The children gathered around the object in the garden.
‘What is this?’ the little one rubbed his eyes, ‘Colorful!’
The rising sun bought out the highlights in his sun bleached hair as he bent over the rose in the garden. He stretched out a hand towards it wanting to break it into little pieces… it wasn’t as good as the one he had at home. So why should he let this, of his playmates’ garden bloom?
The girl stood at the door of the class room.
‘Which one of you came from X school?’
‘Er,’ I stood up, ‘I did.’
The class looked around in surprise and started muttering. The teacher stared a bit… then let it go.
‘You’re wanted in the English Department, right now,’ the girl handed a note to my teacher as she told me.
‘Yes …’ she raised her eyebrows.
I shrugged and came along. In the staff room, there were two teachers waiting for me. One very slim and old… the other one very very fat and awfully strict looking.
‘You got any debating experience?’ she asked.
Her voice doesn’t match her, I thought and felt hysterically giggly and freaked out at the same time
‘Well then, you’re going to have to get some.’
Er, okay, how does one reply to that??
‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I shifted my weight from one foot to the other.
‘Here, read this,’ she thrust a Shakespeare into my hand.
‘You can read, can’t you?’ her eyes sparkled with good humored laughter, ‘I would hate to think this college has lost even what little standard they have by letting in children who can’t even read’
and she winked. Oh my God! A teacher winked at me!!
I looked down at my shoes and tried to think of something serious to stop myself from bursting out laughing. This was something so new! I had a very low estimation of teachers after the way I’d been targeted at the old school; and suddenly, what was wrong with the world! : )
Feeling giggly, I started out with interruptions of ‘louder, child’ and ‘repeat that stanza again.’ When I finished, there was silence.
I looked at Mrs. R first. No expression. Then I looked at the emaciated Mrs. S.
I looked down and then up again.
‘What do you think?’ Mrs. R asked Mrs. S.
I wondered what was going on, until Mrs.R thrust a debate into my hand. Written down and all.
‘This is day after tomorrow. Call home and ask your parents about coming home late today. We have to practice.’
I called my dad and told him.
‘What?’ he asked, ‘You? Debate? Do they know you’ve never done any before?’
‘Yes daddy, they know!’ I was feeling a tad angry at this.
‘Haha,’ he suddenly laughed, startling me, ‘so, someone in the family has my genes too!’
‘Yeah, I was a top debater,’ he boasted.
‘I am on a school phone,’ I reminded him, ‘and just so that you know, yeah RIGHT you were.’
‘Wait till you get home,’ he spouted off some mock-anger, ‘Just wait, puttar*’
He reached a chubby hand towards it when it was arrested by a large firm hand with a touch so gentle that he was surprised. He looked up to see himself staring into the kindest eyes he had ever seen.
‘No,’ she whispered as she took his hand away from the flower, ‘this is a rare breed. It’s not to be put in the vase with the others.’
‘Who are you?’ the child was baffled.
‘Me?’ her eyes twinkled as the air around her filled with her laughter, enveloping everything and making the other flowers dance for joy, ‘I, my child, am a harvester of these roses. Some take a long time to grow… and this is my special one. It’s not the best, but it will be… a little bit of fertilizer, a little bit of water. All given in a timely manner.’
‘Where’d you get the seed?’ the child asked.
The woman laughed her warm laughter that seemed to patter down around him like the first drops of a warm monsoon rain, ‘I recognized this when it was just a seed amongst others,’ she smiled, ‘That takes a practiced eye… and the skill of a surgeon.’
The first sound of approaching rain rumbled around them as the sky was streaked with a flash of light.
‘Lets get you inside,’ she said to the child.
The child put his hand into hers, and they walked off the lawn into the safety of the house… The rain was now coming as monsoon rains do; warm and soft with big drops noisily pattering as they hit the earth and lifted some mud of in clouds scented with freshly mown grass.
I climbed up to the podium with knees literally knocking together. My face was pale; that much i knew. My nails were blue because i was feeling ready to faint. God, what had come over me! Why did i agree to Ms.R’s stupid stupid idea of letting me take this on. The whole bloody hall was FULL of people. A public humiliation was in the offing; no doubt about that. As i prepared to launch into my prepared and learnt debate, the comfort of something known amidst all these lights in my eyes and 3000 faces of spectators of the regional intercollegiate debates looking up at me, the judge asked me to stop. I stopped. And went red.
‘Name, please?’ he looked over the tops of his bifocals. ‘I didn’t catch your name.’
Whew, i let out a very audible sigh INTO the microphone and people actually laughed. With me. Not at me.I felt a smile resting on my face too. God, i must look totally confident here. La, what a joke!
Repeating my name and school again I put on a brave smile and started again. I’d already been in the lights for 3 minutes; could i get on with the debate? My legs were about to give away any time now.
And then i opened my mouth…
and was transported.
I was someone watching myself with on open mouth from the sidelines thinking, Oh my God! Who is this girl! She’s good!!
I wasn’t the only one entranced; the audience were too!
Then, i made a little mistake; stumbled. No problem. Getting on, i finished with aplomb and a confidence i didn’t really feel. I waited for a while tears threateningly near the surface. God, every one had so hated me. And then, someone started to clap. And it built up till the applause was ear shattering.
After listening to boring debates for three hours, the audience was alive and kicking and so in-the-flow with me. ‘Oh my Goooood! You were awesome!’ shrieked my debating partner. She was a veteran debator who’d been debating since she was six years old… and coming from her, this was high praise. Much as I’d love to imagine I’d won the first prize, I hadn’t. Of that much I was sure.
I had stumbled; when you’re up against the best of the best, there is no room for mistake. They announced the consolation prizes. Nope, my name wasn’t in there. Then they announced the third one. Still, no me. Second one, oh my god!! That’s me. I was shocked…but pleased. The first one went to my partner and surprisingly, the ‘children’ of our college’s debating society had lifted the regional trophy! For a first time debater like me, this was something unheard of. Not only did i get pats on the back from every teacher, suddenly i was the ‘cool’ kid in the institution because I was going around winning prizes for them.
The best part was: Ms.R had restored my confidence in myself.
Given me the tools to shape the best out of a talent I never knew I had.
Given me my self esteem back
Given me the confidence to say ‘I could’ve won first but I stumbled. Gah, how could I have been such an idiot! When’s the next debate? I’m gonna bring you the first prize for sure!’.
The rose swayed and danced in the rain. It was rejoicing
to be continued…
*puttar= Punjabi for ‘son’ or ‘child’
P.S. Like all my teacher-oriented posts, this one is dedicated to the best among the best of them, ‘Liya.
P.P.S. The next part of this series will be password protected. And I will also be protecting the previous ones. Please write to me within the week at schauspiel.vista [at] gmail [dot] com with a valid blog address of your own. Alternatively, leave a comment on the page ‘password protected posts’ when logged in from your blog and I will send you an e-mail with the password