An ode to all school teach­ers who have dark cir­cles un­der their eyes

Hindustan Times (Patna) - Live - - Time Out - SONAL KALRA Sonal Kalra wants to be a school teacher in her next birth. A form of penance, but at least ev­ery­one would call her ‘maam’. Write to her at sonal.kalra@hin­dus­tan­ or face­­al­kalraof­fi­cial. Fol­low on Twit­ter @son­al­kalra

Bansuri baj rahi thi. Non-stop. And when Bansuri Chad­dha wails, there’s no sound on earth that can over­shadow its grav­i­tas. I tried play­ing mu­sic — the re­ally loud, night­club va­ri­ety. The wail­ing grew louder, as ex­pected. I fi­nally took a deep breath, and went over to the Chad­dha house. ‘How do you think cry­ing like a wolf in wilder­ness, and in­tro­duc­ing kids in the neigh­bour­hood to night­mares will help in any mat­ter that’s stress­ing you?’ I asked Bansuri. She looked at me with eyes that should have had tears, con­sid­er­ing the amount of cry­ing they had in­dulged in, but, well, there were none. “Shhh. Papa ne suna kya?” she asked. ‘The vol­ume at which you’re cry­ing, ev­ery­one’s papa in India should have heard you,’ I said. But then Chad­dha ji is dif­fer­ent. He doesn’t do what ev­ery­one does. I found him sit­ting in the ad­join­ing room, play­ing Su­doku. Just that he was fill­ing let­ters in place of num­bers, in the grid. ‘Your dil ka tukda is driv­ing the en­tire mo­halla in­sane with her cries, and you are busy turn­ing Su­doku into cross­word?’ I asked. “Rone do usko,” he replied, and shook his head wildly enough to have caused a mi­nor earth­quake. Mrs Chad­dha soon made her grand en­try and told me that the fa­ther-daugh­ter ar­gu­ment was about Chad­dha ji in­sist­ing that Bansuri takes up a teach­ing job in a pri­vate school, while the damsel was re­sist­ing it with all her might. ‘It is best for girls to do a teach­ing job,’ Chad­dha ji thun­dered. “A teacher’s job is not easy these days. Stay back kar­waate hain, ev­ery day,” Bansuri ji re­torted. I got out just in time to save my eardrums. For once, I agreed with Bansuri.

There was a time while I was grow­ing up, when it was con­sid­ered a premium in the marriage mar­ket (apolo­gies for all po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect terms, just stat­ing it as it was) if the girl was a school teacher. This was the pe­riod when the grooms’ fam­ily had pro­gressed from de­mand­ing a coy, home-lov­ing girl (with a God­fear­ing, pi­ous mother) to want­ing a ‘fi­nan­cial­lyin­de­pen­dent’ one. ‘If she wants to work af­ter marriage, we’ve no prob­lem. But it’s bet­ter if she is a teacher, so that she comes back in the af­ter­noon and takes care of the home’ – used to be the catch­phrase.

Rest as­sured, I was fas­ci­nated by my aunts who were school teach­ers – they were back home in time, all re­laxed and ready to ‘pre­pare lunch’. In front of them, the women who did a 9am-5pm of­fice job and got back home all has­sled and tired, seemed so luck-less.

Cut to present. Yes­ter­day, I met an old class­mate of mine who now teaches at a re­puted pub­lic school. “You have dark cir­cles un­der your eyes,” I joked. Didn’t re­al­ize it touched a raw nerve. ‘Just dark cir­cles? I have high blood pres­sure, panic dis­or­der and anx­i­ety is­sues too,” she said.

The next 10 min­utes were a bolt from the blue. I didn’t even know how badly, and sadly, the def­i­ni­tion of a school teacher had changed from the last time I checked. This friend of mine (she in­sisted I can’t men­tion her name or the school’s as if the mafia would go af­ter her or me) teaches a minimum of six 45-minute pe­ri­ods to grades eight and nine stu­dents. And has to stay back till 5pm ev­ery other day to cor­rect note­books and pre­pare as­sign­ments. And has to do bus duty twice a week – which im­plies ac­com­pa­ny­ing kids in the school bus till the last stop and en­sur­ing they are dropped-off safely.

And take ex­tra classes in what is called a ‘zero’ pe­riod that pre­cedes reg­u­lar school tim­ings. And has to pre­pare dis­play charts for no­tice boards on a weekly ba­sis for school in­spec­tions (she says she palms it off to ‘cre­ative’ par­ents). And has to pre­pare the stu­dents for – hold your breath – a dance per­for­mance for cul­tural func­tions that hap­pen ev­ery sec­ond month, in­clud­ing ar­rang­ing for their cos­tumes, makeup and ac­ces­sories.

Phew! She was such a bad dancer in her own school time that let­ting her get any­where near mu­sic is sac­ri­lege, but what­ever. “I reach home at 6pm, and I’ve not seen an off day in the past two months. We are not even al­lowed to sit dur­ing the teach­ing ses­sions. There are no chairs in the class­room for teach­ers, as a rule,” she said, re-ex­am­in­ing the dark cir­cles in the mir­ror.

Well, well. Don’t know what to say, but a teacher’s life – at least those who work in non­govern­ment schools – is just not what peo­ple per­ceive it to be. Not­with­stand­ing a re­cent court or­der that stated that non-teach­ing jobs in schools will not be en­forced upon teach­ers, a pri­vate school teacher con­tin­ues to be – a chore­og­ra­pher, a tour guide, a chart-maker, a can­teen co­or­di­na­tor, a cos­tume-ar­ranger, a trans­port man­ager – in ad­di­tion to, of course, teach­ing class­rooms full of 48-50 stu­dents and en­sur­ing that syl­labi get com­pleted de­spite usual va­ca­tions, smog va­ca­tions, re­li­gious va­ca­tions, ex­treme-weather va­ca­tions. Clap, clap. We are liv­ing amid su­per hu­mans, did you know?

Be­fore you ask me what’s the al­ter­na­tive, let me con­cede and tell you: I don’t know. Our ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture is noth­ing to be proud of. We have schools that are bustling with chil­dren, but are short­staffed. The prin­ci­pals can’t be blamed ei­ther. They not only have to deal with man­age­ment tar­gets, but also dis­grun­tled teach­ers and khunkhaar par­ents.

Khunkhaar sama­jhte ho? Ready to pounce, at the drop of a hat. Gaali mat dena yaar, I’m also a par­ent, and to­tally un­der­stand the need for con­cern for our kids. But the ag­gres­sion of some of the new-age par­ents is to be seen to be be­lieved. The other day, I went to my daugh­ter’s school to pick her up af­ter classes. The kids ran out as soon as the bell rang. “Itni dhoop mein hamare bachchey nikal rahe hain? We should talk to the Prin­ci­pal,” thun­dered a woman wearing Prada shades, stand­ing next to me.

I looked at her, then the kids who were hap­pily run­ning out, just as we would when we were kids and the school got over. Then I looked at the sky. Yes, there was dhoop. But I, hon­est to God, don’t know what the Prin­ci­pal could have done about it. Whether we like it or not, par­ents who whine about ev­ery­thing are a tremen­dous source of stress for the teach­ers.

In any case, teach­ers these days are not al­lowed to even scold kids, let alone dis­ci­ple them the way… err… we were dis­ci­plined. The kids, thank­fully, are as naughty, as kids should be. Ac­tu­ally even bel­liger­ent, know­ing that their dad or mom is wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to sue the school. Bechaare teach­ers. Pla­cate the kids, pla­cate the par­ent, pla­cate the Prin­ci­pal – and then hear rel­a­tives say they are in an ‘easy’ job be­cause they are just school teach­ers. Hats off !


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