16/12/2009 by Siddiqui Fayesal
It seemed like the first day of school and like all around him the 5 year old Rehan held on to his father’s hand just as hard as he was bawling. The brand new uniform, the blackened shoes, the snow white socks, the neatly pressed uniform, the smell of new paper and the touch of new pencil’s and maddeningly coloured erasers held no more comfort for little Rehan as he realized that he was being left alone with other people where he would ordinarily be beaten.
“You’re going to get beating from teacher” said a slightly round kid sitting at the immediately left of the door as soon as he entered. Rehan was not surprised to see the look of fear mingled with extreme shyness to openly react at those words in the eyes of the kid who held onto his fathers hand like it was his buoy to sanity and salvation towards the end of this painful nightmare.
He didn’t even stop and wonder why???Rehan allowed himself to be lead to sit on a single seater behind a guy with a burn mark on his hand who promptly turned around to say a “Hi” and
“My name is Karan. What’s yours?”
“Don’t listen to him Rehan. Parvez is only trying to scare you. Teacher is very nice. The teacher in B shouts sometimes.”
The teacher in B was incidentally his “tuition “teacher since day 1. He needed extra class for three whole months because he had joined school late. Later in the day he walked into class B and sat next to a girl. He sat next to her and was writing “BAT”, “CAT”, “MAT” and what not.
Rehan wondered now how the girl couldn’t feel the heat being generated by him. Because till this day he remembered he hadn’t felt so awkward before. C’mon it was his first time!!!
It brought a slight smile to his face and he would’ve carried on the episodes of his preparatory class until he saw the kid again. It was only now that he realized that the little boy was wearing glasses. It made him sad to think that so young a kid had to go through the entire routine of being called a “4 eyed”… just the way he had to endure day after day.
Rehan walked behind the little boy who was almost being dragged by a curly haired stout lady with a kind face. He saw that she wasn’t even shouting at him. On the contrary she was appeasing him so much so that it made the punk cry harder.
They went into the next class and the curly haired kind teacher called out to the other lady.
“Just read the chart there, beta”
The chart, light brown in colour, was at the other end of the wall and clearly visible on it, in large curvy handwriting, were words etched in black which said things like “Pat likes to sing”, “Hen lays eggs”, the works.
Rehan could read it but he knew that once he removed his glasses it’ll be as blur as it was on that day. Then he gingerly removed his glasses to read what it said and he felt a wave of embarrassment wash him down. Rehan still wondered how she found out that he had had problems with his eyesight.
The scene changed and with it brought another wave of embarrassment. It reminded Rehan how jumpy he was as a little kid. He remembered how things used to go wrong in his effort to do it “properly”. In his whirlwind, although sometimes, clumsy effort he made it difficult for the other person to comprehend his actions. His “help” often went wrong. It bought a sly smile to him now but even the smile was laced with wonderment, with confusion and with disappointment.
Rehan could see his teacher wearing a pink suit and a skirt reaching for the desk of a mousy haired and scared kid. He saw single sheets of paper lying on everyone’s desk. He saw a tall gangly dark kid touch a hard bound book with a tattered old blue cover while crossing himself. He saw some sharpening their pencils to a fine point and poking them to their cheek to validate it as “pointed”.
Suddenly the teacher exclaimed loudly, stepped backwards (stumbled was more apt actually) and tapped the scared kid on the head with her hand while taking the other to her lips. The kid tried to help the teacher by pulling out his pockets to show that he wasn’t hiding any “chits” inside. But he decided to help her at precisely the same time when she reached him and hit her full on her face. The professor’s face was a scary sight. The kid could’ve cried out if he wasn’t too scared to show his tears too. Her lips were bleeding and her eyes were streaked with madness. While his were earth drawn. A single rebellious tear finally rolled down to lightly splash on his exam paper.
It pained Rehan even now when he thought of this little scene. Somehow such things always remained with him. There were many happy memories but all he could remember were the sad, depressing ones.
Rehan, lost in thoughts, almost missed out the flights announcement. He had to almost wait another 10 minutes before he could hear it again. Not finding much change in the pattern he eased off in his chair and tried taking a nap.
He could remember episodes of his entire school life like a movie. He could pick out the characters he didn’t like and replace them with different people. Sometimes he could even remember even the dialogues which took place years ago like the one involving Parvez. But, he was confused, that he couldn’t remember the name of the person sitting on the far right of the northern window in his grade 2 class.
He wondered how these things worked. He knew that all those memories were deeply wedged somewhere in his head. He just needs the right tool to remove it. He was deep in thoughts when a little kid of 5 or 6 ran past him. He wore a spider-man tee.
Seeing him a very distinct memory jumped out from the canvas of his collage like a fresh melon seed. He was too old to be kneeling in front of a class of 60 students but that’s what he was doing. Gone was the extremely shy and quiet boy of the old. In his place was a big, heavy boy (fat, rather) with a kind face (etched with a perpetual smile). He was behaving like he was “Ol’ Spidey” and was pretending to be climbing the red and white walls while kneeling all the time.
The whole scene was being intently watched by the Hindi professor standing right behind him with a long, thin and “swishy” cane. Suddenly Rehan realized that the class was unnaturally silent and with this realization came with the swishing sound of the cane cutting through the air and making contact with his bottoms. The only thing he could manage to say to his professor, all the while shielding his behind was… “Ma’am… Arre ma’am what did I do?? I was just entertaining myself”. The class rang out a chorus of wild laughter while she chased him the length of the class.
The Hindi professor never made Rehan kneel again. His punishment from next time onwards was to just stand outside. There were more interesting anecdotes about those treasure troves too but Rehan couldn’t think beyond his “tingling rear”.
He was reading a passage from his literature book. It looked like a senior class. He was in the middle row and was seated on the 4th bench from the front. It was a paragraph from the 1st chapter of his text. It was an extract from “Whitewashing the Fence” by Mark Twain, or Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
Rehan never remembered reading so clearly in a class full of people. This was the first time he was actually standing up on his own and making people hear him. Even though he knew that the so called “people” had no other choice but to hear him it was odd feeling to be heard, he thought.
““…He was boat and captain and engine-bells combined, so he had to imagine himself standing on his own hurricane-deck giving the orders and executing them:
“Stop her, sir! Ting-a-ling-ling!” The headway ran almost out, and he drew up slowly toward the sidewalk.
“Ship up to back! Ting-a-ling-ling!” His arms straightened and stiffened down his sides.
“Set her back on the stabboard! Ting-a-ling-ling!””
“Son, you read pretty well. Have you thought of doing something in Public Speaking?”
“No, Sir. I haven’t thought of anything as such. Not yet, though.”
“You’ve got a good diction and that’s very important. Think about it”
“Surely, sir. Thank you.”
That was it. The first compliment he ever got. And that too in front of the whole class. Rehan walked with his head held high for the rest of the day.
The scene changed. He was still walking with his head held high but without the same freedom and alacrity he had felt a second before.. The sun was burning his nape. The sweat poured in torrents from his hairline to his collar. He was marching with a group of four more boys from his own class. The sunny field was dotted with many such small groups marching in various directions with a leader leading them on.
It was a highly uncommon if not an impossible sight to see a group of youngsters do this as it was not meant for 6th graders to be a part of the Road Side Patrol or RSP for short. Of course it had another name more common and more appropriate. Road Side Pigs.
Their leader, who they called Big Head, was a seriously wonky sort who had had problems adhering to the normal course of routine that more normal people followed with ease. He loved bullying guys into doing this stupid marching thing every Wednesday for a whole year. Non of the “toli”, as the group was called, had any guts to call him the nasty names (which changed every week) up front but it was a healthy, and not to forget, a totally acceptable time killer in the common room, a.k.a the boys loo, after every session of “The Moronic March”
Rehan remembered exactly how it had happened. Why did things go off routine for these 6 graders and they had to endure the marching for a whole extra year. Rehan and his two swimming buddies decided not to go swimming anymore. They collectively blamed and advocated throwing their teacher in the “deep” at the YMCA pool. But then… he was teaching them swimming so it made no sense.
All 3 of them started skipping their swimming classes and opted to play cricket or football on the field. But they were almost caught by the swimming in-charge once so they prepared a different POA. They hid in the toilet for the 1st 10 minutes of the period and then joined the games group. They chose the games group because they knew that the in-charge was a laid back type who didn’t care much about taking attendance every day. They played UNO or just sat a made jokes on everyone… until one day the swimming in-charge sent a senior to their class to actually find out if they were truly absent.
Well, that was the end of their “freedom from doom” days. They were taken to the vice-principal. Not a single word said. Not a single whipping on their backsides. Just a signature on the memo and BANG, they were to spend their Wednesdays for the next three years driven to suicide under the “Big Head” doing RSP.
“What the hell you smiling about, eh? I wasn’t even here.” Rehan was shaken out of his happy stupor by his angelic wife with the extra baggage she carried with her perpetually since a long time. Rehan’s smile grew wider he jumped up hugged his wife longer than was expected by Ayesha.
Rehan knew he wouldn’t be able to explain how far he had travelled in the course of an hour. Maybe later.
“Nothing. I was just thinking about you.”