It’s Not Cheeky If You’re Famous

My friend RC had posted this on her Facebook this afternoon:

I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.

It’s apparently a quote from Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman’s famous already, so of course everbody loves his moments of levity. However, I remember the time I used this line, thinking it a piece of original wit. Unlike Mr. Gaiman, I was conspicuously without fame, and, some would argue, much common sense.

My subconscious still bears the scars of the aftermath.

It happened a very long time ago, when I was a tortured highschooler — literally —  hiding helplessness and anger behind cynical witticisms.

What happened, if memory serves, was that our hawk-eyed English teacher ‘caught’ me sharing my text with a classmate who had forgotten hers at home. Ms. Teach was furious at this transgression. She needed only the slightest pretext to take off like a firecracker, and she put in a sterling performance then, equating the act of sharing textbooks with open contempt for an aged pedagogue. She upbraided my classmate for insincerity and irresponsibility, and me for the low cunning of concealing her grave misdemeanour.

Towards the end of this tirade came an artful touch of divide-and-rule.

Forgetting books at home, she informed the rest of the class, was part of our sinister plot to bring down their test-prep, and shoot their academic performance in the knee. “I can promise you that these two girls — friends of yours — have private tutors waiting at home”, she thundered. “They will make up for the time lost here. But you won’t. So don’t be surprised if these troublemakers do far, far better than the rest of you in your ICSEs [O-levels]. Instead of smiling like idiots, like this incident is one big joke, think what has just been stolen from you by these two.”

The class stared at her in fearful fascination. Something had just been stolen from them? By two people standing metres away? What magic was this? The girl in front of me absently patted her pocket.

“Time!” exploded Ms. T, making the whole class jump. “Those two have stolen precious, valuable time! I am certainly not going to make up for it. Let’s just hope your friends tell you where they’ve hidden it, so you can put them to good use and pass your finals!” And with that final flourish, she snatched up her bag, her copy of the text, the attendance register, and marched briskly out of the classroom.

Several heads swivelled at me. Pairs of eyes shot dagger-sharp accusation. “Oh, don’t listen to her”, I said with forced lightness, waving my hands dismissively. “Just look for your lost time in the last place you can think of. That’s where us thieves always stash the precious loot”. And I forced out a nervous laugh, for good measure. Heeh heeh.

It worked. All around me, hostile looks began to melt into open grins. Everyone loves a winking rebel. At this very moment of sweet relief, however, the hair at the back of my neck started bristling. (Always a good radar, neck hair.) Turning slowly, I saw Ms. T, presumed absent, standing a little beyond the doorway. Her eyes looked at me with cold fury.

There is no insult more insulting, I suppose, than the mocking smiles of one’s usual preys. The jackal, I imagine, takes the giggling of rabbits very personally.

I’d rather not go into what happened next. Suffice to say that it will make a very colourful entry in my memoir, should I write it.

But to write a memoir, of course, I would have to be famous first.

Which brings us to the entire point of this story. Fame makes cheek cool. Everyone else, shut up.

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18 comments

  1. I have but one comment, even though I am a teacher. Your aged pedagogue was a bitch! She broke the first rule of teaching according to me, she made a fool of her students in her zeal to teach you morals. You poor girl! I wish I could do a course for these wannabe teachers who would be much better off on death row guarding murderers and rapists. Unfortunately we still have many teachers in our schools who would belong more inside a Gulag labour camp..

  2. We have all had ogres for teachers in our lives. Most of our teachers at least till Class X were teachers by default, bored wives of husbands whose jobs kept them away from home, and even when I was in the junior classes, I knew, most (barring a notable few), were not fit to teach me and I had nothing to learn from them. What gradually happened is that my interest in subjects waned and waxed based on how the teacher was… crap country to be a kid in, this!

  3. I think I was lucky, Pathabhavan had no ogres….but I have seen my share of crappy teachers since, and not all in India either. One I knew at school here called students names and then cried in class when students called her the same names back. I hope I have been of more use to my kids than the ones you just described….:(

  4. Lali, I agree. Another FB acquaintance recently mentioned how his son’s love for school was transformed into a deep fear and dislike when he shifted base from the US to Bangalore. I’m not praising the US public ed system, mind, but the authoritarianism of our schools is quite alarming (and frequently turns out conformists young people with suppressed authoritarian or violent tendencies).

    Re. teachers influencing love for subjects, I have yet another story to tell. This happened recently, and I’m amazed at how awful teachers completely made me forget the love I had for certain subjects.

  5. I have students who have moved to Adelaide that have literally jumped into my arms years after I taught them….and the thing they remember is that I allowed time to like the subject…there are about 7 in that extended family at the moment….:)

  6. Rimi my position was somewhat similar, only I had always wanted to study English Literature, from as far back as I can remember. But I was above average in the science subjects too, but always had crap teachers. And then my love for eve
    n English got killed by our supposed wonderful CU teachers – we HAD to like them, one was JYoti Bhattacharya who I ended up hating with a passion, and there were sundry others. The damage done by them were countered by the most un-assuming of them all, the one, who I suspect, was also looked down upon by our precious group of ‘aantel’ profs – Bertie Da Silva. To this day I remember how he taught the music of Steinbecks language in Grapes of Wrath and when my son was reading it a few months back, I could recall every line he told us then. I can also see how my son, who I believe is way above average, is getting dumbed down in his ‘elite’ ‘international’ school, purely because of rubbish teachers and policies. And in Calcutta, where it shoudl never be like that, where there are no small-town problems of teachers, too! It is mired in mediocrity and it infuriates me no end.

  7. I’ve heard plenty of highschool horror stories, Wimi Editions, but they never fail to infuriate me. Death to teachernazis!!!!!

  8. Lali, you hated jyoti bhattacharya? i know people who love him! Rimi, did i tell you the story about how a much-hated p.t. teacher filled in one day for an absent bangla teacher, and said, ‘sindhu sobhyota gonga r tire’? 🙂

  9. Oh, I HATED him, and I don’t care who sees this now. I know people loved him – he was supposed to be this God – turned out he had his whole bleeding body made of clay. pompous, arrogant, he looked down at everyone with such disdain it was impossible to imagine he even considered others human. And for quite some time I had what was a kind of Stockholm syndrome – I too thought he must be good, the fault was in me. Till I went and attended some classes in Cambridge. The enormity of how inadequate the teachers here struck home them – you could see the teachers and the taught both loved their roles and English wasn’t something one took up cause one did not get anything else, which was and I suspect t still is, here a lot. Joint a paini? Ki aar korbe, Englishi neete holo, – you know how I mean…

  10. Do Bertie and Mel still play music on stage in Cal? The atmosphere in SXC Eng Hons was quite amazing in those days- I remember being lectured on Plato in the canteen by a batchmate of Bertie’s when they were supposed to be in class (there were only 4 in that batch).

  11. From an upper class families with a history of private schooling, my parent’s exile to the suburbs gave me a start in our public school system. There was enough mixing of parents and teachers, socially as well as at the local school that the vicious harshness I have heard about didn’t occur. In India’s urban private schools, after class one doesn’t keep mixing socially as easily. Students who are children of friends or social acquaintances wouldn’t be so harshly treated or the teacher would be socially shunned. By 5th grade I was in a uniform and bussed to the traditional day school, including quasi-military drills and some bullying. I also got a worst-class Z demerit for profiteering for selling soft drinks from my canteen during marching practice. Then I was sent to boarding school, where I met those weird ones. Graduating from Harvard Business and getting no offers, I started an educational publishing company and was soon explaining it to the sales force. “There are three kinds of teachers”, I said, “the ones who love to teach and inspire, the ones who do it for the salary, and the horror stories who like to abuse their authority over kids”. Our job was to provide materials to help the good ones do a great job, and make it impossible for the bad ones to prevent the teaching. I was twenty five, and four years later I was out of a job, not uncommon with small companies, the downside of free enterprise. Still, I’m glad we helped a little, and we got nice letters from the first category. Needless to say, the horror stories were forced to follow MY lesson plans. Too bad for them. Hee Hee (we can still hear the giggling of the rabbits)

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