It was the day of the oral test in class 3rd. The class teacher’s name was Nandita Kumar. We had just come back from the school assembly and were talking among ourselves. We were excited as well as nervous at the same time. Soon the oral test began. The teacher started calling us one by one according to the class roll number.
Soon my turn came. I was a very shy student. There was a poem of tortoise and elephant which had to be recited. I went in front of the teacher and stood silently.
“Are you prepared?” asked the teacher.
“Yes”, I told her.
“Then start”, she said.
I just stood silently and said nothing.
“Do you know the poem?” she asked again.
I nodded in affirmative.
But nothing came out of my mouth.
“Do you know the poem or not?” she asked raising her voice.
I again nodded in affirmative.
She waited in anticipation. But I could not say anything.
Finally she lost her patience. She pulled me by the tie and slapped me three times and told me to go back to my seat. The students were startled and their murmur came to a halt.
I came back to my seat, my cheeks were red and my head was down. I was feeling very ashamed. The other students of the class just watched in silence.
Soon the test was over. I was the only one in the whole class who got slapped in the oral test. My friends had done well. Needless to say I was disappointed. I was just a class 3 student and it was the first time I tasted failure in my life. When my turn came I somehow forgot the very first line of the poem and became silent. I had crammed the poem well in advance but forgot the very first line and the whole effort went for a toss.
When I reached home, my mother obviously asked about the test. I dodged the topic and went to play with my younger brother. My parents were not at all strict. I was not afraid of my parents but I started fearing my teacher after that day. That incident got imprinted on my mind.
It was only when my parents went to a parent-teaching meeting they got to know about the incident. The teacher had given me zero marks in the oral test. When my parents reached home, my mother smiled and hugged me.
After that incident Nandita Kumar changed my seat and made me sit with a girl named Neha. In the 3rd class the class teacher herself used to teach all the subjects. There was not a separate teacher for different subjects. The days passed in the usual manner. Initially I used to keep quiet for most of the time. I was so shy that sometimes in the whole day I used to speak only during attendance.
Slowly I started making friends. I talked mostly to boys. My interaction with girls was very limited. I also started taking interest in sports.
One day an English class was going on. Mrs Nandita Kumar was teaching a literature chapter. Suddenly she caught me and Neha talking and laughing. She became furious. She shouted and threw a piece of chalk at us. We were surprised. The whole class became silent. We were made to stand up.
“What are you discussing?” Mrs Kumar asked.
We kept silent.
“A class is going on and the two of you are having a discussion among yourselves”, she remarked furiously.
We could not speak anything.
“What were you two laughing about? Tell us the joke so that we can also laugh”, she told us.
We bowed our heads.
“Are you listening or not?” she asked ,this time in a louder voice.
Neha and I were struggling hard to find a word to speak.
She excused Neha as she was caught for the first time and told her to sit down. This also proved that she was partial towards girls.
Now I was left standing alone. I was trembling with fear. Mrs Kumar told me to come near. As I was walking towards the blackboard I was expecting a slap. She made me to sit down on my knees. For a moment I felt relieved as just sitting on knees was not much of a problem. But this was not to be. She told me to read aloud the whole chapter from the beginning which she was teaching.
I started reading. I started off well and confidently. But soon my voice started quivering. My knees were starting to hurt. My mouth became dry and I was in a state of discomfort. I was expecting some sort of relief but I got none. I was waiting for the period to get over. Mrs Kumar told me to keep on reading. I was reading and the whole class was listening. Finally after some time Mrs Kumar asked me to stop.
“Hope you have learnt your lesson?” she asked.
I just silently nodded.
“Don’t ever repeat the mistake again”, she exclaimed.
“Go back to your seat, idiot”, she said.
I got up and came back to my seat. This was the second time when I was left embarrassed in front of the whole class. I remained almost quiet for the rest of the day.
When I came back to my home my mother sensed that something was wrong. I was not cheerful that day. I told my mother about the incident and also how the teacher was partial to the girl.
More days passed. Mrs Kumar used to slap even at the slightest provocation. She was very much partial towards the girls and most of the girls of the class shared good rapport with her. She was strict towards the bad performers and underdogs of the class.
The first term exams were over. I secured a rank of 19th in a class of 40 students. There was a girl named Yachna who came 1st in the class. She became Mrs Kumar’s favourite student.
I was very much afraid of Mrs Kumar. She was the teacher whom students feared the most.
One day during the class Mrs Kumar gave a certain task to all the students. She gave a reading comprehension and the students needed to answer a set of questions based on it. As students tried to complete the task, she was walking in the class to keep vigilance. I was also trying my best to answer the questions. I was writing with one hand and with the other hand I was trying to hide my answers so as not to let my partner cheat. When Mrs Kumar came near me, she became angry.
“What are you trying to do?” she asked.
Before I could answer, she spoke again.
“What are you trying to hide, is there a test going on? Can’t you help your friend?” she blurted out.
“Ma’am...I was just....”, before I could complete the sentence she landed a hard slap on my head.
I was shocked. My partner started laughing on me. All the students of the class also started laughing. This was the third incident when I was ashamed. I tried to focus on the task but in my mind I was unable to do so.
That day I went home and cried my heart out. I hugged my mother who wiped off my tears. I told her about the incident and told her that I won’t go to school ever again. My mother consoled me and told me not to worry and assured me that everything would be fine.
I started hating my teacher. I started hating my school. Every morning I would think twice before going to school. I would come in the class and then only wait for the day to get over.
I could not understand the reason why she despised me. I was certainly not a trouble maker. I used to keep quiet. I was not at all mischievous. I had only few friends and was not talkative.
From her appearance Mrs Kumar looked like a stern lady. She was not that young and had wrinkles on her face. She wore spectacles and had short boyish hair.
There were few months left for the year to get over. I used to comfort myself in the fact that she was quite old and may die soon and therefore I need not worry. It may sound funny now but it was the only consolation for a 3rd standard student.
Time progressed and months passed by and as the saying goes-time heals, soon the 3rd class was over. Students gave the final exams and were promoted to 4th class. I was particularly happy and the reason was obvious.
Slowly I forgot about Mrs Kumar. The next year passed very fast. Many things had changed. I was now enjoying my time in school. I had more friends now. We had started writing with pen instead of pencil. In the 5th class there were different teachers for different subjects. To my horror Mrs Nandita Kumar was back as my English teacher in class 5th.This I had never imagined would happen. On the first day itself I started sweating in her presence and my heart beat increased. I knew that she would not leave any excuse to scold me. She distributed the class in the groups of five students each. She selected one student as a representative from each group. After that she assigned a certain portion of the chapter of English literature to each group. The students had to read the portion, comprehend it and discuss it among themselves. After that she would ask questions from each group. She could ask anyone to answer the question and not necessarily the representative. She gave us some time to complete the task and left the class. I knew I was doomed. After some time she came back and started asking questions from each group. Some of my friends answered well and she was impressed. My confidence was already shattered. Soon our group’s turn came.
“What did the captain suspected?” she asked the question from the English literature chapter.
“Ma’am, sorry I don’t know”, answered the representative.
Next my turn came. I stood up and before I could answer anything, she remarked, “This boy leaves his tongue at home and come, what can he answer.”
The whole class started laughing. I just stood there silently and waited for the period to get over. When the bell rang I felt relieved.
Somehow days passed and even years and I forgot about Mrs Kumar. Mrs Kumar despised me for being so shy, introvert and sensitive, the same qualities which many teachers afterwards appreciated in me. As the years passed, I started gaining more confidence which was reflected in my academic performance. After the 5th class, mostly teachers liked me. In classes 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th I was constantly among the toppers of the class. I had become a favourite student among the teachers. The teachers even used to discuss about me in staff rooms. The graph of my academic performance was constantly going up, day after day and year after year. Whether Mrs Kumar was aware of my achievements or not, it can’t be surely said. But Mrs Kumar underestimated me. She surely underestimated my abilities and intelligence. Up to class 5th no one knew about me. I was such a dark horse that no one could say that I too can do well. I used to be praised in all the parent-teacher meetings by my teachers. Students used to take my notebooks for completing their homework. My friends used to call me often to seek advice regarding studies. I was in the top three students of the class continuously for five years.
I had not seen Mrs Kumar in years. Mrs Kumar was a primary teacher and primary classes were on the third floor whereas secondary and senior classes were on the ground and first floor. When in the 12th class I along with my friends, after a games period, went to the third floor to drink water, I saw Mrs Kumar coming from the other side of the corridor. I was busy laughing and joking around with my friends. When Mrs Kumar crossed me, our eyes met. There was a sense of wonder on her face. She smiled a little and it was apparent that she recognized me.
The schooling days got over and everyone moved on with their lives. The school days had given me enough memories to be nostalgic. Years later, even after completing college, when Facebook gave everyone a platform to reconnect with people from the past, I sent Mrs Kumar a friend request. She recognized me, accepted the friend request and messaged me-‘Though I was your teacher in the school but it was you who taught me a lot.’