Remember the time it was freezing cold and we all tumbled out of bed to be in class before 7 AM? When I used to crib about how your singing voices were my alarm clocks as you used to shower in the bathroom next door to my room? You used to make fun of me, that a teacher’s sacrifice is what makes students flourish, and I used to retort that I had already passed my 10th, thank-you-very-much.
Remember when I gave you inane topics to write essays on? The morning you wrote descriptive essays on classroom objects for me – a boxful of chalk, a streamer left behind from the last celebration, a whiteboard marker. How you cribbed about having to dig up 300 words on the mundane, the everyday. You asked if you could pass or skip this, or at the very least exchange with someone else because after all, greener grass and all. Of course I refused. After the customary cribbing, you pulled it together and rose to the occasion, truly embracing the spirit of descriptive writing. A few mandatory queries on the use of characters (no) and setting (no), a confirmation that you could only describe the senses (yes), and you were down to work. It was a treat that morning, watching as people sniffed chalk pieces and asked if they were safe to taste, just to get content to write for a classroom essay.
Remember when we went to Brookefields after your last exam? You girls wouldn’t let go of me. We ended up walking, four of us together shoulder to shoulder, down that corridor. I was constantly tripping over someone’s foot, bandage and all. One of you refused to let go of my hand, and only swapped at the escalator when another needed the support more. You wouldn’t buy it when I told you we were all going to the same place. And then, when we had a few minutes to spare as we waited for the boys, I pulled you guys into Hamley’s, a toy store like none you have ever seen before. I told you it was okay to try things out, touch them, and be a child. I sang out loud, along with the music, and you were caught between embarrassment and amazement. Could a teacher really behave like this? Would we get kicked out? Is it okay? I hope you learnt that day that we don’t ever need to silence the child in us.
Remember when you used to stay here on campus for IGCSE? The day when I left a dosa on my plate to go refill the chutney only to come back and see it was missing. One of your seniors had stolen it off my plate and was embarrassed beyond conception! How we laughed that night, to the point where you brought it up the day of your farewell, almost a year later. Or the day before one of your exams when you decided to play hide and seek (have I ever told you guys it fills my heart with such joy that you find hide and seek worthy of your time even in 10th grade? I don’t think my childhood lasted that long) and one of you shimmied up the pillar and onto the roof to stay out of sight? I couldn’t find the words for a few minutes but eventually, the teacher in me half-heartedly yelled at you to be careful and behave.
Remember when they announced that I’d handle Samacheer Social? I walked in to class and announced my ignorance, said I didn’t know what was happening, and started with what came easiest to me. Economics and then Civics and then Geography. History was dutifully avoided for as long as I could get away with it. I felt bad that day, questioned myself whether I should have proclaimed my ignorance like that, wondered whether it would negatively impact the confidence you had in yourselves and the school to prepare you for these all important exams. But a couple of you approached me that day and taught me to read the blueprint, showed me the websites to get the past papers, and held my hand as I learnt to teach you.
Remember when I sneakily got you guys to set questions from an article I wrote to give you a taste of the process? Or the multiple times you have asked me how much I got in my IGCSEs and A Levels? Or when one of you thought to Google me and spread the word? You would keep slipping it into conversation randomly, about how you know I do not belong here. One of you even asked me in the moment of lull in class. Why are you here, Akka, he said. When you are so multitalented, why? When you could be anywhere you wanted, why did you choose to be here? Why was it so hard for you to believe that I was here for you?
Remember when you guys published an article in the newspaper for the very first time? I sat in the room with you as you interviewed and took notes from the desk behind so you wouldn’t miss out on anything. The day it came out in print, I was happier than any byline has ever made me. I still have that article filed away with all my others. A few weeks later, one of you promised me that no matter what else you do in your life, you’d never stop writing. Today, at the interview with your new principal, you told her you wanted to study Literature and then do Journalism. I could hear my heart sing.
Remember when one of you came to me and asked if I have truly cried because of students at the school? Others have told us you cried, Akka, but we have never seen. Can you show us? I laughed you off and then realised it was true. Yours was the batch that never really reduced me to tears. Through two boards and five board papers, we have survived each other.
Remember when I was class teacher for you lot? Remember how you used to yell at me for keeping “boy glass” on top of “girl glass” and conversation would need to be cajoled out of you? One year later, we had to solve love spats and jealousy issues, teasing and bullying. In one year, you gave me a peek of adolescence itself, long before I had kids of my own.
Remember when you interrupted board exam mugging to ask, four of you, when it was that I was getting married? I laughed you off, and you asked if I’d invite you. I asked if you’d come, and you said you would if I got you tickets too. One of you even offered to come a week in advance to help me run around, though I was advised against it by your classmates. I’d go bankrupt just feeding you, they said. I told you it was the thought that counted.
Remember the time you asked if I’d be a member of the media on the day you make it big? You said you’d be a cricketer or a collector or someone worth knowing. You’d host a press-con and you wanted to know if I’d attend. Write good things about us, Akka, you instructed. When you become collector, all I need to do is show up, you said. You’d wave the crowd aside and make sure I had access to you immediately. Enge Akka nnu naan solren, Akka, you said. You’d make sure no hassle stood in my way.
Remember the time you spoke of how I was like a mother, massaging your hurting feet? I cried before you could finish that sentence. Remember when you texted me to ask what I wanted for a treat the day your results came out? I told you I didn’t want a thing. Remember when you thanked me after we got you admission? I smiled and waved you away, unsure of how to react.
Do you remember all the tiffs and battles and small victories? Do you? Really? Because I don’t. I remember some, I wish I could remember more, but more than anything, I remember a feeling. It is the feeling of being loved, of finding family, of experiencing impact, both given and received. It is of being someone and becoming someone, moulding another and being moulded by another. It is the story, like I once said, of how you made a teacher out of me. Remember?