I was in the eight standard then. That day, our Civics teacher walked into the class. Sister Victrine looked resplendent in her starched white dress. Her countenance radiated calmness and purity.
I loved her teaching but that day I was not really in the mood to listen to anything. During the class, only my physical body was seated on the bench. My mind had left it for good and was busy in a Madras cricket field. A one day match was going on between India and West Indies there.
My friend, Babita was frantically gesturing to me. “Sapna..match is on..match is on!” She whispered loudly the moment Sister turned towards the board to write. ” You have a headache. Go and tell her.” She added. Of course my head was fine and light and sat smugly on my shoulders. There was absolutely nothing wrong with me. The small pocket transistor had been placed cladestinely inside my desk before the class had begun. My cricket lover group of friends thought that I had the most innocent face of all. I did not see much of that on my face though, innocence I mean. But they somehow thought I, had the capability of melting Sister’s heart. I hesitated. I did not want to feign sickness like this. My conscience was continuously doing the pricking. ‘Go you…lazy. Stand up and go to her. We are missing the sixes and the fours.’ Another friend poked me from behind as she said this. I hesitantly went up to her. ” Yes, my dear child, are you alright?” Sister said lovingly. All that guilt and deceit had already drained the blood off my face perhaps or otherwise how could a healthy me look so sick in her eyes? I nodded in a no. ” Oh, go and put your head on the desk and sleep, my dear.” She said as she touched my forehead to check for fever.
Now fever cannot be feigned at a moment’s notice. So she did find any of it on my person. Reassured, she sent me off to ‘ put my head on my desk and sleep”.
I put my ears on the long slit on the desk, closed my eyes and strained my ears. I only heard noise. PLAIN NOISE. The more I strained my ears the more noise I heard. I heard another whisper. ‘TELL THE SCORE.” Babita was whispering wildly. A pellet came flying. Since we had chosen the last two benches on either side of the room and she was at the farthest bench on the other side, she had probably equipped herself with throwable stuff like that. Meanwhile my ears stubbornly refused to catch a single soundwave except…of course, the noise. I gestured nothing with my hands. ” Increase the volume.” She ordered. Now for that I would have to open the desk and put my head in to see the volume button. At the opportune time I did so, and rolled one of the buttons. To my utter dismay, the commentary was LOST.😳😳 Damn me. Another pellet came flying. “Roll the OTHER BUTTON.What in the world are you doing?”I heard next. Sister Victrine turned and grimaced and looked at all of us. She looked disturbed. We fell quiet. The next moment, I ducked in as she turned her back and increased the volume. But alas! It became too high. A huge noise filled the room making almost everyone jump up. I decreased it immediately. Sister Victrine had become upset. She watched the boys playing cricket in the huge Kasturchand Park opposite to the school. “Look at these boys. Playing cricket and making noise during school hours and disturbing my students too. It’s too bad.” She shook her head and lamented. That stroke of luck saved me at that time. She resumed her teaching and me the straining of ears and listening. 44 for 3 wickets India.!! My heart seemed to be sinking. Such was my piteous heart at that time, that it rose and sank with wins and losses of the Indian Cricket team. It had kind of nothing to do with me after it anchored itself to them.. I gestured 3 with my fingers towards her. “Fours?”She asked. “No..WICKETS!” I gestured. She rose up in the air like a phoenix saying,”WHAT?”
Sister Victrine turned just then. Babita sat back just on time. “Why is the class so distracted today? Sapna, why are you ducking your head in and out of the desk like that? Put your head on the desk and sleep.” She said and resumed her teaching. The next thirty minutes or so I regularly gestured at intervals …four ..five ..six…seven ..eight..nine…and the class ended along with the Indian team’s innings. All out for less than a hundred and twenty runs. The most disastrous match we had heard the commentary of, in years. Babita walked angrily towards me saying, ” What a rubbish,unlucky new pocket radio is this! I feel like throwing it in the drain. I told my brother to get a nice one for me and he got an unlucky one! I will tell him to give it back to the shop.” Somehow her frivolous statement and anger combined made all my disappointment melt away. I almost laughed out aloud. Angry people are really funny to watch at times.
In my heart, I thought it had served me right. I had fallen that day in my own eyes. I had learnt a lesson that day. So did my cricket loving friends. Babita never brought the radio again. I studied for another two years in St.Joseph and Sister continued teaching us. I always felt a twinge of guilt when her eyes met mine and she smiled lovingly. I realized I was like an onion. Her implicit faith in me had helped remove one of the the grey shaded peels.
A tribute to Mrs.Iris Wilkinson My English Teacher at St. Joseph Convent
The bus stopped after some hesitant jerks. We gave a collective moan. This sudden snag meant another wait in the school bus for how long we did not know. Our bus took us to and fro from Umred to Nagpur city every day. The sixty students in it were an eclectic mix of students from different schools and colleges. Needless to say, all had different times of closing. So even though, we students of St. Joseph Convent, Nagpur finished ours by 1. 20 p.m., we could start our return journey home only at 6.30 p.m. This was when the last college student would jump into the bus.
How our hearts rejoiced then silently. Silently because our Strict driver, Vinayakji, did not like vociferous rejoicings. All of us together could dish out quite a cacophony at times, so much so, that Vinayakji would lose whatever patience he had, and would park the bus in a deep jungle on the way back, put off the lights and to our utter dismay, leave us in complete darkness and walk off! So, stuck in that God forbidden jungle, where we could feel but not see the face of the person sitting next, we learnt DISCIPLINE.
But that day, we had been perfectly civil and the bus due to a quirk of fate, had stopped on its own somewhere near Hislop college. My stomach was growling. It was about 5 p.m. in the evening. Unfortunately, the lunch box packed by my mother had been too difficult to resist and I had finished the last morsel of it by 7 a.m. We started from home before dawn and would be ravenously hungry by the time we reached school at 6.30 a.m.
It was in that opportune time, a familiar voice called me by my name. Mrs. Wilkinson, my favourite teacher who taught us English was calling me.
“What are you doing here?” Her clear, lyrical voice asked me.
I told her about our dilemma.
“You all reach home at 7.30 p.m. everyday!” She gasped with a look of consternation on her fair face.
“Come in.” She added.
I got down and walked up to her. It felt so nice seeing her.
“This is my house. Come in.” She said.
I perhaps was feeling shy and a little hesitant. I had the former in abundance though I cannot really point out in exactitude the reason of it. Probably it was a natural trait, an unwelcome one at that. It never really helped me in any way. Why! I was even shy of looking at the eyes of anyone who ever spoke to me. I preferred the uninteresting ground instead.
“Do come in. Bring all your friends too.” She said.
“But we are almost sixty of us Miss.” I said, flabbergasted.
“It is all right.” She said.
I ran up to the other students.
“My Miss is calling all of us. Come down all of you and follow me.” I told them.
Of course, I took Vinayakji’s permission before telling the others. I had no wish to lock horns with the Tiger himself. I know not why he looked relieved.
It was a large bungalow with a wonderful garden. We all spread into the different rooms like a kaleidoscope. It felt so good as compared to the stuffy school bus. All the cups and glasses were brought out and we had coffee and cookies, sweetmeats and cakes. Miss used to have all these in tins! A swift two hours passed away and we left reluctantly only after we heard the shrill horn of the bus at length!
My friends and senior college students gave me furtive glances on the way back home. Some faces that knew not how to wear a smile, did that day. I felt grateful and proud of her.
More than three decades later, I still feel overwhelmed at that gesture of hers. Especially when I have to entertain sudden guests and feel inundated and exasperated with the sudden elaborate preparations required.
I could imbibe some knowledge from her magnificent presence but not her kindness and greatness of heart. May you live a long and healthy life Miss.