A Guru Poornima story

I have been following Julia Camerons book – The artists way. One of its many exercises is going back in time and exploring childhood incidents that could have blocked my creativity. This story was buried deep in the recess of my memory. And today, on Guru Poornima day, it all came back rather vividly. A careful examination of the events tells me that this incident could not have caused me any real mental harm. But hey! Who knows what goes on in the inner workings of our minds.

I studied in a convent school. The teachers were old school. They expected discipline, neat handwriting and encouraged us to use archaic words like yours faithfully, in letter writing. And in this scenario – in walked our brand new class teacher. She was like a breath of fresh air in our very convented upbringing. We girls were immediately smitten by her crisp cotton saris, sleeveless blouses and different style of teaching.

As our english teacher she constantly encouraged us to read the right kind of stories. She introduced us to books like ‘Sybil’ and often read out entire chapters of the latest novels, to hook us to the story. She then encouraged us to borrow these books from the library. So, like any other non-rebellious students we all wanted to impress her with our essays and our answers.

But even in the best intended teachers lurks an evil heart. She once asked us to write an essay on ‘My Nightmare.’ I was all of 14 or maybe 15 and thought long and hard on the topic. The usual nightmare of ghosts and death and murder were too obvious and a no no. I decided to explore my inner demons instead.

I do not recall the exact essay. But I do remember that my nightmare was wanting to urgently get out of bed in the middle of the night to investigate a strange noise. And I tried very hard to bring out the nightmare of not being able to do so. Because it was dead of winter and the floor was freezing cold. My essay was a young girls amateurish exploration of the fight between mind and body.  Written in my neatest handwriting and handed over well within the deadline set by Mrs ‘I am the greatest gift to my students.’

Eventually, our assignment was graded and handed back to us. My notebook took some time to get back. That’s because, Mrs ‘Smug and I am the greatest gift to my students’ had decided to read out my essay in class without saying anything about it. Half way through the reading Rukmini – a classmate turned around and congratulated me on an essay well written.

I wasn’t so sure. There was disapproval in the voice that was reading out my carefully thought out words. “I don’t think she is praising it,” I whispered back. When she reached the part about my not wanting to step on the cold floor, she started her analysis of my character and personality. Then with a semi sneer on her face she handed me my notebook across which she had scrawled in big fat red pen. Your lackadaisical attitude comes through in your essay!

At 14 I had a poorer vocab than today and wasn’t sure what it meant. So I pulled out my little oxford dictionary from my school bag (no google back then) and proceeded to figure out what my attitude really was. The dictionary said – Eschewing enthusiasm – so I had to start searching in e, es..esche…

And while I was researching all this – I almost missed hearing Rukmini declare that she thought my essay was fine.

For that my dear class mate of Carmel, I will be forever grateful.

I was used to being the bad student in class, and didn’t even bother to question our teacher’s judgement. But enough about teachers or Gurus who pull us down.

I would much rather remember the kind gentle teachers who made the effort to talk to me and figure out that my gifts and my intelligence lay in directions other than academics.

So on this Guru Poornima – Thank you to Miss Bhagirathi, Mrs Thomas, Teacher Mary, Mrs Sen (Aunty B) my maths teacher, Reva Dhawan and many many more. May their tribe grow.