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My Detractors in School

I had many detractors in School.

I was in 8th standard history class, and our History teacher was absent. We all were playing a vocabulary game. After exhausting all the options for an animal that begins with “M”, I said: “Man”, with a clever smile on my face.  When everyone else said that “Man” cannot be an animal, I sat there with an expression of boyish helplessness. It was at this point, I heard a boy asking: “If man is not an animal, what is he? What?”

Because he was a topper, the other kids decided to take this concept of ours very seriously. I had just joined the school. But, I did not know that he would soon become my prime detractor. I also did not know that I would soon read a lady who bullied me saying that man is not just an animal that possesses the “instinct of tool-making”.

He used to perfectly mimic our History teacher—how she says “Next. Next. Next.” while punishing kids. I found it hilarious, though I used to have butterflies in my stomach while hearing the “original version”. We once conned the boy near us in to talking about the “Tom and Jerry” show we had ‘missed’. When he talked about it for an hour, we ended the conversation, laughing. When I once reminded that boy of this on his Orkut scrapbook, he quickly deleted it.

Once when our class teacher asked how many of us have read more than hundred books in our lifetime, we both decided that we should not stand up.

“Wise men know when to keep silent. Only the fool tells all that he knows.”

After lunch, we would run to escape the other kids who wanted us to “play” with them. Once when they snatched our cricket balls, I told them: “It is wrong to covet another man’s cricket ball, just like it is wrong to covet another man’s wife.” They used to snatch my stamp album, and I remember telling them: “If you do this again, I will call you a thief.” And then they spent the next three years telling me: “Please don’t call me a thief. I will cry.” Initially I had a hard time getting what they meant, though. God sent them to earth, marking their place at the bottom of the IQ pyramid.

When my prime detractor in high school asked me years later, “But, Shanu, do you still have that stamp collection of yours?” I was silent.

People started taking me seriously only after I started blogging. I started getting closure only after that. Perhaps this is how technology empowers the oppressed, suppressed and marginalized sections of the society: like High IQ nerds.

What would Anjali be thinking today? I know what she would be thinking: “If I had not pinched Shanu when we were in LKG, he would have written wonderful things about me.” Anjali was my detractor in Kindergarten. When my mother once went for a parent-teacher meeting, Anjali told my mother that I always throw away my lunch. When my mother came back home, she was really angry. All I wish to say is that what followed is beyond the scope of this blog post. I suspect that it was Anjali who ratted on me. She had dark eyes and everything.

I also had a Center Fresh cricket card collection.  I and my little brother used to roam around the whole city to collect rare cricket cards, like that of Richard Hadley. Richard Hadley cards used to sell for 25 Rs in those days. When we sent those cards to Perfetti Van Melle, they sent us a miniature Cricket Bat as a gift. But, it had the signatures of all Indian Cricket players. 

One day when we were playing with our Center Fresh cards, our Math teacher came from somewhere and snatched our cricket card collection. He said that he will give them back to us only if we give him a letter signed by our father saying that we have his permission to play those games. My father signed the letter with a smile, and our Math teacher had to give us our cricket cards back. He was embarrassed, I am sure. Since then, he was scheming against me.

One day, when we were playing cricket, we saw him and our History teacher walking through the ground. He took away our cricket ball, and gave it to our History teacher saying that we are not supposed to play during class time. Then he walked away. When I and my friend asked for our cricket ball, our history teacher gave us the ball saying “I will give this back to you on one condition: You have to give it back to me before the lunch break.” But, this was the same teacher who used to say: “Next, Next, Next.” When I said that I am surprised, my friend said: “She knows the things you do under the table.” I said that this cannot be true.

After the lunch break, I and my friend started walking back and forth in front of the staff room to ask for our ball. Our Math teacher came outside and asked us to stop. Then, he said to me: “I have told you a million times not to bunk my classes. You have got 3/50 in your Christmas test. I should talk to your father.”

Now, I did not want the cricket ball back. I did not want to play anymore. All I wanted was to see everything to end. When I reached home, I threw my school bag over my bed, and went out to play. I came back around 7 O’ Clock or so. Hiding a novel inside my Math text book, I started reading. After a while, my mother came in and said. “Study well.” I did not know whether to cry or to smile. Around 9 O Clock, I went to my bedroom and slept hoping that I wouldn’t be alive to see the next morning.”

The next day, I and my friend decided to write an anonymous letter to our Math teacher. We decided to collaborate on this. But, at some point, there was a massive shift in the decision. He said that we need not spread the risk. He insisted that I should write the letter. “Your writing skills. Your beautiful hand writing. It is only you who can write this letter.” he told me. When I said, “But, teachers have been telling me since LKG that my hand writing looks more like a crow’s nest.” he replied, “But, you should know that you are the best writer in our school.”

I had once read one of his high school essays—and I cried, because it was so beautiful. The only thing that makes me weep is the work that I love. When I was once hospitalized, the nurses used to tell me: “Don’t worry. You will not die. It is your assumption that you are going to die. No one told you so.” But, they did not know that I was weeping because I was reading Steve Job’s biography. It had many things like:

“Steve Jobs once famously said that he wanted the screws inside the Mac to be beautiful. When an executive quipped that it’s an unimportant detail as no one cares what the inside of a Mac looks like, he replied: Yes, but you will know. Even though others won’t see it, you will know it’s there. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Even if I hear that my parents passed away, it will not make me weep. My ex-colleague Miss Michelle (Shiphony Pavithran Suri) often noticed that I switch off the light before talking about the work that I love. And then she would say that something happened to my eyes because I sit in front of the computer all the time.

Michelle could mimic the announcement in the Delhi metro really well.

I wrote a letter replete with hidden insults to our Math teacher, and posted it—-from a post box near my home, of course. I have reasons to believe that our Math teacher knew it. One day, when I and my friend were standing together, our Math teacher stared at us deeply from his classroom. It looked like a coal furnace was burning inside his eyes, and it frightened us so much. “It is us, I am sure”, I said. We knew that something was awry, and we did not know what, though I had a creepy suspicion that it was just that. We told each other that we should stand there still, as if nothing happened. We stood there, staring at the sand on the ground, and I remembered what our Chemistry teacher told us about the chemical composition of sand. I remembered that her hand was pressed on the black board. Her palms had turned red, and I feared that she will know what I was wondering about.

One day, our Math teacher came near us when we were solving a problem in Quadratic Equations, and stood there, carefully watching our handwriting. I tried not to notice but I had little control over my ice cold, trembling fingers. My friend often noticed the breathtaking pace at which I solved problems, but he would say that he can do better if he had tried. And that he never liked such silly problems. I see such jealous people everywhere–like that Manu Joseph.

When I joined engineering college, there was this teacher who came near me and observed me writing down the answer of a matrix multiplication problem without any intermediary steps. She felt that no one can solve such “big” problems in their head. These people are idiots.

In the next Mathematics test, I nearly topped my class. He looked at the answer paper evaluated by another teacher and said, “This boy certainly has improved.” I walked towards his desk thinking, “I know what you want.”, because I know such people really well. I have seen such people everywhere, and whenever they speak that way, I know that they are setting a trap. After a while, he started screaming: “No. He certainly doesn’t deserve this much. He has skipped too many steps. He must have copied everything.” I will be, however, the last person to claim that I was a maverick who has always skipped all steps, breaking free from all precedents and traditions. Strangely, as it often happens, our Math teacher felt trapped in a situation in which he could not do anything to me.

10th Standard is a big thing in my state. In the summer vacations before 10th standard, I played a lot, and when my parents said that I should not play so much, I said, “But, when I reach 10th standard, you will never let me play.” My mother thought: “Awww.” and said, “That is not true. We will let you play once in a week.”, and there was a smile on my face. 

One day when our Math teacher was scolding my friend, I had a hard time hiding my joy, because the words he used were very funny. My friend looked at me with intense disapproval, and I gathered that he will soon retaliate. That was when he became my overt enemy. He started threatening that he will tell our Math teacher that it was me who wrote that anonymous letter.

I had seen many such people before. When I was 9, I joined a new school, and while “interviewing” me, the teachers asked me many stupid questions like the definition of “Parrot” and “Peacock”. After I joined, I told my classmates that “Teachers in this school are duds”. When they reported it to the class teacher, she tortured me and I started crying. I stopped crying only when another teacher came inside and said that I must have seen many smart teachers before–And that this was why I was disappointed with them. And then, for the next three years, those boys would go near the Principal’s room saying that they are going to report this to her.

I do not know how saying the truth makes you a bad person. There is no freedom of speech in my communist state. From the experiences of a smart girl who works there, I gather that if I had worked with a newspaper in my state, the communist people in Malayalee land would have roasted me alive.

But, we still loved weaving stories around our Math teacher. Once we spotted him standing far away in a corner, talking to a classmate’s mother. The discussion went off track after I had said that things have reached the point that we have to fear for our mothers. Feeling bored and distracted, I soon went into a slumber.

After a while, I got back to my senses and held my chin straight, attentively. He and a boy near me, however, were still laughing out loud. Our English teacher called them to her desk to ask what was going on. I was still in a semi-somnambulist haze, and a smile appeared on my face. I had long disassociated myself from what had happened. I hoped that they would soon be put through some hell.

When I heard her calling my name, I slowly walked to her desk with a shocked expression on my face. My bench-mates were laughing, covering their faces with their text books. They had “confessed” that at the root of all this was a shrill noise I made. “We couldn’t have helped it”.  She scolded me for creating problems everywhere despite having my seat changed many times. She felt that I must have done something wrong because my face was calm when they were laughing. The sad truth was that I was subject to such backstabbing everywhere. I was shocked by their complete disregard for facts. I was always pained by this aspect of people.

It has always been my strong conviction that what marks an honest person is his inability to lie. In rare instances in which I was caught lying in school, teachers used to tell me: “If you tell the truth, I will let you go.” And then the truth would come out of me-word by word. They would then scold me, hiding their smile: “Please don’t do this again, because you can’t—and you know it.”

Once our Hindi teacher threw me and my detractor out of the class for not bringing our text books. we stood there wondering whether people like Baba Amte are actually as altruistic as they claim, or whether this is all a fraud. I think we had a better understanding of human nature at 14 than “people of so called intelligence”. Our English teacher saw us standing outside the classroom, and stopped there, to smile. She was happy because she gathered that I too do things that are wrong. Such things make imperfect people happy.

Once when a very young teacher entered our class room when she was teaching,all the eyes were on her. She looked at us, and said, “I know you all really well.” All these people made us live up to their fake standards.

Our Malayalam teacher was a pretty lady, and the boys used to make bras with their towels and wave them in the air when she was teaching us. She would then flash her cane that would crack over their lap. Then the boys would laugh because she could not strike them hard. She had such a tender heart. But, one day, my detractor bought “Lolita” to school, and we were reading it in our Malayalam class. When she found out, she took us near the staff room and spanked us. Then, I understood that it is often humiliation that angers people that much. She felt that we did not need her. Our English teacher saw this and said that we should be ashamed—to be punished in front of the staff room at 14. Then we started crying, and she said that big boys do not cry.

Things got worse when I wrote a satire on our Math teacher in my Christmas Exam answer paper. What I wrote was way too complimentary—complimentary to the point that it became a deadly insult. My detractor felt that this was the right opportunity, and reported it to our English teacher saying that this wass enough proof that I am bad. I had never seen her as happy because she despised my Math teacher more than me. She said that I am not at all a good boy.  “It is juvenile to write anonymous letters to teachers.” She said that I should have written a letter to the Management instead of wasting my time on this. I later heard from my brother that she couldn’t ever forget me because she had to burn my answer paper. She feared that our math teacher would think that she made me write that.

My satire was pretty damn good. But it was burnt, and I did not know that for years. 

I can only say that I am relieved that life in Junior High came to an end without them kicking me out. We left the school after that..

After the summer vacations, the day the schools reopened, I was running all that happened in my mind. Then I heard our door bell ringing. I opened the door, with a faint smile on my face. It was my detractor, and he wanted to know where I have joined.

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