! After this, somehow I got a little confidence and stole a diary from my father’s shelf and started scribbling whatever I had in my mind. That habit got developed. I started to write anything and everything, as diary, as poems, as prose, as stories of tears. And I remember that the single mocking compliment started all this magic in me. I used to laugh at the line included in my horoscope that I am destined to become a very famous writer before I started all this, in fact before Mercy teacher inspired me with such a line. She never knows still about what magic she has done to me! During the same time, I had fluctuations in my Maths caliber. I somehow got a bit worse that I started to get tution for it with a sir whose name says what he was for me then- Karthaavu sir. He was a strict sir, and with regular tutions, I got way ahead of whom I considered as of my standards. Mridula teacher was too surprised while giving me the answer paper of Maths, for which I had got 49 out of 50 for model exam (She never knew that I too was a bit surprised at receiving such good marks for the first time). The graph went straight up. I tried hard to find a half mark more to round it off to 50 to show it proudly to my parents, but couldn’t. That red inked 49 is a real memory for me, a real dedication to my parents, especially my father who was called by a sister to speak about me getting worse in certain subjects. His depressed face and silence made me fight, but history and geography was created for being too much away from my reach. Sorry for it! And now to the most important session, closing the school gate and opening the college gates for you. Why I refer to this as most important is because, this had made my way out of a confused mix up. She was Milon miss, a new English teacher, who came to our class of around 100 students of Pre-degree at St. Xavier’s College for Women, Aluva. I was unluckily a second group student (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) with additional Maths, I used to wonder why! To worsen the situation, my brother asked me to opt for Hindi and not Malayalam for my second language. With all regrets in remembering Mercy teacher’s dialogue, I had to opt for it. I thought that those two years are going to be the worst age in my life. It is there that Milon miss started her classes. I still remember the English poetry book with the first chapter as Shakespeare’s sonnet- ‘True Love’. Something in her started to attract me. I listened to her explanations with so much of poetry in her words as well, that showed her passion for literature. I then wanted to be like that, someone who can speak in so sweet a poetic language in an attractive way. Gradually, she became a part of my thoughts. I wanted to befriend her, that didn’t happen in my Pre-degree days, as I was a bit more active with art that made me skip the classes for my regular dance practices for some programs everytime. Slowly, I became a student who was most unexpected in the class. Pre-degree went like that, securing average marks for everything except English for which I had indeed very good marks. After that, when my family wanted me to opt for some science graduation, I went in straight to the office of the same college asking whether there is seat for literature. The sister said yes. I wrote my name there enlisting myself as a student of B. A. English Literature. My mind was full of Milon miss who turned out to be the reason for that strange option. From that time, I started to have an upper graph. I became a very good student, securing good marks for every paper, except for my subsidiaries which were Political Science and British History. The destiny was so surprising that it was Milon miss who told me the good news in my degree final year that I am the best outgoing student that year. It got even sweeter when she only read out my name on stage asking me to receive the award, when my mother was seeing it surprisingly sitting in the audience (I kept it as a surprise to her). Milon miss didn’t know that she made me opt this world of literature and as I proved my talent in it, she gave me the award for that. The moment meant a lot, more than others think of. My M. A. in English also was done in the same college. Milon miss continued to be my most favourite, with her interesting classes of whatever she had taken for us. As years passed, she became more and more friendly to me. I could speak to her more freely about anything. I wanted to tell her what she did to me all these years. I won the proficiency prize as well for the highest marks in the M. A. previous level. Again a twist happened with a party, I guess it was for our farewell, when I was asked my most wanted question by the program organisers- “If you were in a sinking boat with all the teachers in it, if you can save one, who would you opt for?” As though I was longing for it, I started expressing my heart out as much as I could within the time limit of some 3 minutes, to which I saw her sitting in the front row with a shy smile. That traveled so long to the past and smiled back from my first Pre- Degree class taken by her. My ambition was all about media then, and I was an active part of television since my degree final year. After passing out my Post- graduation, I continued my media works in part- time. Teaching was not in even in my wildest imaginations. It was then that Milon Miss called me personally asking whether I could help her, taking class for three months in my college as her substitute. I still don’t know why I said ‘yes’ soon to her and started to be her ‘substitute’, the most honorary designation as far as I am concerned, that was the proudest moment for me. Our friendship became much more than that of a student- teacher relationship, and my admiration for her was known to almost everyone. Even when our department head, Molly miss used to praise me in my absence with my answer papers, pointing to my ‘literal language’, I used to feel happier when a word of appreciation jumps down from Milon miss, just as it feels even now. I got there as a government guest lecturer later, for a whole academic year, with the privilege of working with her. We make calls to each other very often even now. Even when we are too good friends to each other, my admiration for her stands with all glory. I am sure that I will carry it till my last breath. She made my way into the world of literature. I am ready to drown in it, but not ready to get saved from it. I love what she had gifted me with what she had always loved. If I can write all this, if this is the 126th post in my blog, I should thank my teachers for that, from the first English angel who welcomed me with the bouquet, an English teacher who made me revengeful with partiality that made me better and better in English, a Malayalam teacher who mockedly spoke high about my language making me start writing…till the most important and most favourite teacher in my life- my very own Milon miss. With these words, I honour the parts they have played in my lives. Many other faces are there in my mind, but the teachers whom I had written about here had been the most influential with cherishing moments. Thank you to all, for making me myself! These words end here, my memories don’t… :)