Monday, March 31, 2008

For My Teacher

A phone call.
I listened.
I panicked.
It isn't true.

I haven't met her for the past one year. I was going to meet her soon. I had to tell her I'm working now. That I've made it through. That I have missed her these past few years. That I think of her so often. That I speak of her so often. That my friends know of my teacher who could transform an ordinary class into a mind-bending exercise . And that when they tell me how lucky I am I know exactly what they mean.

Four years of history, life, the universe and everything else. The mad-frenzy of G.S Elections, an unreal year with the Students' Executive, innumerable mornings of reading the news, chalo bhor ke raahi , scanning the paper for anecdotes and discoveries from bygone eras, projects on Sufi music and British memsahibs, bulletin boards, the cold war, We Didn't Start The Fire, panel discussions on Mohammed bin Tughlaq, the controversial history textbooks, the refrain of songs sung again and again in class and in the choir, taking frantic notes in class trying to keep up with her, classes in the warm sun on a winter's day, a card from her on children's day that spoke volumes, a note from her in a paper, the collective gasp of surprise when we got to know she was an F1 enthusiast, the steady stream of seniors who came by every now and then - always to meet her in particular, the stories of her students which she told and re-told a million times, her laughing eyes and animated hands, a yearbook , more songs, diya ceremony and a farewell that ended with karavaan chal diya, door ke desh ko, aur khamosh hum, dekhte reh gaye.

We learnt from her but she never failed to remind us that after more than two decades of teaching she was learning too. From us.

My memory of her was so much in conflict with what was in front of me. A small shred of the person i knew- we all knew. To see her simply lie there motionless was a reality I did not want to accept. I walked up to her to say goodbye, but i couldn't. To say goodbye would mean letting go. And I wasn't ready. Tears flowed not so much in sorrow but in sheer disbelief. In anger and pain at the thought of one such as her silenced by death. An unbearable lightness.

Death. The only certainty. And yet its coming leaves us powerless against the stark truth. She is gone. But even so, her spirit is too big and too free to be contained by the finality of death. I hope she finds peace. A place to rest with her books, Michael Schumacher, music, maps, questions and a window to look out of.

If the universe really is made of stories, then Chitra ma'am's stories will glow in the dark.

with love, gratitude and warm memories of times well spent. you are missed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Universal Truth on NGC

The other day, while watching a bewitching series about the birth of our planet Earth on National Geographic Channel I had one of those moments when you realise something and knock yourself on the head for not having thought of it before.

As I watched a make-believe earth hurtle through a make-believe universe I figured that...

The earth is big.
The universe is bigger.
Humans are small.
I am smaller.
My issues are wee.

Life is that simple.
It is.

Friday, March 14, 2008

In Memoriam...

Nostalgia is something I like to indulge in every once in a while. And it is indulgent I think, to savour memories and thoughts, re-play incidents and moments in slow motion with omissions and additions. To not take take stock of the present and revel in a past re-imagined. Phrases like 'the good old days' and 'hamaare zamaane mein..' or even my latest favourite 'aaj kal ke bacche' trigger a chain of thought that follows a trail of old phtotgraphs, memorabilia and notes from a diary. The present pales in comparison to the glorious past.And somehow things never seem as great as they used to be.

A wise wise man once said "We live life in retrospect." When i first heard that statement I was astonished by the simplicity of its truth. Generation after generation has believed that there was never a better time to live (not exist) than when they were young. The air is always cleaner, the trees more abundant, the children more child-like and life infinitely simpler back then.
Grandparents are among the first people to introduce you to this curious world that belongs to their memory and is eventually given over to your imagination. The ancestral house with a dozen rooms to get lost in. The crazy cook whose adamanga you steal at your own risk. The large family you wished you could have. The music sessions your grandfather had with his daughters as he played the veena and they sang. The story about the namboodiri who cured the sick boy of a snake-bite but died himself. And the many many ammavans, chittammas, chechis and chettans you just can't keep up with. have memories of your own. The railway track that you named 'trackey' and then returned to years later with a little cousin in tow. The swimming instructor whom you threatened with instant death at the hands of your father (who FYI is a doctor). The pond at the back of your grandmother's house where you poked the turtles while your cousins thrashed around trying to swim. The aunt who died of cancer but taught you how to squeeze colours out of a flower. The time when you lost one slipper in the slush after the rain and went home with one foot in a slipper and the other in a cast of mud.The train journeys when you would wait for a glimpse of the hill shaped like a thumb. The history projects at school that you put your heart and soul into. The teacher who made you not just like the subject, but love it. The moment when you knew you had made it to that one institute you had been obsessing about for 3 years..... and everything that followed.

It's the good stuff we romanticize. The rest is all reluctant remembrance. The things we leave behind don't actually get left behind. They get shelved into some compartment or the other and are labeled unanimously "For Future Reference." And then we reminisce about the good, bad and the ugly....incessantly and unabashedly. Why wouldn't the present then seem like a mere shadow of the past?