You begin by asking if you are willing to let your life be consumed by half-lings, who can barely button their pants but have a slick machinery of expletives to barrage at you when their pleas to sit next to a friend are refused. Then realizing that your self-esteem has already been trampled upon by years of battered relationships and people who don’t believe in you, that your self-respect lies buried 3 inches below the Marina trench, you sign up.
Self-aggrandized notions of your ability to transform lives and impact social development gets you through fantasy- gaming period also known as Teacher Training Institute. Then reality hits as you stand in front of 44 seven-year-olds, squished together four per bench, who seem extremely suspicious of your presence in their classroom. You feel welcomed. You look around, the room has paint curling off the walls, a precarious chunk of cement dangling right above your head and a bluish-grey pile in the corner of something that should have been disposed off a long time ago. You dispose it. You remember to carry a hand sanitzer from that day on. You hear 44 sniggers, grunts, giggles and wise-cracks. You turn around, look straight into the sea of faces and give them that stare, one that you’ll perfect over the next two years, one where you narrow your eyes, stiffen your body and stay in that position for at least 10 seconds. School becomes a battleground, your backpack becomes your shield, a rolled up chart paper your sword and a trusty bottle of water, well it remains your water bottle, something to drown your tears in.
You renounce fashion. Picking clothes and accessories that are practical and don’t attract incessant, high -pitched squeals about how “pretty“ your earrings are and who gets to “borrow” them. Of course you begin to ignore the tugging, pulling and scratching of your extremities when they speak to you. You contemplate using the same methods to grab their attention but realize they may not see the sarcasm or the point.
Your friends leave you, or maybe you leave them. It doesn’t matter who initiates it, you realize it’s for the better. You seem to always talk about your kids and their families, about how they are progressing. Your friends don’t find it interesting anymore. It’s not gossip or naked celebrity pictures nor is it pseudo-intellectual. It’s too normal and too real, “not as cool as saying our friend is a chef,” they tell you.
Your romantic life becomes an overcast sky, pregnant with possibilities that you really don’t want raining on you. You go to the bar to scout for prospects, only to realize that you no longer are interested in men who aren’t as passionate about education or children as you are and end up cribbing about it to the person next to you. Soon you’ll be talking about your students and attracting raised eyebrows and dropped jaws from eavesdroppers as you mention, casually, that you have forty –one kids and three more will be coming in tomorrow. Before long you’ll be at the karaoke machine belting out, “The lion sleeps tonite…” in a drunken stupor. You’ll dream of animals that night, some of whom will morph into your students.
You wake up at 6:00 am the next day so you can get to school on time. You obviously indulge in self-deprecatory humour about attending school as an adult. You silently curse hangovers and every person who bumps into you that morning. Then your students filter in, dropping their backpacks, settling into their chairs and making honest observations about their surroundings and brutal observations about you. You see their carefree expression of love, anger, sadness and joy and all is well again. You become a clown, a dancer, an artist, an actor, anything to help your students learn. You become an expert at mime, you watch cartoons to wind down and salivate over coloured paper in stationary shops. You spend hours visiting homes, deciding toppings on ice-creams, scraping mud from faces after cricket matches, dancing, quite unfortunately, to Salman Khan songs, gasping at Mammoth tusks at the museum and sharing cheese crackers during lunch. You also become effective at making 7 lesson plans a day, catering to individual learning needs, eating from your colleagues’ lunch boxes, smooth-talking Ravi into giving you extra cups of “chai”, yelling at drivers during peak hour traffic and keeping your sanity.
On Friday nights you almost always are buried under a stack of student papers, wishing you had a life. And then you get a call from Anam Banu, a girl who struggled with English six months ago but who now tells you in perfectly constructed sentences that she is gorging on delicious desserts at her sister’s wedding and wishes you were there. Your heart melts, you beam with pride and you burn the midnight oil, and a few papers; accidentally, of course.