by Gitanjali Maria
I clutched my books close to my chest as I tried to walk quickly across the street to my home in the heavy downpour. I had lost my umbrella yet another time and was forced to walk through the heavy rains. That is when I realized suddenly that I had got the results of my English mid-term exam papers that morning. I had done poorly in that subject as usual and had been feeling uneasy as to how I was to show it at home and get it signed from mother for the next day.
An idea suddenly struck me and I quickly pulled out the answer sheet and held it out in the rain. Within seconds the paper was completely drenched and the ink on it smudged all over. I looked at it closely. Nobody could now make out the 4/50 written on the paper, only red patches and parts of a circle were remnants of where once stood my ‘glorious’ marks. And the whole paper was soaked and completely unreadable. I smiled to myself, a devilish smile.
I went home and explained to mom about how I had got 32 on 50 in the English test paper and how the teacher had praised my hard work and improvement. I fished out my paper from among my textbooks and feigned surprise at how wet it had got and how my mom would not be able to see my spectacular marks now. She did ask many questions, quite unwilling to believe that I had let my best English marks till date to be drained in the rain water; but nevertheless she signed the test paper. My mind danced in glee even as I put on a somber face.
The next day at school, I showed my signed answer sheet to the teacher. She looked at me and my paper, bemused. I then explained to her how it had got soaked in the heavy rains yesterday and how I had lost my umbrella. Meenakshi Ma’am was new to the school and not a strict as Mr. John, my previous year’s English teacher and so she let me off pretty much easily. But probably she must have decided to keep an eye on me from that day onwards because I was being showered with lot of attention from her every day in the class since then. It always used to be, “Ganesh, please read from page number 17, paragraph 3”, “Ganesh, please write on the black board what I’m going to dictate”, “Ganesh, please collect the homework essays”, “Ganesh, please answer this question” and so on. I got so tired of it; my spelling on the black board used to be awry and the other students got every chance to laugh at me, my pronunciations were so horrible that others could not make out which sentence I was reading.
But yet Meenakshi ma’am kept giving me chance after chance and never got tired of me making all those mistakes. Often she would keep me after class and tell me the areas that I should concentrate on or give me some story books to take home and read. Not that I listened to any of it or adhered to her advises. I used to return the story books untouched and lie that they were nice. Now when I look back, I’m pretty sure she must have seen through all of it.
I don’t know from where, but from other staff in most likelihood, she came to know of the poor background of my family and how my mother and me struggled to earn a livelihood between ourselves to help the other six siblings and also to entertain dad’s drinking habits. That time I was
working in a tea stall in the evenings and earning Rs. 200 per month. My mother had insisted that I study too and therefore was not to be working during the day.
One day she called and told me that if I wanted work, she had something for me. The prospect of extra money attracted me and I nodded my head. She told me how American and European companies outsource work to India to get it done at a lower cost. She said that a publishing firm in America wanted children’s short stories written and that they were willing to pay Rs. 50 per story. Looking at my perplexed face she told that the stories needn't be more than 500 words long. “This way you can better your language too, earn as well as score well in other subjects too.” I thought for a long time and then replied shyly, “Will you help me?” I had done the calculations and had decided that even if I write one story a week I could still earn Rs. 200 a month. She smiled a kind smile.
So every Sundays when the tea shop was generally closed, I used to go to Meenakshi Ma’am house to work on this new project. I would have decided some plot in my head and she used to help me pen it down. This time around whatever books she gave me, I read them, hoping that I get some ideas for my own stories from them. She was so kind that she took out the time to help me write the stories, edit them, then type them on her computer and then send them across internet. Slowly I progressed in my spellings and vocabulary as I started writing more. She also taught me how to use the computer and type fast without pounding the keys noisily. My number of stories started to go up from 4 a month to almost 15-16 per month. Along with my finances, my love for the language too increased and I found myself coming up with better written stories.
This happened when I was in Class 9 and by the time I finished my Class 12 I had made more than 50,000 rupees. Meenakshi Ma’am had also taught me how to save at least some parts of this hard earned money. And so when I got admission into a good college in the city, I didn't have to borrow money from any one.
I moved into the city and took up part time jobs that paid me more than my story writing pursuits. But I used to be in contact with Meenakshi Ma’am through phone or occasional personal visits. But after three years of graduation, I moved into another city for post-graduation and then to different places for jobs. I slowly lost contact with her though she remained in my memory all the time. My family too had moved from the village to the city with me and I hardly made trips back to my roots.
Almost 12 years later, as I stood there amidst all applauding and finery at the Rajendra Auditorium in the capital city for the release of my first novel being published by a leading publishing house, I turned back to look at how a teacher’s determination not to let her student down and to keep up the struggle with him had borne fruit. A simple government school teacher in a village had fired my ambitions, given me the direction in my career as well as taught me how to manage my finances. I looked up to thank my stars and the one person who I was sure would be smiling at me, up from the bliss of heaven. ****