A few weeks ago, I was invigilating a mock board exam paper for the class 9 students. As the exam wound up and I collected everyone’s answer papers, one of the girls told me “I’m sorry I couldn’t put your name Akka, but I didn’t have enough words to spare.” I evidently must have looked puzzled because she was quick to clarify. “Look at my essay and then you will know,” she said. Obviously, I did.
One of the essay questions in the paper was a letter to a friend describing something “new” that one had done in the recent past. What did you feel at that moment? Would you want to do it again? I had students writing about imaginary paragliding expeditions and organising charity events. There were a couple of pieces on volunteering and social work. There was, however, one piece that made me smile a little bit wider. A girl in my class had written about how she recently got published in The Hindu and that was the latest Big Thing in her life. I felt happy, she wrote, and of course I want to do it again – I want to be a full-time journalist.
A few weeks later, I used one of my articles that seemed conducive for a comprehension exercise in class (a feature on a radio station run by blind RJs that you can find here). They groaned and moaned through the exercise and soon it was done, and at least in my mind, long forgotten. Yet evidently not. Three days after this exercise, a senior teacher (mother of said girl incidentally) came up to me and said her daughter had now made up her mind to write, so could I please help her? I told her I would see what I could do.
Last Monday, I tried my best. The two hours that followed blew my mind. I sat the girl down and asked her why she wanted to write.
Why do you want write, ma?
I like it, Akka.
Okay, but why do you like it?
It makes me happy.
What about it makes you happy?
I want to tell stories, Akka.
What stories do you want to tell?
My stories, Akka.
What are your stories?
Akka, if I become a journalist, I will be the first girl to do so in this place. That story, Akka. My story.
Needless to say, I was adequately pleased. Had she said she wanted to write because of the high of seeing her name in print, I would have hesitated just a second, but this here? This thirst to put words on paper and weave a story? That I understood.
So we sat. And we brainstormed. What did we want to call it? What did we want to write about? At what frequency would we post? Who would read this? We sat and made lists and curated them. We picked chits and stopped just in time to ask what our hearts willed them to be. We decided we would blog. We discussed the power of stories and the art of writing. She asked me questions – who is your favourite author? What is your favourite story? Which did you enjoy writing the most? Finally, as she nonchalantly packed her things to head home, she said something that shook my very core.
I want to have as many stories as you do when I am your age, Akka. And I want you to have more. I never used to like English. Even as a child, my mother had to prompt me for every letter of the alphabet. I used to lie to get away from essay homework in school. I never read the newspaper, never cared for the language. Today, I want to be a journalist. You have changed the way I think of a subject. But Akka, you please don’t become a journalist all the time. Who will teach us English then?
Today, the blog went live.
Thank you for the way my breath caught in my throat that moment. For teaching me in one casual exchange as you bundled your books into your mud-coloured school bag, the magnitude of what the classroom offers. For not being deferential. Instead, the strength of your words was rooted in how matter-of-fact you were. Thank you for reminding me, following a few weeks of worrying about the ways of the world, that there are moments of gratitude and thankfulness so close to home if only we stop to savour them. Thank you for letting me be me in the classroom, and telling me without realising it that that is good enough, and I am doing just fine. When I began this journey, I set out with idealistic notions that I would make a difference, no matter how small. Thank you for hinting that I might have made a dent on this all-too-dreamy plan. You see, sometimes you are the teacher.
(Her blog, The Girl in the Hills with Stories to tell, can be found here. Please do spend a minute every once in a while and read what she has to say. I’ve promised to pass on all the love and good will that comes her way.)