Once upon a time (its not a yarn, its my life story), I was in kindergarten. No, wait. We are jumping the gun. I was the age to enter a kindergarten class.
After much thinking and prodding and even more sleepless nights, we decided on a well known CBSE curriculum school. But then, there was an entrance test, because I was not, like normal cases, going to enter Lower Kindergarten, rather, directly to Upper Kindergarten. So I had to prove myself. In a test.
So, I sat in a huge Kindergarten class, filled with paintings, charts and colorful tables and chairs. Oh, and the class had two kindergarten teachers to supervise my test (and me) and my parents too (for mental support, no helping).
I breezed through the test. It was alphabets and numbers (my mother tells me), but I didn’t have enough. I wanted more (perfectionist in production stage, you see). So, I demanded that I be allowed to write my name. Of course, my mother had taught me that and then, I had that tiny bit of scare, what if someone else wrote his name and outdid me?
But the teachers were doubtful. They didn’t want to mar an answer sheet that was spotlessly right till now with an awkwardly spelled wrong name that the kid might have had in his mind. They didn’t expect me to know to write my own name.
But I was adamant. And I wrote my name. In beautiful block letters, my kindergarten teacher still emphasizes on that.
Yes. That clinched my seat in my first rat race in this world. Maybe second race.
My classes started. But then, again, there was a problem. I did know English letters, I knew to read an write my name. But, I didn’t know to string together alphabets and make useful sentences. That became my Achilles heel.
In my first week, I didn’t know how to speak in English. And the inevitable happened. I wanted to go to the washroom. Badly. Real badly. But how to ask? I was helpless in that department. Saying my name or raising my hand could not convey my message to my teacher. I can still picture, the Mini Me, clenching my small fists in those few moments of utter helplessness and anger, the tiny nails my mother had so carefully trimmed biting into the flesh, in that small bit of hope that my teacher would magically understand what was happening. But no, it didn’t happen. But, something else happened. Something that many might say would have been my Waterloo at that young age. I wet my pants. Or rather, shorts. All because, I didn’t know how to ask whether I could pay the washroom a much needed visit.
My dear mother, in anticipation of this very incident, had packed in an extra pair of shorts. But I didn’t think they were that beautiful and matched my shirt that day and so, I conveniently forgot to tell the helper at the washroom about them. For which, I paid dearly at home.
But my teacher realized what had happened. She set about teaching me sentences like,”Can I go to the washroom, ma’am?”. It was then that I realized that she spoke my mother tongue, Malayalam. Silly me and poor her, because that meant, I just found a medium to express myself.
So, thus, I transformed from ‘The Quiet Kid in Corner’ to ‘The Kid who could not Close his Mouth’. That meant I would keep getting upgraded in my seat category, from ‘He is good, be at back’ to ‘High attention needed, keep him in front’.
So, I, who just found that he could talk, ended up making friends at each and every spot I sat and finally I got the place of honor right at the front of the class. Alone. Like an island.
But I was close to the mainland, the teacher’s desk. So, my teacher started facing the brunt of my expression of opinions. She became my best friend in Kindergarten.
But 2 years later, I left that school, when I was in second grade and moved away to a different town. I was excited the first few days, moving to a new town, making new friends, new school. But little did I realize that, I would be alone for a few days at the least. But I adapted. Made friends. Studied. Till my fifth grade. And then, I came back.
I came back to my previous school. And then I realized, that in my absence for a few years, my school had grown, my friends had grown and more importantly, I had grown, which meant I had to start anew.
On my first day back, I hoped to find my old friends. I did find them and when I introduced myself to one of them, you know what he said? He said, “I knew a Don in my kindergarten. But you, you are not that Don. He was my best friend, you are not. Bye.” And the person who said that had been my class mate AND bus mate for 3 years. Hopeless idiot.
So, I lost hope that anyone else would remember me. But, in the crowd in the morning at school, I thought I saw a familiar face. A face of my kindergarten, my class teacher, and I hoped she would remember me. Really hoped. Prayed. I wanted at least a smile of recognition, to let me know that I was back in my old school. My old school. And she did!! She saw me standing there in the crowd, looking hopefully at her. She smiled and waved. My hopes were not yet extinguished. I was back. I was remembered.
Years later, I had a doubt. Whether she had smiled at me, was it because she had remembered me or was it because she just saw a new admission staring in a state of helplessness for a beacon of hope. She replied, that she smiled because she saw both and remembered my look of utter helplessness when I had that ‘incident’ in kindergarten. She had truly remembered me, and me.
Even a few more years later, I had a chance to give a speech in my school, in front of her. An entire speech. I didn’t know that she would be there, but I saw her when I got to the podium. Yes. It was an emotional moment, it was a moment when I would gladly cried, fell at her feet and asked her blessing before I started my speech. But, then I realized that she would more happy if I gave a speech and asked her opinion about it. So, I stood up straight, with pride and delivered it.
After the event, I had an opportunity to meet her. And before I could ask her if she remembered me, she said, “Remember the day, when you could barely speak a sentence and ask if you could go to the washroom? I am proud, I could see the transformation. You are still my kindergarten student. Bless you, always.” And I am sure, we both had tears welling up which truly justified that moment.
And to this day, I meet her very often because her son was, is and will be my classmate and still, I call her ‘Ma’am’, because she is still my kindergarten teacher and I am still her kindergarten student.
A boy who could barely make a sentence before you taught me, Ma’am.