School. ‘What a pathetic place to be,’ Praveena mused, ‘when you could be anywhere else in the world.’ There was nothing she could do though. She was on her bicycle, riding to school. Youngsters crowded the streets rushing towards their schools. At the end of a five-minutes ride, Praveena was at the gates of the Benjamin Higher Secondary School. Lining up behind the thronging students, she waited at the gate for a few minutes.
Once she had managed to part from the crowd, her next task was to find a cozy parking spot for her bicycle. ‘Why does everyone have to be in such a hurry?’ She thought to herself as she strode in leisure towards the bicycle parking shed. It wasn’t even a proper shed; just a sheet of asbestos propped up and held in place with a few wooden sticks.
‘They should fix this before giving us homework on Renaissance architecture’ Praveena bit back her anger as she parked her cycle in a corner. Her anger returned, but she didn’t know why, and it angered her even more. Kicking hard at one of the wooden sticks lying on the ground, she turned to leave. All around her, students rushed towards their classes with heavy bags and long faces.
What was the day?
Tuesday. ‘Oh, no. It’s Tuesday!’ She slapped her forehead with her hand. ‘It’s Andrew’s class first thing in the morning!’ She realised misery rising within her. She didn’t feel like going to class anymore. The assembly had already begun, and she heard it from the other side of the school. She stopped where she was. If someone saw her not being in assembly, she would have a lot of bats to answer to. Hiding behind one of her favourite Neem trees, she waited, inhaling the medicinal scent of the leaves.
The assembly went on for what seemed hours. At last, Praveena straightened up as the final notes of the national anthem faded away. Now, before anyone figured out she had been missing, she had to join the queue walking from the assembly hall to their class.
It would have been easier to come early and attend the assembly. She ducked down the tree and crouching low, went creeping towards her class queue. For a split second she waited, taking in the atmosphere. There were plenty of teachers roaming the rear of the queues. There is no way she could join one of them without being noticed. She decided to take the chance.
Just as she made to walk towards the nearest queue, there was a commotion on the other side. The principal had had confiscated some electronic gadget from a student. All teachers were distracted and Praveena seized her opportunity. Thanking the student who just got caught, she reached the dreaded class without anyone noticing. A couple of minutes later, Andrew arrived. The class began.
“Good morning, class” Mr Andrew peered at the class through his magnifying glass. “Alright everyone. Submit your papers.” His instruction was clear, yet his voice sounded childish. It wasn’t natural though, maybe it was because of his age. It sounded like he spoke to a three year old. It was annoying, and that was a strong enough reason for Praveena to despise the teacher. That, the subject, and the way he lovingly spoke of it, caressing the think bound book.
All of a sudden, for some odd reason, Mr Andrew looked like a-century-old ghost to Praveena. She wondered why the thought had occurred to her. Andrew had always appeared the same way, yet today she thought he looked as if he had dropped into the class from the 1920s. Ancient. That was the appropriate word to describe him thought Praveena. Yes, he had sunken eyes, and veins that almost popped out of his skin. The few hairs on his balding head stood distinctly white against his brownish head. And he looked tired, something Praveena had never seen in the teacher’s eyes. His eyes had always been sparkling with the excitement of the next lesson. He may be an old fool, she thought, but there’s no denying that he loved his subject.
She appreciated Mr Andrew for doing what he loved, but once he started explaining the day’s lesson, Praveena began to hate him again. He was a good historian, but not at all a good teacher. The class was as boring as ever, and it didn’t help that it was the first period of the day. Praveena soon drifted off into her own thoughts.
An hour later, Andrew was gathering his things and set to leave the class. Praveena offered to carry his papers for him, and on the way she braved enough to ask him about his subject.
“You seem to really love History, Mr Andrew”. She made it a light statement. Not many teachers appreciated private conversations with their students. They felt it made them vulnerable at times. Andrew startled as if interrupted from his thoughts. “Huh?” He tried to remember what she had said, “yes, History. Love it. Yes.” he stopped speaking and continued towards his room. Praveena tailed behind, not knowing how to go on.
People walking past them threw shameless looks at Praveena. No one offered Andrew to carry his things. Praveena saw them and wondered why she hadn’t done this sooner. Andrew, on the other hand didn’t seem to notice. In fact, he didn’t notice anyone in the corridor. He just kept walking.
At last, he found his room in a corner and went in with Praveena still at his heels. He tuned abruptly to face her. “What are you doing here?” He seemed surprised to see her.
Praveena was taken aback. “Sir, I bought your papers for you,” she responded and left them on the desk. And as she did so, she noticed his room was covered with images and sculptures of historical artifacts. His desk was empty except for a tiny coffee mug that read, “Best Dad”.
“Ah, yes. Thank you.”
Praveena turned to leave, then stopped and faced him. He wore a quizzical expression and tilted his head sideways like a child pleading for ice cream.
“Sir, I just wanted to say, you’re brave for doing what you love.”
Andrew’s face hardened. “What?”
Praveena repeated, now a little scared, without missing a single syllable.
Andrew folded his hands. “You think I love teaching?”
Praveena’s eyes widened and she nodded as doubt creeped into her head.
“No. I hate teaching. Archeology is my real love. There’s a huge difference.” He said it matter-of-factly. As if it didn’t matter that he had ignored his passion and opted for another profession altogether.
‘But why?’ Praveena wanted to ask. He answered her unasked question.
“Because they told me Archeology was useless, and I was stupid enough to believe it.” He dropped his hands and his body went limb. He look depressed again.
“Every morning I convince myself that teaching is good, and every night I weep silently.” he turned to face the wall and hung his head.
How could he give up on his dream? Praveena was speechless. She left the room without saying a word.
Chapter Three | Chapter Five