I am very fair. When I was young, everyone thought, me included that I’d go into modelling. But as I grew older, my face was wrecked by pimples. Being too fair is not much of an advantage in a tropical country and I frequently suffered from sun burns. I was very good in academics and the teacher’s pet. I decided that this was the profession I would choose.
“You’ve lost it. Do some PHD and go abroad. Do you think that a teacher gets a good salary in India? Fat chance…” my maternal aunt, Payal had said. She had extremely long hair which reached up to her waist. She always wore a yellow salwar suit and looked very pretty in it. She was beautiful. Her complexion was perfect. Not too fair, not too tanned. Her right hand was always covered with bangles right up to the elbow but the left hand was devoid of any jewellery. Not even a ring, maybe it had been done deliberately. Payal aunty was rich because while in college, she had what she called ‘hunted a bakra’ and had got married to him. Her husband was the CEO of an MNC. She bought a new mobile every three months and would then go mad because she wouldn’t be able to operate it.
“And why is she wearing salwar suit?” she asked my mother. My mother, Neetu was simple. She was as beautiful as Payal aunty but she rarely put on any make up.
“Because she likes to didi,” my mother had replied from the kitchen. She always took my side.
“Boys want hot girls these days; nobody is going to marry you if you dress like a behenji Sujata.”
“I will take my chances aunty but thanks,” I had said and stormed off to my room.
“What did she say? English gitter pitter won’t get you a husband, you hear me, it is the looks that count unless the man is intelligent and there are very few of those these days.”
After completing my graduation, I enrolled for a B.Ed course. Being the topper has its disadvantages. I had no friends to call my own. Everyone hated me for sucking up to the teacher. The B.Ed course was no different but I completed it and got a job at a prestigious all boys school in Delhi. Saint Nazareth it was called. Even though the school charged a heavy amount in fees, we were paid very little.
“We can pay you ten thousand rupees but since the government has its regulations, you have to sign a receipt of a higher amount,” the principal Mr. Xavier had said. I nodded because my three months of job hunting had taught me that the deal was okay.
I was asked to teach Biology and Math. My week was full with six classes every day for five weeks. Saturday was a holiday so I got some respite. I have always had a problem with English. I know the language as I studied in a convent but I cannot speak it fluently. My problem gets worse especially when I am nervous as I get tongue tied. I had prepared notes for such an eventuality so that I could refer to them.
Boys of Saint Nazareth came from some of the richest and most influential families of Delhi. Only recently, one boy from class 12 had been suspended for drinking vodka in class. They were always meticulously dressed and spoke chaste English. I sighed as I parked my car.
“I can take the metro, it is convenient papa,” I had told my father, Hirdesh.
“No, no, who am I earning for? Take the car, nothing is more convenient than your own vehicle,” he had insisted. I went to the staff room and the teachers welcomed me. The peon escorted me to Class 12 D, my first class where I was to teach Biology.
“She is hot man,” I overheard the front row boy whispering to his bench mate as I entered but I decided to ignore the comment. It was my first day and I didn’t want to punish anyone. St. Nazareth being a single sex community, the boys had absolutely no contact with the girls, at least within the school girls. I had already noticed some boys walking together with girls when I was parking my car. The school just adjacent was Saint Matilda where the girls studied. They were called brother sister schools but every boy from Saint Nazareth usually had a girlfriend in Saint Matilda. The school for its part encouraged interaction and organised joined quizzes and debates.
Any teacher who was pretty and not too old was adored and admired by the boys. I was by far the prettiest and also very young compared to the other much older teachers and so the boys were besotted by me.
I looked at the class with a cursory glance and said, “Class please taking out your text books please.” Shit! I knew I had blundered. Did I just say taking out. But I decided to carry on.
“Did she just blunder or am I hearing things man?” asked the same front row boy leaning on to his neighbour’s desk.
His partner, Prashant said: “You heard right, her English sucks.”
Immediately, the initial attraction towards me fizzled out like the fuzz of a Coca cola bottle when opened suddenly. The boys expected their teachers to be impeccable in English and any teacher who couldn’t match the standard was ridiculed. Even thought the grammar skills of some of the boys were not great, the pride of studying in a convent school was deeply rooted in them and they purposely jeered anyone who was found wanting in the language. I started with the chapter on photosynthesis but soon realised that nobody was paying any attention. The boys knew I could not report them as my handicap in English would prevent me from taking matters to Mr. Nazareth.
Ten minutes later, the entire class resembled a fish market with boys talking to each other and playing around. I was trembling now. One boy, his name was Amir started shooting paper pellets as I tried to teach. The minute I snatched the pellets from one student, another would be at it. I was at my wits end.
“Please boys, now don’t be doing this,” I begged. But nobody was listening. I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes past eight and it was a forty-five minute class. What would I do?
I looked at the rowdy class. I had thought that class twelve would be an easy group to handle but evidently I was wrong. What was I thinking when I took this job: I thought holding my head in my hands.
When the bell rang announcing the end of the period, I made for the door. The class started clapping, someone whistled and I started crying. The commotion invited the attention of Mrs. Prem Lata, the class teacher of Class four. She came in and saw what was happening.
“Shut up the lot of you, making noises which even dogs wouldn’t make…” Someone had informed the principal and he was there. He looked at me and entered the classroom. I knew that by law, corporal punishment was banned so I looked at the principal. How the hell would he handle such testosterone filled young adults who were so rowdy.
“Gentlemen, what is the meaning of this?” he shouted. Pin drop silence. The entire class which five minutes before was shouting and screaming at the top of their voices was suddenly transformed into the best behaved bunch.
“She is a new teacher and you made her cry. Is that right? Is this what Saint Nazareth stand for? I didn’t inform you in advance because I assumed that you were on your honour. That is no way one behaves with a lady.” The boys nodded their heads to express guilt but some were still smiling.
“Tell me why did Maam go out of the classroom?”
“Huh?” the class asked.
“Why did she go outside?”
“Because she can’t face the class… Common boys, you are young adults and not expected to behave this way. Would you treat your girlfriend like this?” Somehow this statement struck a chord. Mr. Xavier stormed out and escorted me to the staff room where Mrs. Pant prepared me hot cup of coffee.
“I hope you won’t change your mind about joining this institution, they’re just boys and reckless.”
“I want an apology or I am done with this school,” I mumbled.
“Hmmm… I have faith in my boys. I won’t ask them to apologise but I am sure they will, you may take the day off if you like. Start again tomorrow.” I left for my home soon after.
I looked to ensure that no one was looking and removed it with the help of a twig.
I cried buckets in the arms of my parents as I recounted the entire event after reaching home that day.
I had made up my mind to quit but the next morning papa insisted that I go.
“There are many battles that you have to fight child, don’t give up so easily and Saint Nazareth is a good school.”
And so I went again. I saw that the boys were staring at me. I couldn’t recognise most of them but knew that word had already spread that I was meek and had cried.
I went for the class and sat down in my chair.
“Okay, I will take attendance first,” I said not looking at anybody in particular.
“Maam, I am Amir,” the boy in the second row said.
“I know, your badge says so.” He was a prefect just as Prashant was and so they had badges with their names on it.
“Ummm… I want to apologise on behalf of the entire class, we won’t create any more problems for you.”
“Okay.” What about you guys staring at my bosom? I thought. But the class was remarkably well behaved that day, and the day after. I realised that I wasn’t stammering and the boys were taking notes. One or two even asked questions.
I wondered if it was a one off thing but they never misbehaved again. At the end of the year, at the time of the farewell, Prashant came up to me.
“We would like to click a picture with you Miss Sujata if that’s okay.”
“Yes, it is okay.” The entire class assembles close to me. I learnt later that not all teachers had that privilege. Only the best teacher was asked for snaps. Later in the day, I received a gift from the class too.
Mr. Xavier was probably right. The boys didn’t let us down. Joining Saint Nazareth was the best thing that happened to me. I love the job and yes, my boys love me.
Bakra- A male goat. Here used figuratively.
About the Author:
Ritika Pathak is the author of two novellas and many short stories. She is a teacher in an elementary school and lives in Shimla, India.
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