Thursday, March 22, 2007

Early School Memories: A name, a trick and some numbers

I didn't know. In fact I had no idea. Staring at me was the white of the paper that seemed to mock me. I thought I could hear it cackling madly at me, though now that I think of it, there might have been a tinge of sympathy in that mockery. I felt miserable, and foolish, and confused. I couldn't believe that they would ask such a difficult question on the very first day. I had walked into my new classroom quietly. It was the second door to the right on the first floor. I couldn't read very well at that time, but I have come to believe there must have been a board that said ‘Class I – C’ on that door.

“What is your name?” my new teacher asked.

I looked at her. I remember her smile; it somehow seemed to make her face glow with some unknown joy. I remained quiet. I could feel the eyes of my classmates inspecting the newcomer.

“Son, tell us your name. Don’t you want your new friends to know who you are?” she said, still smiling.

Someone laughed, or barked, or at least made a noise distracting enough that it gave me a moment to think of what was in front of me. What was my name? Well I was sure I had heard that question before, but strangely, I didn't recall ever having answered it. My Dad, or my sister, someone was always around to answer that question, saying words whose alphabets I was yet to learn.

I looked up to see my teacher. Something behind that smile had changed, though I couldn't say what. Maybe she looked concerned.

I just stood there, unsure what to do. I didn't know. In fact I had no idea.

I came back home. I told mum about what had happened at school. I put to her the question that was puzzling me from when I first heard it.

“Mamma, what is my name?” I asked her. I don’t know why but I felt that somehow knowing my name was rather important; something I should know.

She looked amused. She too smiled, but somehow for a child yet to know his name I could now distinguish different smiles. Her smile was different from the one I saw on my new teacher. I remember wondering at that moment whether a smile can perhaps be rude sometimes.

I asked mum again. She told me my name. I told her it was too long. She then wrote it down for me. I couldn't spell much at that time. How was I to remember it? She taught me a trick.

“Look at the cover of your books. I have written your name there. Just copy it.”

That was the first trick I learnt.

I went back the next day with renewed confidence. I was ready to answer anyone who wanted to know my name, and what’s better, I could spell it, given enough time. On my way, I made it a point to tell the second door on the right that I had a name.

But no one asked my name. The teacher had proceeded to the next lesson. Number-names. I remember feeling indignant at being replaced by numbers. My name was discarded to yesterday, now everyone just wanted to know the name of numbers. But numbers turned out to be slower than me when it came to divulging their names. To begin with, each number had a different name. Some sounded similar, others completely different. And the names itself were peculiar. I recall thinking to myself how sorry I would feel if my name was ‘eleven’, or ‘thirty-two’. Thank god it wasn’t.

School used to get over by one in the afternoon. My aunt came to pick me up. I coaxed her into buying me some candy from the vendor outside school. He made such beautiful patterns with the sugar candy. Others had also noticed his craft, and he was much in demand. He was smiling too, reminding my of my teacher; they smiled quite alike. Numbers fresh in my mind, I strained to hear the price, but was disappointed when he just said, “Dus Rupaye”.

My homework for the day was to write number names from one to hundred. I didn't know them. I promptly asked my mum to help. But this time she didn't have a neat trick to overcome this problem. All evening I tried to complete my homework, but simply could not. I went to sleep without writing anything. I was nervous. I think I even had a nightmare involving some numbers.

“I don’t want to go to school.” I said the next morning. How could I face that smiling teacher without doing my homework?

My mum and my aunt tried to convince me to go to school. It was a routine thing for them. I was never fond of school.

“What is the matter?” my dad called from the other room. A minute later he came in. I was crying by then. Everyone finally gave in. I didn't have to go to school. I spent the day playing with the watchman. The same happened the next day.

In the evening, I overheard my mum and dad speaking about me. They seemed concerned.

“Now look at what your idea has done. He doesn’t like school now. He just refuses to go.” My dad was telling my mum, who looked worried.

“I know. It wasn’t a good idea. I thought….”

“Well, what’s done is done.”

The next day my mum came with me to school. She told me she was taking me to her office, and I believed her. But we went to school. I wasn’t all that worried. I was not in my uniform and it was well past the school hour. We met another women in the school who was “Principal ma’am”. She was smiling too. I fought hard to suppress a yawn in return. Smiles were boring.

I waited outside her room while my mum spoke to her. She came out and took me to another room. We met another women. She had an abnormally big nose and had a very peculiar way of dressing her hair, something like a ponytail. I laughed when I saw her. I stopped laughing when I was told she was to be my new teacher. She smiled. She just thought I was a very cheerful kid.

The next I came to school. I was curious about my new teacher. I think I came to think of her more as a clown than a teacher. The watchman was old and he couldn't play very well. I decided school wouldn’t be that bad after all. And I turned out to be quite right. No numbers, no names, no number-names and surprisingly no smiles either. It was back to business. We started with the alphabets. Now this I knew very well.

A few years later I came to know that when we had shifted to Dehradun, my mum, ever so hopeful of my genius mind, had put me in first grade a year before I should have, skipping prep grade which she thought unimportant. “Thank god for that”, I thought after I came to know, “I thought I was unusually slow at school!”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Something i wrote long back....

I dont remember when exactly i wrote this... seems ages ago... i left it unfinished then... and now i cant complete it... 

If I must eye the sunset, and to earth I must fall,
robed in lives woven not by my hands; and beckon
the fire within, will the ice around melt and fall?
For my shoes were never meant to tread the clouds.