As an English teacher these last two years, much of my time has been spent poring over adolescent notebooks correcting spelling and grammar. In the hurry to teach the difference between ‘advice’ and ‘advise’ what often got left behind on the wayside was the importance of punctuation. Every once in a while, I’d dedicate an hour to the comma or the quotation marks and that would be that. The class would go on, in the assurance of a continuation, a tomorrow.
On June 18th 2018, I lugged two massive suitcases out the door and left the door unlocked. For others to walk in and write their own stories. For someone else to study the particular patterns of the cement on the wall, wonder at the remnants of occupants past, make the space their own. I put a full stop at the end of my teacher-ing sentence. At least until I begin the next one.
For the last few days, I have been putting off writing this post. I was not sure what I would put down, where I would begin, which moments I would narrate. There were so many things this piece could be about. Which one should I choose? Until I decided to jump in with no answer. Perhaps the heart of this story, much like the heart of the last two years, lies in this chaotic multiplicity, this multi-stranded story, this bouquet of threads up for the asking.
This story could be about my students – the ones who visited on Sunday and witnessed the train wreck that was my room to give me farewell presents, the ones who called on Monday morning to wish me bon voyage, the ones who texted on Monday evening to check if I had reached safely.
This story could be about my colleagues, my fellow residential souls – the ones who procured a cake and cut it in my honour, hosting a cozy little “farewell” under our trusty Teachers’ Quarters Tree, the ones who cheerfully accompanied me on a final walk through town as I visited my usual haunts one last time as a “resident”.
This story could be about the physical space – the trees and the skies that truly showed me what the “real” green and blue look like, the buildings with their sloping roofs and the hills always just there, the dogs both hyperactive and lazy showing the rest of us what it means to just “do your thing”.
This story could be about habit and routine – the unspoken knowledge of showering order and laundry order in the Teachers’ Quarters, the confidence of who wants coffee/tea when we head to the bakery, the assurance that Saraswathi bus will leave at 6 PM and go till Gandhi Park.
This story could be about hindsight – the realisation of how natural red pens seem even as I sit at my desk in Chennai, far removed from any correction that may need to be done, the constant complaint of home food being over salted thanks to being acclimatised to another kitchen, the reflexive habit of setting the weather app to Anaikatti on my phone even when Chennai is what I ought to be worried about.
This story could be about my ‘lasts’ – meals and classes and goodbyes, drives and walks and everything in between. It could be about the moment on Monday morning when a colleague asked if I wanted tea, my usual denial only changing because it was “your last one”. It could be about Unit 7 Prose chapter of Samacheer Class 10 being the “last class”. It could be about goodbyes and teary eyes.
There is so much that this could be about. Yet perhaps it is most fitting to leave this incomplete, a random scattering of images and memories and stories of a time and a place that laid the foundation of the adult I have grown to be.
On June 5th 2016, I moved in to be a teacher. On June 18th 2018, I moved out. In the days in between, I have written stories and blog posts, and almost 60,000 words that no one else has read. Much has happened and even more will change. But one thing I know for sure – every time I hear the word ‘Akka’, one part of me will always turn around in recognition, and I will always expect a fifteen-year-old face full of interest, anticipating yet another tryst with elephants and English class.