Gill Ma’am

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.

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Dreams are the touchstones of our character.

-Henry David Thoreau

Dreams are something that unites all of mankind. We all have dreams- sweet dreams, bad dreams, nightmares and even daydreams. How many times have we wondered about the meaning of a dream? Or why we had the dream… or why we have any dream at all. What is the reason, purpose and meaning of them? Baffled by these same questions, scientists have for long tried to find the answers, with little success- if any at all.

Wikipedia defines them simply as “successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.” They occur during the stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when brain activity is high and resembles that of being awake. They may be over in the matter of seconds or stretch on for 20 minutes. Frightening, exciting, magical, melancholic, adventurous- dreams are of varying natures. And with the exception of lucid dreaming, they are generally outside the control of the dreamer.

Dreams have been known to be the inspiration for many creations and discoveries. The riddle of the structure of benzene was solved when August Kekule saw a vision of a snake biting its own tail. Fortune favours the worthy though. Not many of would have bothered about what a snake in a dream was trying to tell us. The Twilight series and Frankenstein are the products of wondrous dreams as well. Movies like Stuart Little and the Terminator have the same source of inspiration. These stories make us think- perhaps we should take our dreams a little bit more seriously.

Perhaps the best creation involving dreams was Christopher Nolan’s movie “The Inception”. With concepts like dreams within dreams and the art of inception itself (which involves planting an idea into someone’s mind while they are asleep), it is one of the most complex plots ever created. Interestingly, Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the movie’s main character, Dom Cobb, also had lucid dreams before starring in the movie. Visions of future or hands of fate?

Various theories have come up about dreams. One theory suggests that dreams are the result of our brains trying to interpret external stimuli during sleep. For example, the sound of the radio (or your mother’s shouts) may be incorporated into the content of a dream . Another theory uses a computer metaphor to account for dreams. According to this theory, dreams serve to ‘clean up’ clutter from the mind, much like clean-up operations in a computer, refreshing the mind to prepare for the next day. Yet another model proposes that dreams function as a form of psychotherapy. In this theory, the dreamer is able to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment. What, then, is the right answer? A mix of all these? Or something entirely different?

Someday we will find out. Or we may not. Dreams, however, will continue. As will the stories of inspirations we get from them. The true meaning of dreams in our lives is something that science cannot answer. How dreams affect our lives- we alone can decide. And how our lives, in turn, affect our dreams, no one can say. Perhaps we should stop grappling at an answer that’s like a wisp of smoke- beyond our grasp. Or maybe we are asking the wrong questions. What, indeed, is the stuff that dreams are made of? Dream on!

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

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