Saturday, March 18, 2006

Snippets From A Teacher’s Diary.

Why I Love Parent-Teacher Meets.

The parent teacher meet today heralded the completion of one session. Most of my students (I prefer to call them my kids) have done very well and have been promoted to the next higher class. Even I have been promoted. When I joined here four months back, I was the subject teacher teaching physics, chemistry, and math. I am the class teacher now. And this session onwards, I’d be taking more classes and teaching environmental sciences as well.

When my colleague asked me how has been my experience in a nutshell, I actually did not know what to say. I’ve had mixed feelings about the whole episode. I’ll tell you what does being a class teacher in my school mean. It means I’ll be responsible for some 40 kids, doing some extra donkey-work like taking the attendance everyday, adding up the figures at the end of the month and things like that. This is pretty menial work that requires no creativity or imagination. On top of that, I’ll be held responsible for whatever my kids do henceforth, be it my boys breaking the window panes while playing cricket or my girls proposing to the senior guys. Most kids find History boring (even I used to), so when they do not do the History homework, I’d be blamed. I’ll have to make sure that the desks and the chairs and the classroom remain shipshape and my kids do not whistle or do not throw a single paper rocket in school. If it’s any consolation for them, I already feel like a jailor in charge of innocent victims treated as convicts. You just can’t put a child with a football in a large room and expect him not to kick around. Kids are kids after all. They break windowpanes, whistle, come to school without studying, run around and dirty their shoes, and throw paper rockets at people walking on the roads. It’s wrong on my part to hush them up every time they open their mouth to say a seemingly silly joke. 

I have never enjoyed the parent teacher meets in the entire 14 years of my school life as much as I did today. It’s always different to be on the other side of the table and watch the parents and kids. I have also observed that while among Bengali families, only the moms turn up at the parent-teacher meetings, both parents show up for others.

After the meeting, we were sharing our day’s experiences over pizzas our principal treated us to. "How was your first meeting?", she asked me.

"Ma’am, I think the PT meets should be converted into fathers-teachers meets henceforth. Moms strictly not allowed"- I blurted out in front of more than a dozen teachers.

There was complete silence. Everyone was giving me a stunned look. No one reacted because they did not know how the other person would react. Finally, all of them including our dear principal burst out into relentless laughter. The typical side-aching, dentition-exhibiting, closing your eyes and contorting your face types.

What came next stunned me. Because when she asked me who I thought was the best looking dad, everyone screamed equivocally, almost at the same instant- Sakshi’s dad. And then, everyone gave each other surreptitious looks and guilty smiles and started the laughter round once again. 

At least we teachers agreed on one thing. All of us. Sakshi’s dad.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Maid In India.

I am one of those lucky kids who had never had to stay away from family, but for the occasional visit to cousins during vacations. So I grew up watching the everyday running of household very closely. The one thing I understood from this is- the one person who held the strings to my mother's perpetual happiness and peace of mind was not my dad. Not even my grandparents. It was our home maid, the person who came during particular hours of the day, usually twice a day to help mom with the household work. And we have had our fair share of eccentric and egocentric maids.

As kids, we used to have morning school. By the time we got back at noon, mom's face would always tell us if the maid had turned up that particular day or not. I've seen her irritable and grumpy, shouting and screaming at us for no reason, but she has always gone out of her way to be cordial to the maid.

Wait till you take charge of home. You will realize how important it is to have a good rapport with the maid for your own good- she would say.

Maybe. I've never had much interest in the household duties unless something was specifically assigned to me. Naturally, I wouldn't know.

My earliest memories go back to.... what was her name? Yeah, Laxmi. My mom is one of those I-Forget-Everything types when it comes to safeguarding money and valuables. She keeps bunches of 50 rupees bills tucked under the mattress or beneath the table cover and forgets about it. She is the emotional kind who would be so engrossed in watching a movie that she will start crying even when the hero is asking God- “Yeh kahaan ka insaaf hai?”, and beating up his head on the temple walls. In this process of forcibly upsetting oneself (a kind of masochism according to me), she would keep her earrings or money someplace and forget it. Naturally, Laxmi used it to hone her kleptomaniac ability to such an extent that she soon made a small fortune out of the things she would pick up from here and there. One summer, dad fractured his leg and had to take a month's leave. Now dad is a person who should have been in the FBI. One look at you and he will know what's going on in your mind. Naturally, Laxmi was so much into stealing things from the palatial 2,600 sq.feet home we used to live in that she had to quit once dad stayed at home.

Our next maid turned out to be a not so very maid-ish female. Barely 5 years my senior, she is one person I will remember for my life. We used to have a great time after her work. I used to teach her Bengali while the little bit of Telugu I speak is due to her. She used to hire a cycle and we would go for long rides. I did not know how to ride a cycle back then,and she had made quite some effort in teaching me that. God bless her, she had almost scared a guy who was stalking me when I was in sixth grade. She was almost like an elder sister

Dad got transferred and we shifted. Our new maid was a TV addict. She wanted to have unrestrained hours on the TV. She had cried when Julie had gotten herself pregnant and was being rejected by everyone in Julie. She had punched the bad guys, her fists moving in air when Amitabh Bachchan had beaten up those thugs in Deewar. She would smile coyly whenever hero heroines would kiss in the parks, a huge dahlia flower covering their faces. Thankfully, she left us before the Tip Tip Barsa Paani movie released.

Our next maid one day made it clear that she wanted to have food with us while we dined. The next one had a husband who was blind. And they still managed to have eleven kids. Gandhari would have turned in her grave. She wanted a Benarasi sari during the Pujas every year. Mom had just two of them in her wedding trousseau, and in her entire married life. 

By the time the next one came, my mom got herself a mixer grinder. Previously, it would be the maid doing the excruciating work of grinding the spices. Now, the roles got reversed. The maid used to bring all the stuff needed to be ground from her home and while she did the jhaadu-poncha, mom would grind the masala in the mixer for her.

The next one would change names for every home she worked in. For us, she was Pushpa. For Bose aunty, she was Bhagirathi. For Sen aunty, she was Sarita. Since she would take long leaves without prior notice, this was just to make sure that no one knew what other homes she worked in.

Well, there are numerous incidents that I could write about. There have been so many, and each one was peculiar in her way. Maids have come and left us, but mom has always been so nice to them. She has been rude to us, has screamed at us, but the maids always got the royal treatment.

Our newest one- She is a nice lady. Nice as in she comes at a specific time (you could actually adjust your watch when she comes, she is so timely), finishes off her work in 20 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon and goes away. She is not a habitual leave seeker. She doesn't give us any nonsense about gifting her benarasi sarees or making mom grind spices. Her level of gossiping is also tolerable.

Last week, she came and told us- Please save a number.
Mom- What number?

Maid- My new cell phone number.

With that, she proudly showed me the Nokia set she had got. Incidentally, I too use the same set. She has even used my charger twice. And when she decides not to turn up, she gives us a missed call. 6 months back, I was shocked to see our local vegetable seller with a mobile. 

The advent of technology and the influence of the maid in our daily life are the two things that amaze me constantly.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Empty Boxes.

Everything I dislike comes in the form of empty boxes. Let me explain.

I hate this uncertainty. Most of my friends who’d applied to the US have started getting their accepts or rejects. Not me. Last month, I got an admit from one of the places, though not from one of those highly ranked ones with a bankable funding scenario. Naturally, I am not even considering it. But what about the dozen other places I’d applied to? Most of them claim that they need some 2-4 weeks to review my proposals. But that they have been claiming for the last 10 weeks or so. And I actually sent the stuff more than 2 months prior to the deadline because admissions were supposed to be on a rolling basis. The sooner you applied, the better chances you had. Now, finishing off everything 2 months before the deadline is not a matter of a joke. Not to mention the exorbitant price I had to pay to the Blue Dart courier services, which made so big a dent in my pocket. Mom believes in the “no-news-good-news” principle. She is naive enough to think that since they haven’t sent me a reject either, they must be spending all their weekends and free time going through my seemingly impressive credentials. Not that I’d vouch for it.

So the moment I enter the main gate of our apartment, my eyes are automatically glued to the letterbox for some promisingly fat stamped envelopes. From telephone bills to electricity bills to LIC Policy mails to credit card offers to invitation cards for weddings and funerals to the free pamphlets for catering services, home delivery, and high income job offers working from home, my letter box seems to have it all. I have a weird habit of taking out the contents of the box, deftly using my two fingers without a key. And it’s highly frustrating to use your skills to take out some pamphlets instead offering mehndi and facial at attractive prices from the local beauty parlor. The same goes with my e-mail inbox, which is inundated with blog comments, orkut scraps, personal emails, yahoo group emails, emails conveying the news of admits/rejects of friends, and of course spam mails from unknown Bobs and Richards who want to share their inheritance with me and ask me for my bank information. Not to mention those emails from the grad secretaries stating- “We have received your application which is being reviewed by the department. It will take us 2-4 weeks to get back to you.”

My life is turning out to be one of those huge empty boxes these days. Of course this gives me ample opportunity to write philosophical blog posts that none wants to read. Someone wanted to know my reasons for not replying to blog comments nowadays. It’s nothing but the very fact that I am too tired to even open my mailbox most of these days. And I don’t see much point in sending one week’s stale replies to the comments. Okay, excuses apart, though your comments mean a lot to me (I still compare it with the number of comments Munnu gets), the lack of replies are due to the sole reason that I am emotionally too tired to communicate with people these days. Hopefully this phase is not going to last long. 

Correction work is something else that has a story of its own. With the final exams just over, I have been making and breaking records by correcting papers for some 6-7 hours at a stretch everyday. Try that when you have to read and mark every answer 50 times. 3 subjects, 3 classes, 50 papers in each. I’ve been amazing myself with my resilience. And what are you supposed to do when you have to correct some weird answers like this?-

Q: What kind of a triangle is triangle ABC where angle A is 30 degrees and angle B is 40 degrees?

Ans: This is an impossible triangle, since a triangle should have at least three degrees.

Q: How do you measure the length of an object using a ruler worn at its edges?

Ans: No problem. I can still manage.

Q: How can you prevent the spread of water-borne diseases?

Ans: By not drinking sewage water everyday.

No wonder the empty boxes on their answer scripts are being adorned by zeros and the single digit numbers.

God, please fill up my letterbox and mail inbox with some news I have been looking forward to. I long to be my old self once again.