I’m rewinding back to those days when I used to still visit Sarah’s rose garden (Std 4 & 5). While she was my lunch-break best friend, my in-class best friends were Anand and Ganesh. The three of us used to sit on the last bench and get along like a house on fire. Since we were pretty good students, we had been pampered and spoiled by the teachers in previous years and had become very arrogant and incorrigible.
We always chatted in class ignoring the lessons that were going on, or we played a lot of “book games” like knots and crosses, book cricket, a war game etc., sometimes we carried storybooks (Famous Five, Secret Seven, William) to class and read them under the desk and frequently didn’t do our homework or take down notes. Our notebooks used to be full of doodles and games, no lessons
Thanks to this kind of behavior, we were given the title of “last bench mischief-makers” by our class teacher. And instead of being ashamed of it, we were quite proud of it!! No attempt by her to discipline us succeeded and she was growing exasperated. Some other subject teachers would separate us during their class and make us sit far from each other, but we would get back to our usual places as soon as possible.
Many afternoons, thanks to the visit to Sarah’s rose garden and time spent in the hot sun, I would be tired and doze off for some time during class. During this time both my friends would be very sweet and understanding and patiently wait for me to wake up and join them in their mischief again. They also gave me the nickname “Sleeping Beauty” because of this. Another name they gave me was “Tragedy Queen” and it was designed to irritate me. I’m sure neither of them knew the meaning of the term, but one of them had heard it somewhere and thought it was an apt title to confer on me.
I was also the official storyteller of the class. Whenever there was a free period when a teacher was absent, I would be called upon to tell a story in front of the class by the class monitor. Around 80% of the kids loved my stories, the other 20% used to yawn at them, but thanks to having majority support I would continue enthusiastically. So life was progressing pretty smoothly and I was playing the alternative roles of mischief-maker, Sleeping Beauty, Tragedy Queen and storyteller, till I got called by the school principal one day.
That day, just after I’d finished my lunch, our class monitor came up to me and told me that the principal wanted to talk to me in his office. I wasn’t very happy about this because our principal Mr. John Joseph, was a very huge, scary and strict man. We always tried to avoid bumping into him and if we did, we quickly stammered “Good Morning Sir” or “Good Afternoon Sir” and scattered away. However, one couldn’t ignore a command from him, so I went ahead to meet him.
I’d never been to his office before and it was quite an eerie experience to climb the winding staircase that led to his office. I was startled when I reached the last step, because he was standing in the verandah just outside his office and I didn’t expect to see him there. He wished me with a severe and disapproving look and went on to give a caustic monologue of which I remember only a few words. I was too stumped to follow each and every word, but heard a few in-between: “….have been hearing things about you……..complaint by teacher……arrogant……good family background……doctor’s daughter……better expectations from you…….etc. etc.” At the end of his speech, it felt like day had turned to night and that everything around me had turned dark. I’d never felt so embarrassed or worse in my life. He then let me off with a warning.
As I walked back to class feeling as though I’d been struck by a blow, I also remember being very angry at my class teacher for sneaking on me. When I entered the classroom, she gave me a knowing look. Then she told me and my friends that we could no longer sit on the last bench together and assigned different places to us. I never tried to go back to my old place after that and didn’t spend much time with either Anand or Ganesh and soon found new “best friends”.
PS: Photo of an exhibit in the Vancouver Museum of Contemporary Art.