Friday, May 23, 2008

polished apples and cabbages

I'm doing a campaign about Teaching and the importance of teachers which kind of inspired me to write about one of my own past teachers...

She always wore a sari. Always in dark greys or browns, that complimented her greying-brown hair. The sari was always made of khadi, a hand spun Indian cotton, that was more of a statement that a cloth and had a long history of revolution and revolt weaved into the very fabric.

She never wore a bra. She used to walk into class smelling of smoke and adjusting her sari blouse. She never greeted the class, but instead just picked up the book of verse and read. And when she read everything seemed to melt away, and we’d hang on every word, every full stop and every pause.

Once in the middle of class she got a coughing fit (probably from smoking in the teachers lounge) and could not read the poem completely. When she asked the class for water everyone fumbled to give her their water bottle—like an offering, a polished apple if you will. The lucky student would be privileged to get a ‘Thank you Darling” from her.(She called us ‘cabbages’ when she was upset with us and ‘darlings when she wasn’t upset with us – but she was never ever ‘happy’ with us.)

Her name was Eunice and she was my English Literature professor in college. She retired before we reached our final year, so batch only had her for our first year of Literature. She hardly ever smiled and I would always see her in the teachers lounge, lighting up another cigarette and turning a page of yet another book she read. I heard that she never married, had many lovers and lived with only a parrot as her companion.

I, like most of the others who took Literature as their Major, was completely and totally in awe of this woman. She made me want to do better in my tests, she made me want to participate in class, she made me want to carry a water bottle to college only so she would sip it and call me ‘darling’ and then I would look at the ‘cabbages’ with a certain air about me.

When she yelled at us for not experiencing the work, I used to go home and cry. So much so my sister made me a little card that said ‘you are not a cabbage’ only so I would feel better.

I never would have thought she knew my name. I was one of those students who sat in the back seat – not because I was naughty, but because I didn’t want to be noticed and questioned, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
The week before she left I made her a ‘Thank You’ card that I carried around with me in my file, waiting for the right opportunity to present it to her. Finally, one afternoon I met her alone on the corridor between classes and I mumbled an ‘Excuse me, Ma’am’ and handed her the card.

That was when I had my definitive moment of glory. She looked at me and said ‘Thank you, Simone, darling’.

My year was made.