When I was in school (St. Mary's Convent, Allahabad) there was no more fearsome teacher than Mrs. Roga. Every day she roared into school and parked her blue and white Vijay scooter under the portico. With her authoritative, husky voice she dominated my fears. I was glad never to have truly crossed paths with her.
So, when I found myself assigned to her classroom in the 9th, I was terrified. That year, my ninth year of school, had started out badly anyway. I was at an emotional low point and this seemed to be the last straw. I was actually quaking, my heart thumping as I walked into class. It was bad...perhaps even worse than I imagined. The only good thing was that I was so quiet I remained under the radar.
Then, we turned in our first essays. Apart from being our class teacher she also taught us Math and English. One lazy afternoon, when some other teacher was absent because of some illness, Mrs. Roga was letting us review some class work while she graded our English essays.
Her voice boomed like thunder, "Jawahara Saidullah. Who is Jawahara Saidullah? Stand up." I saw a few pitying glances and a couple of encouraging smiles thrown my way. My knees knocked together as I complied.
"Did you write this essay? Did anyone help you?"
"No miss. I wrote it." I squeaked.
"You write very well. This is the best essay in the class."
I looked at her in shock and barely registered the other shocked glances of my friends and classmates.
We formed a strange friendship, she and I. I sucked at math and she took math tuitions at her home. She ordered me to come to her house after school and tutored me for free for some reason, though my parents would have been happy to pay her. We discussed writing and books after the math tuition sessions. She continued to be the teacher that terrified most of my other classmates and I heard a few snide comments about our relationship. Some of my friends still cannot comprehend why I connected with her and they still hate her. All I know is, that she made me feel good about myself at a low point in my then-young life. She was not averse to giving me low marks when I slacked off but she continued to make me realize that writing was something crucial in my life and that I wasn't half-bad at it.
I kept in touch with her even after leaving her class, even after leaving school and until I was in Allahabad. But then, like many old relationships, we fell out of touch.
Now, as I contemplated my novel coming out I found my thoughts returning to her. I searched on the Internet and found a reference to her husband's passing and an email address for her family. A few months ago I sent a condolence email.
Someone from her family contacted me and I finally talked to her yesterday. Her son told me that his mom had become quite old and forgetful and I should be patient. I felt a sadness settle within me. Like some other elements from my past, would this be a more bitter than sweet experience?
Her voice sounded the same. She remembered me though she informed me that often old students came up to her and asked if she remembered them but she had forgotten names, though faces seemed familiar. "You know Jawahara," she said in her precise, crisp voice, "I've always remembered you." She had. She even remembered the last time we talked and reminded me of things I had forgotten. I told her she was instrumental in seeing writing as something more than just schoolwork, as a viable life-choice. She seemed pleased and asked me to keep in touch.
Here's to old teachers. May they be fierce, may they be demanding, may they call us stupid cabbages (she did)...and may they, above all, inspire us all.