I closely remember her thick black hair, wildly curled towards the ends. Her long loose kameez and cotton dupatta that would often get stuck to the corner nails of our withered wooden school desks.
Teja Ma’am, her only initial I remember, carried a broad mustard scale as she moved from one end of the class to the other, struggling to fit in between the rows made by our small class tables.
“You’d always be crying when you had to make a move to the school,” Mom recollects, snatching the photograph held between my painted fingernails. We’re warmly curled up in my bed, here in Shimla, looking at our old snaps.
“Do you remember this one? Tani?” she asks, further mentioning the inappropriate proportion of girls to the boys.
I look at the picture,
And look at it again.
Kinder Garten . Chapslee School. Lakkar Bazaar.
“Of course, I remember everything,” I think.
I grab the photograph from Mother and am unable to move my eyes off me.
Bottom row, first right of the class teacher.
“You could have smiled at least, no?” Mum questions while proceeding towards the kitchen.
She chuckles on her way. She knows I’m hearing.
I remember having cried every morning to school.
Cheenu, our neighbour’s son (whose nickname is the only thing I remember of him), was in a senior standard. I’m assuming he was coaxed to take the responsibility of dropping me to school every day.
At home, I pretended headaches and backaches and stomachaches, and everything else that my little brain knew about medical sciences but since Mum was already a doctor, nothing passed.
I had to go to the school.
Still, with no desire to give up, my next attempt would be to hold the railings of the staircase as we descended from our house in Jakhu Hills.
I’d have big tears in my eyes by then.
Cheenu would ferociously pull me towards the road, while I’d make all efforts to keep my grip tight.
People would often halt and enjoy watching my everyday scenes.
I’d only give up when my throat wouldn’t allow any more, or my legs began to tremble, or my fingers felt too weak to hold.
This photograph reminds me of the day when Teja Ma’am had smashed me with her wooden mustard scale. It hit so hard that the juncture of my eye remained swollen for the rest of the evening.
I was made to stand on the last bench, bruised eyed and stretched arms.
It changed the concept of a teacher for many coming years.
When I stood alone, at the back of the class, students did make fun of me, and I awfully missed Mother’s warmth.
I missed home.
It was a feeling whose definition I didn’t know then – Insecure, I’d say now.
I seldom think if Teja Ma’am reflects fear in my life?
Her wild wavy hair, and long loose kameez
Her shrill loud voice, and the stamp of her slap.
I was never beaten at home.
Then why was I not taken care of at school?
Just one girlfriend
All the boys seemed to be hooligans
And I felt petrified.
And that’s why I would cry every morning- hold the green cold railing while on our descent, scream of non-existent stomach aches, and shiver as I saw the mustard scale.
What else could Fear feel like, then?