Fourth Grade

“Ok, repeat after me – Mayur-sa-rini”, said Sona Singh. My own personal trainer, a classmate who Mrs Husain had appointed my keeper. Mrs Husain had no faith in my ability to learn English or Math or anything! Little did she know that I could read and write circles around Sona Singh! But I was a timorous soul. I gritted my teeth and repeated after Sona Singh –Mayur-sa-rini – as I died a little inside.

Fourth grade! The most nightmarish time of my life! I was seven then. Thirty years have gone by and the nightmare is as vivid as if I was only eight. I was new to Delhi. The hyper-activity, the cliques, the cruelty that my Delhi classmates inflicted on my seven year old person took me by such stunned surprise and shock that I don’t think I ever fully recovered. Perhaps it would have helped if I was nine years old like the others in my class, but I wasn’t. I found myself asking any sympathetic looking classmates questions like, “How do we draw a number line? How do we draw a Venn diagram?” They never helped me, they always laughed at me instead and cracked cruel jokes, mimicking my, “How do we..” any time they saw me approach.

I never raised my hand in class, never spoke, didn’t understand half the things that were being taught in Math and my personality underwent a sea change within two weeks of becoming a fourth grader at Frank Anthony Public School. I had no friends, I used to eat my lunch alone. I never turned in any homework or exam papers for fear of incurring Mrs Husain’s wrath in class and my parents disappointed anger at home. Math was my only problem but Mrs Husain thought I was below average in everything. The woman never once had a kind word for me. It was almost as if she wanted to further demoralize a kid who already was as low as she could possibly be.

I remember the time when I came into class and found my chair missing. It didn’t occur to me to simply drag another chair and sit down, as any other kid would have done, or to approach the dragon lady and tell her my problem. I was too beaten down to do anything and, resignedly, just sat on my tin attaché case that held my books, for at least fifteen days! My brother was my savior. He was in kindergarten then, in the same school. His classes used to be over at noon, after which he used to come and sit with me until my last period was over. We then used to go home together in the box rickshaw. He finally told my Mom, “Mummy! Didi doesn’t have a chair in class! She sits on her book box!” My Mom turned around from whatever she was doing and said, “WHAT?” I had never seen her more furious! She went to see Mrs Husain the next day and gave her a really angry piece of her mind, “How could you? Don’t you keep track of your students? Didn’t you notice she hasn’t had a chair for fifteen days? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?? I never would have known about this if my son hadn’t told me!” I was proud of my Mom then but also very scared because Mrs Husain was not going to let me forget this. She told my Mom, “She should have spoken up, she never said a word to me Mrs Mishra!” Then she bent down and tried to ask me, with feigned concern, “Why didn’t you say something child?” I just stared at her, scanning her frightening face as scared kids tend to do.
And sure enough she started to take it out on me. She started finding fault with everything. Ignoring me on the rare occasions that I did raise my hands to answer something. She never once gave me a pat on my back for my superb reading or spelling or writing skills. Instead she appointed Sona Singh and the real mean Tejinder Kaur as my guardians! She asked them to monitor all my homework and classwork in all subjects. She shamed me like no other seven year old has ever been shamed before. She made me the laughing stock of the class! She kept calling me to the blackboard during Math class, knowing full well I was completely lost. Never once did she try to help me or explain things to me.

I dreaded getting up in the morning to go to school. I hated the sight of the green blackboard, the smell of the corridors, the cigarette smell in the classroom from Mrs Husain’s chain smoking and my two “guardians” trying to teach me how to be a model student. I didn’t even have anyone to reach out to for complaints against bullies or kids who snatched my water bottle from me or tormented me in other ways. I used to hate eating my lunch alone, being so utterly friendless! And then there was Sarva Vellamuri who I considered a good friend but she ditched me mid-recess once, saying she didn’t want to spend it with me anymore. I remember sitting down on the bench, tear-filled eyes ready to overflow. But I didn’t want to be seen crying.

The nightmare was finally over with the final exams, which weren’t uneventful. My parents had bought me what we called a “pen-pencil” with which I intended to write my exams. But careless as I was, I dropped it, lost it during assembly. I had nothing with which to write. I went around begging for a pencil until Sarika Sharma, a real kind soul, gave me a little stump of a pencil. I wrote out all the answers and went home.

At home my Mom did a routine check of my things and asked me where my pen-pencil was. I told her I had lost it. She then asked me how I took the exams. I told her I borrowed a pencil. She knew I was too timid to ask anyone for anything and my parents didn’t believe I had taken the final exam for all of the fourteen days before the results came out. They fully expected me to fail and repeat fourth grade. Then the report cards came and I had managed to clear everything quite comfortably! The nightmare was finally over!

PS: I have met Sarva (on the net) and we’ve done 30 years of catching up via emails. What a way to find someone! By mentioning them in a blog account! She still seems like the good, stron-willed person I always thought she was. And the sad incident of my pitiful childhood can finally recede from the recesses of my brain.

3 Comments

  1. what a charles dickenesque like terror character mrs. husain seems… i am so relieved that she ain't no relative of mine. i would have hated her for doing this to my super friend (not that i don't hate her now!)… poignant, lovely, moving and so heart wrenching prags..

  2. Can't stop my tears.

  3. Your piece is simply superb as usual. One thing I felt was one can never realize what kinds of things go into the making of a person. The day a child is born it has its enemies born too. There may be no obvious and understandable reason for this. You came out with a beautiful exposition of troubled schooldays as a kid. You not only survived the unwarranted and inexplicable, rather despicable, onslaught but also refused to be affected by the horrific experience, except for the scars that it left on your soul's surface. Wonderful spirit and writing too.


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