The fans are spinning at full speed, spreading the yawns all around. The desks are neatly arranged in rows with the students sitting in pairs staring at the blackboard, which is now ghostly white, reminding us again of the long day at middle school. I am seated on the third bench from the front, feeling as uncomfortable as any teenager. I look at the ‘cool’ kids around. I feel lost and out of place. Most days at schools were like this. The sun would rise and reach up high, while we sat there staring blankly ahead. But that day, she walked in. Wearing a crisp cotton sari, devoid of makeup with her hair worn really short and her spectacles reaching right down to the tip of the nose, she wished us. Her voice commanded attention and in one ‘Good morning’, we all sat up straight. She would be our English teacher.
She studied the rows and columns, taking everything in with one strong piercing stare. We knew then that her class would be like no other. She taught us poetry, Shakespeare, grammar and William Blake. English had never been taught with so much passion before.
One day, she announced that we would be writing an article about the contrast between the life of an underprivileged boy and a rich boy. The first task would be to come up with a catchy title. ”A good title is never longer than five words”, she said.
“Think hard! Then come up to my desk, tell me what thought of. Surprise me!”.
I remember, I took more time thinking about the title than the article itself. I had to get it just right. When it sounded perfect in my head, I gathered my courage to go up to her. Her persona was intimidating, so I walked as slow as I could.
She was busy correcting into our class notebooks, placing dots above the ‘i’s. She was so deeply immersed that she failed to notice me. I managed to utter a feeble “Ma’am…”. Still lost in her job, she inquired, “What is it, Ishani?”
“I thought of a title, Ma’am.”
“Let’s hear it then?”
“So similar yet so different.”
To this day, I remember her reaction. She put her glasses aside, closed her register and looked up. And then, she smiled. “Well then, go ahead.” I knew that I had done well. I had created beauty. And, she was the first one to appreciate my creation. That is how it all started. That day, I saw the strength in my words.
I have come a long way from there. The last seven years have brought about a tide of change. I am little less awkward and a little more confident. I have met some great people in college, who encourage me to write, even on the days I feel too lazy to do so. ‘The Fishbowl Network’ has given a platform to my writing and I don’t feel so lost anymore. I have often thought of that day and wondered how my life would have turned out if that class had never happened. Maybe, I would have never discovered my love for words. Maybe, I would be incomplete. I had been yearning to meet her. I wished to thank her for all she had done, but always got caught up with trivialities of life. I did go to Delhi quite a few times, but never made an effort. You see, I thought I had time.
This summer was spent in Bhutan. Encircled by mountains, life was going pretty good. My mum’s colleague invited us over for dinner one day. There was good food and great company, chatter and laughter all around. There I met a boy, who was an year younger to me. I found out he had graduated out of the same school. I was overjoyed. I eagerly asked him about her, and how she was doing. He looked straight into my eye, and said, “Didn’t you hear?”
I took a deep breath. Somehow, I knew what he was going to say next.
“She passed away last year.”
I lay awake the entire night thinking about her. Twisting and turning in my bed, I thought of that day again. I thought of her smile, her sari, and her thin glasses. I felt like I had cheated her. In my bubble, I had forgotten about the harsh truth of life - the fact that it is too short.
It is impossible to talk her now but I would like her know that she is big reason that I am a writer today. Thank you, Gill Ma’am. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if you hadn’t looked up and smiled.