We peeked timidly into our class to see who the new Political Science teacher was. A dark-skinned man was leaning against the teacher’s desk waving his thin bony arms as he talked to rest of the class.
How I had wished to make an outstanding first impression on the new teacher. And here I was, standing outside the class, late on the very first day!
“May we come in sir?” Ayesha had taken the initiative and had already asked for permission to enter while I was lost in my thoughts. He turned around at this interruption and looked at us through his horn-rimmed glasses and then at his watch. We braced ourselves for the coming outburst and put on our most innocent faces and looked at the floor. A few seconds later, we heard a soft spoken voice, “Oh yes please. You are a little late but never mind. Please take your seats and we will continue our class.” We stood there with our mouths open. What? No scolding? No “stand out of the class”? Surely, a teacher can’t be so polite. Was he being sarcastic? The scolding should come now. But all he said was, “What’s the matter? Wouldn’t you sit?” We murmured an apology and walked to our seats as if we were in a dream.
His name was Rajeev Chaudhary. The topic being discussed in the class that day was Federalism. By the time I had reached the classroom, he had already explained the concept of vertical power sharing between different levels of government and horizontal power sharing between various organs of government. I was on high alert as I tried to pick up the threads of the discussion. I was eager to make up for the lost ground. I had already promised myself that I would show him what an awesome student I was. So what if I had started on a wrong foot. Soon, I was confident, he too will be dazzled by my brilliance, just like rest of the teachers.
“Now, there are two types of federations. Let me explain with examples. Let’s take India and USA, both federal countries. Can you identify any distinguishing feature between the functioning of power in these two countries?”
My hand shot up in the air. “Here’s our very own Hermione Granger,” said one of the students seated behind me.
I tried to answer all the questions he asked, but he preferred to give chance to other students. He would smile in approval whenever my hand shot up but would ask someone else who had not even raised their hands. What does this mean? I am here, ready with the answer, and you are asking someone who doesn’t even seem interested in the class?
We got to know him better through the course of our classes. He would try to explain Federalism by using examples and stories from around the world.
“Doesn’t he look as if the wind will blow him away?”
“Yeah, look at the way the sunlight is playing games on his head. Baldy!”
“And don’t forget his ever-smiling face. Dude, doesn’t his mouth ache?”
These types of comments were in general circulation in the class. And Chaudhary sir was an easy target as he looked so peculiar. His dressing sense was old fashioned and he was bald and skinny and looked funny. I giggled at these comments but rarely participated.
I was just in time to divert my attention from Rahul’s comments back towards Dr. Chaudhary.
“No language has been given the status of National Language.”
“But surely, Hindi is our National language, sir! It is spoken by the majority of the population.” Someone from the front row interrupted.
“Besides Hindi there are 21 other languages recognised as Scheduled Languages by the Constitution. States have their own official language and Hindi is identified as official language.”
“But sir, what about English? Don’t we use English for official purposes?”
“Yes, and no. English is used for official purposes but a person who doesn’t know English can use any other language too. English is used for official purposes because, during the making of this language policy, many non-Hindi speaking states like Tamil Nadu protested Hindi being the official language. Thus, to acknowledge the diversity of our vast country, no language was made the National Language. Every language has been given equal status and each community has been represented equally. This shows the beauty of Federalism. Come on now, tell me what do you think about this policy? Give your opinions the limelight.”
He looked at my outstretched arm, gave me a smile, and then looked around the class. I was astonished. How could he just ignore me with his pearly white smile? His gaze stopped at Amish Marwah.
Amish? Was he going to ask him? Just look at him with his eyes downcast, trying not to look at the teacher!
He made Amish stand. “Um.. Sir… I…” was all that came out of that stupid boy’s mouth. I raised my hand higher. Chaudhary sir smiled, “Try. For once? Say whatever comes to your mind.” Amish remained quiet.
He kept looking at Amish in expectation. But Amish, that dumb brother of Pratistha Marwah, didn’t even raise his head to look at him. Can anyone guess by the looks of him, that his sister is the Head Girl of the school?
Even his mother is so ashamed of him. How she scolded him on the day of the PTM! I can never forget her voice. She sounded and looked so angry, so agitated, “When will you stop humiliating me in front of so many people? I simply don’t understand why you can’t be like your elder sister. I have just come from her class. Oh, so many praises I heard. And here! Because of you my mood is now off. You are such an under performer. Why can’t you learn from your sister? When? When will you improve your performance? When will you learn? I am seriously fed up with you.”
Finally, the genius blessed us by opening his mouth, “Sir… This policy… I don’t know… It may be the best way but in my opinion, it has made every one conscious of their language and has only helped to consolidate the dominance of English over all other languages.”
A few days after his first day in school, Chaudhary sir said that he would make a monitor who would help him in organising activities and conducting the classes. All my friends looked at me. I knew it had to be me. After all I had given answers to all his questions.
“I have decided that the monitor will be,” he paused and looked around the class.
I held my breath. One more responsibility, I thought.
I woke up from my day dream. What the hell? Amish? Seriously? What has sir seen in that stupid idiot? He can never carry out any responsibilities. He is always sitting at his corner desk and reading some book or scribbling and doodling away in his notebook.
Just wait till other teachers find out that sir has made Amish his monitor! Oh, how will they laugh at his foolishness!
I am a member of the Prefectural Board and teachers tell me that I am very responsible but here was this new teacher who has given all the main responsibilities to that boy! I don’t know whether this is jealousy, but I do want to know why Chaudhary Sir is so partial to Amish, who, in my opinion, is the least deserving of us all.
In a week, the chapter on Federalism is over. One day Chaudhary sir said, “I would like to hold a discussion based on Federalism, and I want you all to come here one by one and give your views on equal representation in federalism.”
This was my chance to prove to him how intelligent I was and how wrong he was in favouring Amish over me. And then he will make me his monitor and Amish will return to his corner desk.
I was desperate to impress my teacher, and would sit for hours reading web articles and books and newspapers and thinking about the activity. At last I came up with a really satisfying speech. When I rehearsed it, I knew no one would be able to beat me. I was confident that I would secure the highest marks and would make a lasting impression on Chaudhary sir.
The day of the debate arrived. The class was tensed and immersed in their last minute rehearsals. I saw His Lordship sitting at his corner desk, looking tense. Chaudhary sir will see for himself what His Lordship is capable of, I smiled to myself as I looked at him.
Dr. Chaudhary began calling the students one by one. It seemed like eternity before he called my name, “Geeta Gupta.” I stood up from my seat with full confidence and walked to the front of the class and stood beside the teacher’s table facing everyone. I glanced at Amish. Suddenly a disturbing thought crossed my mind. What if he performs well? He will get all the praise. I silently scolded myself for distracting my thoughts, but my eyes kept on moving towards Amish all through my speech. “I feel that when we say Equal representation, we should mean it. Everyone should be treated equally and no person or community should be favoured. I agree that reserved seats in jobs and schools were created was a really good step taken at the time of Independence. It was introduced to help the backward come forth and play a role in the development of the country and therefore, in their own development. But I guess people have forgotten that it has been more than 60 years since we became an independent and a federal country. All the citizens of the country now enjoy equal resources. So what is the need of reservations? Instead of trying to help those who aren’t interested in studies, the deserving and capable students should be helped to grow more and reach new heights, irrespective of caste, gender, and religion.”
I thanked my audience for listening me to the end and glanced to my left at Chaudhary sir who was smiling. I walked back to my seat very pleased with myself.
He walked with clumsy steps to the front of the class. Sir nodded at him with his ever-encouraging smile. Amish smiled back and turned towards the class. The look on his face made me laugh at myself. I was afraid of him? But then a sudden change came over his face. He breathed deeply and smiled, “Federalism does means power sharing between different levels of government, between different organs of the government, and between the government and the citizens. But it is more than just equal distribution of power. You all know that India is a federal country. But isn’t Jammu and Kashmir a special state? Hasn’t it been given a special status? Well, does this change India from being a federal country? No. There are some exceptions to fair and equal distribution. And of course there is the aspect of Justice. Everyone cannot be treated equally. The less-developed states such as Bihar have to be given special status. The less peaceful states like J & K have to be given special status. They will lag behind the country like a liability if they are not given extra resources and help from the centre. Thus, I sincerely feel that there are some who really need a little help to achieve self-confidence and self-respect.”
After the debate was over, Dr. Chaudhary got up. I straightened up. Yes! Come on. Say that I was the best. Say that you really loved my speech. As he addressed the class, I sat with my fingers crossed and with bated breath. “You all have performed really well. But there are a few students like Geeta and Amish who have presented their views really effectively and have helped us look at the world through their point of view.” I smiled as he said my name but then … Amish?
He continued, “I really wish to appreciate the two of you. Very well done Geeta. You are truly a smart young girl.” He beamed at me. Aha! Finally you realised. I smiled back but deep down I was wishing, Go on. Praise me more! But he turned towards His Lordship, “And Amish my boy, you are working really hard and sincerely following my advices. I am so proud of you. You are genuinely working towards achieving great heights. I am very happy for you for you have improved so much. You are a wonderful student. You will shine out brightly, I promise you. Always keep trying and have faith in yourself.”
That was it. That was the end of my patience. Maybe what I was going to do was rude, but I didn’t care. He was being unfair. I couldn’t stand it anymore, “Excuse me? What is the meaning of all this? You said that we both performed equally well, didn’t you? And here you are, going on and on and on praising this idiot! And Very well done is all you have to say to me? I would really like to tell you that you are the most biased and unjust teacher ever.” I felt that I was shouting, but I couldn’t help it. “And you Amish. What’s your problem? You know what, you are the biggest idiot of this class. You don’t deserve this favouritism.”
Amish stood still, his eyes moist. I felt that he would break into tears. He deserves it, I told myself, and went on. “Chaudhary sir tells you that you are brilliant. But let me be honest with you. He is lying. You are nothing but a fool. Everyone makes fun of you, and I bet even he, your precious Chaudhary sir, jokes about you with rest of the teachers.” Amish looked at Chaudhary sir and ran out of the class with tears streaming down his face.
I turned to look at Chaudhary sir. How much I loathed those concerned eyes, that ever-smiling face that was now grave. I wished to say some more but I just turned away and walked out of the classroom. “Geeta, wait. Please, both of you listen to me once. Oh, don’t cry Amish.” But I didn’t stop. Rage was brewing up in my head. I stood leaning on the wall, looking at the birds in the sky.
“Go away!” I heard a shout from inside the boy’s washroom Amish had locked himself in. Chaudhary sir was knocking the door, requesting Amish to come out and talk to him once. But Amish refused to listen to him. I turned my attention back to the flock of birds that flew over the assembly ground. I saw Chaudhary sir looking at me. “Oh dear. You are crying too,” he said.
I turned and ran down the stairs and shouted at him, “I am NOT crying!” But even as I said that I felt a tear run down my left cheek.
I descended the steps with my thoughts quite clear in my head. I will go and report this biased and unfair teacher to the Principal. He has no right to stay in our school any longer.
“Geeta, come back. Please hear me out.” I heard a pleading voice from behind. I paid no heed. I walked on. He had done whatever he liked; now it was my turn. I wouldn’t rest until he is out of the school, I told myself.
I stopped in front of the brown, elegant door with “PRINCIPAL” written on top of it in bold letters. I straightened myself and knocked at the door. “Come in.” As I pushed open the door, I felt the cool air of the AC. I walked in and stood in front of the Principal’s desk. He was signing some certificates. Behind him, in a glass cupboard stood the trophies our school had won in various competitions.
He looked up questioningly. I took a deep breath and began, “Sir, I’m Geeta Gupta of class X D. Sorry to interrupt you, but the matter is quite serious…”
Then I told him everything that had happened. He listened grimly and in the end said, “Mr. Chaudhary is a good teacher. Surely there has to be a convincing reason behind his actions.” Just then the door opened behind me. There was Dr. Chaudhary standing there. “I am terribly sorry for bursting in like this. I thought that I would find Geeta here,” he said and looked at me.
“Well, yes. Your guess was quite right. And since you are here I would like you to answer a few questions,” Principal Sir said.
Chaudhary sir opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it abruptly. He looked in my direction and then at the Principal. “Well sir, I never intended my actions to have such a horrifying conclusion. I only wanted to help Amish come forward. I saw through his work that he is a talented young boy. I feel that the smart students can take care of themselves and their studies without the help of teachers, but it’s the below average students who need our help. And I was trying to do just that. But since my actions are not acceptable, I’ll only say that I’m sorry for all the trouble I have caused. And I wish to no longer be a nuisance to you and to my students.” Having said this, he turned around and walked out of the door.
I saw him go out of the school building through the window. Principal Sir followed my gaze, “Well, that’s it. Now we are again short of a Political Science teacher.”
A week later, as I sat in the class, bored, my gaze went to the empty desk in the corner. Amish hadn’t come to school since the day of the debate. But I didn’t let him linger in my thoughts for long. I turned my attention to the window, outside which I saw two little birds playing on a branch.
That afternoon, when I reached home, I found a letter addressed to me. As I read the very first words written on the letter “Words and More, Story-Writing Competition”, a chill ran down my spine. The results have finally come! We were informed by our school about this competition and I had participated in it confident that I will surely bag a prize. With the letter containing the results in my hand, I frowned as I remembered how Chaudhary Sir had encouraged Amish to participate in this competition and hadn’t said a word to me.
I brushed aside the thoughts of Chaudhary sir and Amish and sprang up on my bed to read the letter. I stood up in surprise as I read the results. My name was nowhere to be found. And look who came second – Amish Marwah! What did this boy have that he is shining in every field? What is so special about him? Was Chaudhary sir right? Is he really talented? All the events of the day of the debate flashed in front of my eyes. I felt guilty. Had I been too harsh on Amish? Should I have thought once before breaking into such an outburst?
That evening I reached Amish’s house. A servant opened the door and led me to Amish’s room. The room was a mess. And in the midst of the mess, sat Amish, scribbling away in his little notebook. He looked up at me, “Geeta? What are you doing here?”
I didn’t know what to say. I just showed him the letter, “I… Congratulations Amish.”
He smiled, “Oh this! It was a shock to me too. When Dr. Chaudhary told me that I could do it, I didn’t believe him. I thought how can an idiot like me do well in a story writing competition? But then I thought, what’s the worst thing that could happen if I do participate? Just that my entry won’t get selected. And if no one knows that I sent a story, no one will know of my failure, right? So I sent my story a few days back. Just didn’t tell anyone.”
I smiled back at him, “Congratulations again.”
I sat for hours in his room. We talked about all that had happened to both of us during the past week. When I came out, I was feeling better. But I had realized the wrong I had done to Dr. Chaudhary. I should have at least heard what he wanted to tell, before taking such a drastic step. I wished I could, for once, meet him and beg his forgiveness.
It’s now two years since the incident. As I sat in the auditorium and clapped as Amish went up the stage to receive his “All-rounder of the Year Award”, I couldn’t help but remember all that had happened to cause this, two years ago.
When Amish came back to his seat beside me, I teasingly said, “Where’s my treat?” “Don’t worry. Today. After school,” he said.
After school, we went to Pizza Hut near our school. And imagine who we found there –Chaudharys sir! He was sitting a few tables away, eating a small pizza and sipping on a cold drink. I looked at Amish and then at Sir. We rushed to him, “Hi Sir”, we said heartily. He looked up. I thought he wouldn’t recognise us. As I began to remind him, he smiled and said, “Life is full of surprises! Come, my children, sit beside me.”
We sat down and opened our mouths to seek his forgiveness. But he stopped us. “I know that you are sorry. If you weren’t, why would you be sitting here? There’s no need for formalities. Tell me all that has happened in the last two years.”
We told him enthusiastically everything that had occurred since the day he left school. Amish flaunted his certificate as well. He smiled, “I am proud of you, my son. Congratulations. And you too, young lady, I mean, Head Girl.” We beamed with happiness.
He went on telling us how he had one day found Amish’s diary and read his stories and poems. “I understood at once that these stories about a neglected child are actually about you, Amish.” He said that the stories reminded him somewhat of himself. “I was also reserved and lacked confidence. My teachers used to tell me I could improve and should study hard. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t secure as good marks as my elder brother. He was the Topper of the school, whereas I would come somewhere in the top 50. My parents scolded me a lot and would always compare me with my brother. One day I took a drastic step. I attempted suicide.” We gasped. “I was saved at the right time. But from my foolery, I learnt a lesson. Since then I’ve decided to help students who were struck in such dilemmas.”
We sat there, talking to Sir for a long time. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. As we came out of the restaurant, I squeezed Amish’s arm and whispered, “This was the best treat ever.”