Praveena cherished her experience teaching in her own school. On her second day, she decorated her room. She covered the table in a white spread and placed a photo of Niveda, Anil, and herself. That picture was a reminder of the evil of drugs and its effect on wonderful relationships. She had also brought the painting she had done in college, the one with three stallions basking undisturbed in a valley. She stuck the painting on the wall behind the table so that it was the first thing any one would see when they entered the room. The rest of the wall, she left bare, unsure what to add. She had planned to collect paintings and writings from her students and display them as an exhibition one day.
Kareem had asked her to fill in as a temporary art teacher. The current teacher had left on a maternity leave. And so, Praveena met with her first class, the third year students. After a warm welcome, she asked them all to paint whatever came to their mind. At the end of the forty five minutes class, only a handful of students had finished their drawings.
“Alright, everyone.” she called as the bell signalled end of class. “leave your drawings on my desk, you can continue tomorrow.” she clapped her hands to get their attention. One by one, she saw the students examining their drawings critically as they came up to submit it. Praveena gathered all the paintings and was about to lock them away when she saw a girl, too small for her age, still poring over her drawing at the back of the class. Praveena went to her and stood over her, watching. The little girl looked up, her eyes wide in fear, at Praveena.
Praveena smiled at her, “That’s a beautiful house,” she complimented, “shall we continue tomorrow?” she held out a hand, and the girl handed over her incomplete drawing. “Thank you,” Praveena smiled. She went over to the cupboard and locked the paintings away. She then turned to the students who were all on their feet. “See you tomorrow, girls” She waved a hand at them. As she turned to leave, she noticed Mr Andrew on the doorway.
Praveena swallowed. She hadn’t expected him to be here. Mr Andrew’s face reflected her shock. “Praveena?” he asked incredulously. “you are the new art teacher?” he shook his head in disbelief.
Praveena forced a smile. “Yes, Sir” she said. “How are you?” she inquired more out of courtesy than of concern.
“Fine,” he said in a flourish. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a class to teach.” He walked past Praveena into the class room and Praveena left as soon as she could.
She was having lunch in her room when there was a curt knock on her door. She opened the door to Ms Marrie. “Hey, Praveena!” she beamed. “How’s work?”
Praveena smiled and gestured Ms Marrie into the room. Ms Marrie took the new chair Praveena had requested. “So, how is work?” Ms Marrie repeated.
“Ah, it’s great Miss!” Praveena gleefully replied taking her seat, facing Ms Marrie. “I love it,” she said, “but, I didn’t expect to run into Mr Andrew.” she sighed.
“Ah, yes” Ms Marrie smiled apologetically, “that, I forgot to tell you.” she smiled innocently. Praveena smiled, shaking her head. “he hasn’t changed much, has he?” she observed.
“Somethings never change,” Ms Marrie nodded.
“Are any of the old teachers still here?” Praveena asked tentatively, making Ms Marrie laugh.
“Selima left about a year after you finished,” smiling at the look of relief on Praveena’s face. “and the others too have left. It’s only Andrew and me now.” She finished laughing.
Anil called Praveena on Saturday morning.
“Hey, Praveena” he spoke softly. “how are you?”
Taken unexpected by his call, she replied delightedly. “I’m great! Sounds like MBA has softened you a bit,” she laughed teasingly.
“Maybe,” he laughed too. He had called to check on her and her experience teaching. They chatted away happily for about thirty minutes.
When she disconnected the call, Praveena felt her happiness double. She smiled to herself.
As months flew by, Praveena gained a lot of friends in the form of students. She was the teacher who respected them and agreed with them when they complained about the overload of homework.
Praveena felt like a child herself when she was with her students.
One day, during lunch, the little girl from the third grade came over to her room.
“Hello, Helen” Praveena greeted her, escorting the girl into her room and helping her sit. Praveena noticed Helen’s huge, black, bloodshot eyes. “What can I do for you, Helen?” she asked gently kneeling down in front of the girl.
All of a sudden, the girl began weeping and shaking uncontrollably. Praveena hadn’t expected this. Trying not to panic, she made an effort to console the girl. She hugged her, stroking her head reassuringly.
“Helen,” she spoke softly. “What happened?” She looked at the girl who stared back at her, eyes streaming. “It’s — my father,” she stammered, difficult to speak.
“What happened to him?” Praveena asked patiently.
Helen shook her small head vigorously. “Helen…” Praveena urged quietly.
The girl sniffed away tears, trying to speak. “Dad,” she began “drinks every day and beats Mom asking for money. He hit me today,” Praveena watched helplessly as the girl’s eyes swelled with tears.
That evening, Praveena went home determined to help the girl. She wanted to talk to the girl’s father and explain the impact of his behaviour on his child.
“Pa,” Praveena spoke to her father as he came home that night. “Hmm?” he looked at her. His expression grew worried as he saw Praveena’s disturbed face.
Praveena told him of the day’s events. Kamal listened with a rising sense of dread. He didn’t like where this was going. “I’m going to talk to the father,” Praveena said with an air of finality, “and I want you to come with me,” she added and paused for his reply. She was ready to argue with him if he disagreed.
To her utter surprise, “I’ll be ready in ten minutes,” he said and left for his room.
Praveena stood in the living room, dazed.