April 1st 2018.

Today is April 2nd. Meaning yesterday was April 1st. And other than the annual spate of weak April Fool’s jokes that flood our internet, it was a day of rather intense realisation for me. If yesterday was April 1st, it meant that I was exactly two weeks away from the official end of my last term as an ESL teacher here. What.

You see, in reality, I am here till June, prepping the next set of my kids to take the IGCSE ESL exam, and so my eyes were set on a June finish line. Until I realised with a bam that I teach about 70 kids regularly. For the 26 kids in Grade 8, given I have started teaching Social Science as well, one-third of their timetable is with me. And for all but eleven of these seventy kids, the summer vacation is in two weeks. And with that comes the end of my classroom. What.

Now if you have the rational logical mind of my father, I know what you will say. I can almost hear his voice in my head saying “you knew this was coming, right? Of course April 13th-14th is two weeks from April 1st. Why is this a surprise?” Let me try to delineate the very scattered, very hurried thoughts bouncing around my head for space right now:

  • There are printed worksheets in my corner of the staff room that I may never be able to teach because I don’t have enough time. That means my grand plan of using HONY to teach summary writing and identifying a story will go unused.
  • For the last year and then some, I’ve been welcoming in a new month by calculating the Class 9 attendance. It was drudgery, something we’d all crib about as another month drew to a close. This morning, as I filled in April 2018, I realised the attendance for the next Class 9 will have someone else’s initials on it, and I won’t pause my breakfast to check on who was absent for the day. Okay then.
  • These last few days, when everyone was enjoying a long weekend, I was taking a couple of hours of class every day. On Saturday morning, I was being lazy and whiny. I wanted to sleep in, not teach gerunds and sentence patterns. So I got up, showered, and threw something on to class. My personal form of rebellion was not wearing kajal. I had not been in class for a full two minutes before a boy in Class 9 interrupted me. Akka, are you not well? You look a little sick. He didn’t realise it was all in the kajal, but he knew something was not right. Do we “busy, fast-paced adults” have time to check on each other, for the small moments like this?
  • The very first week I joined this school, I struggled to realise that “may I come in, Akka” was addressed to me. Today, I caught myself keeping an ear out for the call and nodding without as much as looking up from the answer script I was correcting. How quickly mannerisms have become second nature and how quickly the scripts will have to be rewritten.
  • Red pens probably don’t have reason to be in my bag anymore.
  • For the first time since 2012, I won’t have a classroom to look forward to with any kind of regularity. What does that feel like?
  • The odds of me waking up to peahens in my front yard and hills covered by mist is falling faster than the hair I’ve lost to Anaikatti water. And my favourite tree? That one around the corner past Arnatkaadu, on the way to the Biosphere? That won’t really be around the corner any more. With that, my Instagram spam shall stop too, promise.
Favourite Tree
Can you imagine how much she has stood witness to?

Oh I could go on. Another minute spent staring at that list will see the addition of something else. My brain is on an overdrive of preemptive nostalgia and recording memories-too-fleeting. But in the middle of all this noise, I do know this. My time here has made me a stronger person. I have learnt far more from my classroom and my colleagues than I had any hope of teaching. I heard stories of lives far removed from mine and saw lives of resilience and sheer will play out every single day. Some of my colleagues have become role models, some of my students have become reminders of everything that Can Be. In a folder within a folder within a folder of my laptop, I have a document of material thusfar unpublished, and those 50,000 words bear witness to the journey that this has been.

I joined here fresh out of college to “get the field work to back up my degree in Development.” It has turned out to be so much more than a job. Amidst the moments of angst about mark sheets and board exams and way too many red pens used were periods of deep learning. Even as I realise that the school’s story will go on while mine gets written on a tangent, I will forever be thankful for the chance phone call that became my first job. What five years of academic engagement couldn’t give me, two years in the hills did – a daily reminder of perspective and privilege that will stay long after the marker ink on my fingers fade off.

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Chaperoning to Bhopal, checking privilege

This is coming close on the heels of writing a 2700-word account of this trip for my own records, so here is hopefully an attempt to summarise the true crux of all those words and all those days into bite-sized nuggets for the internet.

If I had to choose one overarching theme for the eight days we went away, it would be privilege.

On Dec 9th, a group of four teachers, the principal, and twenty-two kids (class 9) set out from the school to make the long, long journey all the way to Madhya Pradesh. We were to get off at Itarsi and spend a couple of days at Hoshangabad before moving to Bhopal and the places around the capital. We got back on the night of the 17th. For all the kids, this was the longest they had ever travelled. For many, this was the first time on a train. And while the next eight days was filled with a lot of excitement and learning for them, it taught me just how deep privilege truly runs.

The way we explore the city – I love travelling, and over the last year, I have made sure I travel a lot. And yet, my preferred mode of travelling is more wandering than travelling. (More on that here). On this trip, we checked off a lot of boxes. When the choice presented itself between skipping something because we were dog tired and pushing ourselves that tad bit more, we pushed like I never would have alone. And then it struck me that my wandering came from the confidence that one day, I could be back here. That reassurance is privilege.

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Sanchi Stupa, December 14th

The food we ate – We had warned the kids before we left. There will be a lot of roti and aloo, we said. And we shall have to make do. Once again, I automatically used my own travel as a benchmark. I am far from a fussy eater and usually make do with whatever is at hand. And then there was this trip. Even if they did not complain, they’d rather not eat than to eat theplas and all of them were initially quite baffled by the concept of jeera rice and palak paneer. With that came the second realisation. The tongue is just like any other muscle in the body. It needs exercising to be used to certain flavours and textures. And that exposure is privilege.

The ideas we recognise – During our brief layover in Chennai, we drove past Nehru Stadium and one of the students asked me what that was. I told him the name. He asked me what a stadium was. In the heat of the moment, I gave him a rushed, but-this-is-obvious explanation. No amount of excuses of fatigue and tiredness takes away from how ashamed I am of my arrogance. Many hours later, better rested and calm, I realised he had no way of experiencing a stadium, even second-hand. He asked me what they do there, I told them it is for play. I thought it was obvious. What is obvious though, is the school playground. Nothing more. Access to infrastructure even from a distance (and the vocabulary to describe it) is privilege.

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Bhimbetka Caves, December 13th

The notions of hygiene and cleanliness – As teachers on an outstation trip, all of us doubled up as parents too. We were constantly behind the kids to wash up, not put their feet up, don’t pick that up, what have you. And sometimes, their behaviour baffled us. How could such seemingly basic habits of cleanliness elude them? Until my principal pointed out something quite straightforward. Where would they have learnt? Having adult role models to emulate is privilege.

On this trip, we visited Hoshangabad, Sangakheda, Adamgarh, Bhimbetka, Bhopal, Sanchi, Udaygiri, and Vidisha. We took a train from Coimbatore to Itarsi and then back from Bhopal to Coimbatore via Chennai. We saw lots and spoke lots. The kids bought souvenirs enough to send my accounts-keeping abilities into a tizzy. Yet my greatest lesson was this. Every instance of our experiences are influenced by privilege. Literally the very least we can do is be cognizant.

PS – Forgive the generic travel pictures. Didn’t take pictures of food and trains!

Reminders of doing something right.

There is a warm glow that threatens to overwhelm everything in you when you see living, breathing proof of having done something right. It is quite the feeling.

It was a rather dreary evening yesterday and I sat trying to get most of a script adaptation done for Annual Day (coming up!) before a nagging headache got the better of me. Just as I was ploughing through lines and seeing how to best edit them, I saw two people walk in. The day instantaneously got better. Two of the graduating class (joined 11th in a different school, wrote IGCSE English in May-June) walked in, dressed in their new avatar of tracks and a grey t-shirt. Sports dress, Akka, they explained sheepishly, even as their body language showed that they had grown comfortable in this space. For the next hour or so, one of them spoke to us and every word taught us that we were doing something right.

She first opened with how she thinks she has been nominated for something, she is not sure what. Or maybe they were talking of nominating her? She does not know. When asked what this “this” was, she said “some SPL something, Akka, I don’t know.” I was not sure how to respond to the naivety appropriately. A month after commuting to the suburbs of Coimbatore every day to only the second school some of them have been to in their lives, here she was saying she was on the list of probable for SPL (we then broke down the concept of Student Pupil Leader and houses to her). She told us how other products of the school were making their mark as well – Student Parliament Vice President and Lingua Conclave Vice President to boot. She spoke of how they were preparing for the zonal team for shot put, how she asked to be included in javelin too, and how she told them she did not know how to swim even though she knew the basics just so that “I can learn properly from the beginning, Akka.” She showed us that the kids we had spent years moulding and then months worrying about had grown into their own people, self-assured and confident, with the same unquenchable thirst for learning.

She told us how they had all created a good impression amongst the new teachers, about how our kids always did their homework and were the first to answer questions. The quieter of the two then turned to me – Akka, here I was the quiet one, there I am the only one who speaks! She remembered how the Principal had seen red rice in her lunch box and congratulated her for standing apart from her peers and eating healthy. She said her friends had seen an old notebook of the school that she uses as a rough notebook, noticed the aerial picture on the cover, and wanted to know why she had left such a “big, beautiful school.” She laughed about how classmates had asked if she copies in exams and when they were told that none of them did, their response was how they came from a “good school, ya.” (On an aside, when these kids were writing pre-boards and mountains of correction were threatening to overwhelm the teachers, we would hand over the question paper to them. They’d administer it themselves in pin-drop silence, time themselves, and hand over completed answer papers with absolutely no need for invigilation. Copying? Pffbt.) She pulled out a flyer from her bag for a science Olympiad in the city on Sunday and asked if she could use my phone to ask them what it was all about – how could she register, did she have to participate through a school, where was it being held? She said they were all participating in the English elocution on Wednesday, and she wanted to research if NEET was good or bad. I will be back on Sunday, Akka. I want to interview a few people for their opinion. I am working on some questions.

But of all the stories and laughter and pride that filled the room yesterday evening, there was one that stood out for me hands down. She told me how her English teacher had written two sentences on the board and claimed only one was right. The sentences used the If I were/If I was forms and the teacher said the first was right. Now grammatically, the truth is that both are, and correctness depends on what you want to express. ‘If I were’ is subjunctive, speaking of things that are not true in the present, while ‘if I was’ refers to things that were true at a past time. ‘If I were President/Prime Minister, I would do things differently’ versus ‘If I was asleep, I wouldn’t have picked up your call.’ Except my win yesterday was not that the girl knew the difference between the two. That is a specific detail of English grammar that is easily taught. Yesterday’s win was how she dealt with that situation.

My English teacher said only ‘If I were’ is correct, Akka. I got up and said that it is wrong. She told me to go research and let her know why I think so, but I told her I can explain it there itself. I told her that both ‘was’ and ‘were’ were past tense forms of the verb ‘to be,’ that ‘was’ is for ‘am’ and ‘were’ is for ‘are’. I told her that ‘I’ is singular and ‘are’ is plural, so ‘I were’ cannot be correct. It has to be ‘I was’ only, no Akka? I explained it nicely only, Akka. The teacher did not say anything at all.

That day’s win was not about knowing or not knowing the subjunctive mood. It was not knowing that ‘to be’ is a verb, one as irregular as they come, and all the simple tense forms it takes. It was not anything to do with English language teaching at all. That day’s win was this girl and her ability to articulate what she believed, her thought process and her logic. It was how easily she was able to stand up for what she believed is right, the same strength that drove her to refuse the friends who asked her to let them copy. It was the fact that these children, who grew up in our classrooms, have no concept of the baggage that usually comes with authority, the resulting hierarchies and fear. It is the rightful assumption and ownership of their ability to think independently, not buying every word that they are told. It is the ability to question, raise objection respectfully, and be willing to converse.

When she first walked in to the Principal’s office yesterday and noticed me sitting in a corner, she reached out to give me a hug. Given that I had not been at school the last couple of times she dropped in, it was the first time since the last board exam that we were meeting. I miss you, Akka, she said. A few minutes later, talking of how she was largely enjoying her new school, she went quiet for a minute and looked down at the black tracks that had taken the place of the red-and-green salwar. I miss this school.

This school misses them too, I told her, and I meant it. For an hour yesterday, an old student came and told us about her new life. She told us her stories and experiences, asked us her doubts and clarifications, and through it all, she reminded us that we had done something right.

Attempts at being Strict Akka

Someone told me recently about how she always wanted to be a teacher but didn’t think she should. “I’m really not much of a disciplinarian,” she confessed. “I wouldn’t know how to handle the classroom.” I told her she shouldn’t let that one risk stop her from the classroom if that is really where she wants to be, but behind that façade of confidence, it got me thinking.

When I first walked into the sixth grade class in June 2016, everyone warned me. The class is a handful, they told me. You should be careful. Be firm the very first day. Show them that you mean business. Don’t let them think they can get away with things under your watch. Set the tone. Be the strict teacher.

All the pressure left me a rather nervous mess as I walked in that day, and in the months that has followed, this is a situation I have been dealt with time and again.

How do you remain firm without being distant? How do you make sure there is some direction to the classroom without being dictatorial? How do you straddle the line between facilitator and teacher, for want of better distinctions?

Every once in a while, students of class five will find their way to me and promptly set off on a steady stream of complaints. Akka, he is beating me. Akka, she is calling me names. Akka, I am class leader but no one is listening to me. Akka, I was asked to write names down of the people talking but they tore up the paper. Akka, Akka, Akka. The list is endless, or at least it definitely seems that way, and every time, I inevitably find myself stuttering a little bit. If you are the leader, you need to be able to handle them, I tell a ten-year-old, even as I head towards the class to figure out what is going on. Against a background score of ‘Akka is coming!’ and a mad dash to sit in their places, I hear myself and I know I sound facile. Or am I just pushing their limits? Where does the difference lie? Sigh.

Day before yesterday, in the middle of class, one of the girls in the eighth grade said she felt a little weak and shaky. A minute later, she said she wanted to lie down, another minute passed and she said she was feeling faint. Before I knew it, she was slumped over a desk and I was the teacher in charge. In the minute before I reached her, my mind was on overdrive. I was the adult in the room, I reminded myself. I was meant to fix this. The next ten minutes was a little bit of a high pressure situation involving the girl lying on my lap, sipping water, and eventually being carried over to the office for glucose and a flat surface to lie down on. In a few minutes she was more than okay and eager to come back to class, but in those few minutes, the teacher and the taught switched places yet again.

Everyday crises are a part of the job, and perhaps in those moments more than any other, I am reminded that I am seen as an adult. It is in those everyday crises that I grow, that I learn, that I truly occupy this space I have chosen for myself.

Grade cards that speak volumes

There is just something about pure, unadulterated happiness. It lights up the room like a starry sky; all encompassing, thorough, blanketing. This morning, as I sat surrounded by teary eyes and grinning faces, I saw happiness in its purest form; selfless, honest and true. This morning amidst the hugs and joy and congratulations, I was reminded of a powerful thing.

Even in this cynical, unhappy, much-too-busy world we inhabit, there are some moments that are not about us. Even at a time when we are taught to look out for ourselves (because who else will, really) and ‘compete or perish’, there are some who seek their happiness outside. Even on bad days and sad days and mad days, there are things that are just…good. Today was a reminder of those people and moments that are good, that are unquestionably bigger than us.

Ever since I joined the school ten months ago, I have often been asked whether my students learn, if they are able to ‘cope’, whether they can grasp what London folks set on them. Why would a rural school for first-generation learners of the local tribes want to get affiliated to IGCSE, people wonder. The more brash amongst them phrase that in far more offensive ways, and each of those conversations become a test in composure and communication. The bias lies in the adults, I explain. If we set high standards for them, they reach and stretch and bend themselves backwards, but they get there.

Over the last ten months, this blog has been filled with stories from inside and outside my classroom, illustrations of the children I teach and all that they teach me. Today, they showed the world.

Over the course of December and January, our tenth grade kids wrote the first set of Edexcel IGCSE exams for Math and Science. Yesterday, we got a packet with the results. Today, we called a senior school meeting and announced them. Every child passed with admirable grades, each one pushing beyond their personal barriers to surpass the targets they had set for themselves. Each one did better than our dreams, being graded on par with children from all over the world and emerging on top of it all. Each one showed the world that it was possible to study in a rural school in the fringes of Tamil Nadu, and get a glowing certificate from London.

As the announcement was made though, I wasn’t looking at the students. My eyes rested on the teachers. When she heard that all but one student had made the highest grade in Math, the teacher’s expression was a mixture of disbelief, pride, and just plain relief. Her eyes welled up even as her face split into a grin. Next to her, the Chemistry teacher could barely hide her shivering hands, responding to every congratulatory pat with “their future is in their hands, I am glad I could help.” The Biology teacher, down with chicken pox, brushed off any query on how she was feeling the minute she heard results were announced. “Tell me again,” she kept asking. Senior teachers, those who had seen these children from primary school, sat down in the relief, their eyes welling up as the stress and fear of the many months that had passed threatened to overwhelm them. “I haven’t slept for nights worrying about our children,” they sighed, every sinew in their bodies relaxing, basking in the news. On every teacher’s face, there was a lightness, a brightness, a sheer happiness. For everyone in the hall that morning, the joy lay outside.

For everyone who asks me about the school and why every day is a reminder of how I made the right choice, I wish I could show you that moment. I wish you could have seen the hall this morning. You would have seen teachers holding each other as emotions threatened to overpower them. You would have seen students wiping their eyes as tears rolled down their cheeks. You would have seen relieved smiles crawling over the faces, teachers and students alike, as everyone pinched themselves to realise it was all true. But if you stayed on a few minutes, you would have seen something else. You would have seen students come up to me, a teacher of neither Math nor Science. You would have seen me congratulate them, squeeze their hand in pride. You would have seen them smile their thanks. But if you listened closely, you would have heard their response. “Akka, we write English in June. We will get As. You just wait and watch.” You would have seen students who take ten minutes to set higher standards, bigger goals. You would have seen children who are thirsting for more even as they bask in the moment that is theirs to flaunt.

Today was a reminder that happiness truly can be selfless, that the thirst for knowledge can never stagnate, that hard work really does pay off. Today was a reminder yet again that I learn more than I teach at my job.

Rural living ft. Alwin Anna

There are few things in my life as quintessentially Anaikatti as a visit to the tailor. Across the border a couple of hundred metres into Kerala, I have the distinction of claiming inter-state travel every time a new blouse comes my way!

Every trip to Alwin Anna is a project. We plan it a couple of days in advance, block out the hour right after school lets out, make sure none of us have extra class since walking “all the way there” by oneself is quite a pain, and set out. We run errands on the way there – someone always has soap or toothpaste to buy, and if nothing else, we halt at our favourite bakers and order the “usual”. Alwin Anna is usually sitting facing the door at his store, an inch-tape slung around his neck as he smiles his sheepish grin at us. Before he even opens his mouth, we know what he is going to say. Innum ready aagale-nge. It isn’t ready yet. That is our cue to haggle, telling him that one of us is heading home and need it by Thursday while he suggests Monday. Finally, we settle for Friday evening, on our way out, and leave, already scheduling our return in a few days.

Other times, he asks us to wait when the task at hand is not a big deal. If we need something taken in or a ‘fall’ stitched onto a sari or hooks onto a blouse, he will ask us to wait. The typically Indian promise of ‘five minutes ma’ ensues and we proceed to stand in the store, listening to the blaring noises of KTV and commenting on the various fabrics that will soon constitute a stranger’s wardrobe. It is in those moments that I realise the difference, notice just how distinct this rhythm is, and if I were to be honest, how uncomfortable I naturally am inhabiting that time.

You see, when we are at Alwin Anna’s, there is no such thing as a hurry. There just can’t be. It doesn’t do any of us much good. We stand around as he carefully takes out a stitch of a too-big kurta, measuring the exact length in three different places. If he is unhappy with the mark, he will start at the beginning and do it all over again. A few minutes later, he walks up purposefully to the spools of thread in the box on the floor, one for every shade imaginable on the palette and then some, and slowly compares it to the cloth in his hand. Nothing less than perfect is ever acceptable. He holds two spools in his hand, placing each against the cloth as he makes up his mind which to use. The rest of us exchange quick glances at each other and shrug. There doesn’t seem to be a difference in our eyes. He walks back to the machine, readies it, threads the spool in, tests the pedal, and gets to work. Again, if the stitches don’t fall exactly where he intends them to, he takes them apart and does it again. Until they come just right, the only thing that matters is that one line of stitches. Once he reaches the end of the garment, he starts over, stitching from the beginning again to make sure it is doubly secure, no loose threads anywhere. In case the end of the kurta has a border, he pauses to change the spool of thread again into the appropriate colour. Can’t afford to have the body-colour thread at the bottom now, can we? What happens if we accidently find someone’s head by our knee? Just when we think he is done, he holds the kurta afar to eye his handiwork, and then picks up the scissors, snipping at stray threads here and there until a satisfied half nod escapes him. Yet, we are still not done. He stands up, picks his way around all the cloth, and heads to a table at the back of the room. There, he puts the kurta down and irons it out, making sure the creases are crisp and exact, perfectly pressed and brand new. This he slips into a characteristic yellow bag, comparing a couple for the right size, and then hands the bag to us with a flourish. In the last forty minutes, he may have stitched us five hooks on a blouse, but gosh, would he have stitched them to perfection.

While all this exacting perfection is underway, we would stand around occasionally glancing at the atrocity of Tamil cinema that would usually play on KTV. Every once in a while, another customer would come in and hand over the latest addition to the wardrobe, and we would stand there eyeing the cloth up with a practiced air of people who have spent too much time observing other people’s clothes. The last time we were there, a lady walked in with two blingy salwars, handed them over to an assistant and pointed out which was for her oldest and which was for her youngest. I need the sleeves attached, she said, and walked out. The tailor didn’t bat an eyelid, evidently knowing the measurements and preferences of both the daughters in question. The other day a colleague said she wanted something stitched with three-fourth sleeves. That would be fourteen and a half inches, Alwin Anna announced, and my colleague insisted on getting it checked. He was right. The man never writes anything down, isn’t hung up on documentation and digitalisation, but he has just never been wrong.

As I stood at the store today waiting for ten hooks and the edge of a sari to be hemmed, I was restless. My mind was on a conference call that had been scheduled for ten minutes earlier, the two articles that were waiting to be written, the email I had promised to draft. My mind was perpetually weighing every hook against the number of items on the To Do list that could have been ticked off instead. My colleague, on the other hand, was at ease, filling me in on the trivia about the movie that was playing. When we finally left, I assumed we would head back to school given how much time we had “wasted.” Instead, we stopped to buy fruits and soap (duh) on the way. We finally got back to the school almost an hour and a half after we left – ten hooks, a couple of blouses, and a few bunches of grapes richer for the evening.

Every time someone asks me how I, a city girl, like my life here, it is moments like this that I tell them about. I tell them how the underlying pace of life here is different, that an evening considered “wasted” by the logic I grew up with is celebrated as “productive” here. I remind myself that having a baker who knows your favourite kind of bread and a tailor who knows the exact length you like your clothes aren’t things that find their way on a To Do list, but are exactly the kind of experiences I would never chalk up at home; that a tailor who insists on ironing your brand new blouse even in the knowledge that you were in a hurry would be hard to come by in that bustling metropolis I am so fond of.

Every time someone asks me how a city girl has “adjusted” to the rural life, I think of Alwin Anna and the many snatches of Tamil cinema that have entered my repertoire thanks to him. Every bright yellow plastic cover is testament to the many evenings spent crossing the border to just “remind him we exist,” a project undertaken only in plural. Every perfectly stitched blouse of mine is one step closer to this learning, this ability to stand guiltlessly still and not count it a waste.

The Squiggle

I distinctly remember getting my answer papers back as a student and wondering why in God’s name the teachers just couldn’t get their ‘1/2’ clearly. A seemingly arbitrary wavy line near a whole number would be assumed to be the half, and we’d continue to check for ‘totaling mistakes.’ If we were particularly astute, we’d snag another half or so through the paper. But why oh why could they, those who beat us up for badly formed handwriting and hurried answer scripts, just never get their halves right? We just wrote them off with the time-worn excuse they always hurled at the class – they must be a lazy bunch of teachers.

Fast forward many years, and I was ploughing through a never-diminishing pile of answer papers that mark the end of the school term. Correction was fast becoming a rather mechanical affair. I would mark a question paper as ‘Teacher’s Copy,’ and make a blueprint of what the answer scripts ‘ought’ to look like, for everything that could be blueprint-ed of course. Once the nouns had been underlined, adjectives were boxed, and the verbs safely circled, I would be all set to tackle the handiwork of middle schoolers. Once the geometry was in place in red pen, it was just a question of cross-checking it against every piece of paper. Thus, I set out to correct.

First came the senior school papers – classes 9 and 10, with an old board exam paper. Each question paper is an average of twenty-five pages long, and while comprehension correction is a fairly straightforward process, it is unimaginable how many different kinds of errors one can make when trying to master alien syntax. Two hundred and fifty printed pages later, I told myself the going gets easier from this point on. After all, the other kids were answering papers I, and not some London honcho, had set and that ought to be easier, right?

Long story short, I corrected about 75 middle school papers after, mechanically, robotically, one after another. And soon enough, I actually looked at what I was doing, and there it was in front of me. The Squiggle. In red ink, along the margin, like those who had given me back papers of my own. It was right there. What!

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Thus emerged The Squiggle.

I texted a friend, slightly panicked, that I felt like this was a rite of passage, and that I was truly becoming a teacher, and what is that even! As it turns out, it actually is a reasonable effort to actually take pen off paper for every stroke of the 1, /, and 2, and somewhere through the stack of long-sized ruled sheets of paper, they all merge into The Squiggle. Do I sound like I am just making excuses? I thought so. Sigh.

Tomorrow, I will hand over answer papers to seventy-five kids with squiggles generosity sprinkled all over them. Tomorrow I will feel one step closer to my own teachers, even if only in the incoherent lines that our red pens made. One step at a time?