Everyone was scared of Suresh sir. The new science graduate from PVKN College, Chittoor. His explosive temper was legendary. Even Mallik, the Correspondent of Anita Tutorials avoided confrontations with Suresh. The lady teachers though had little to worry about. Suresh was nice to them, especially to pretty lady teachers. I kept a very low profile in the Tutorials. Especially in Physics and Math classes which Suresh taught. We were five of us in the 9th standard classes. A pretty girl and four boys. And I was the shorty of the class. I wore Shorts to school (and to the Tutorials). The other guys wore trousers. Shaved daily. And looked like men. Probably were having sex too on a regular basis. I, on the other hand, hanged with the 7th standard boys, played marbles, read Disney, and sat in the front bench. I looked the part I must admit but the three guys didn’t give a shit about me as I posed no threat: I was not in the race to win that girl’s heart.
I was happy with my uneventful life until the day Suresh started Magnetism classes. I had read up and researched on it earlier and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. While he was explaining the basics of Magnetism, I just put my hand up and finished the class for him. Now, I am no geek. It was just a coincidence that I knew Magnetism better than my entire class. It was an aberration. Let me explain: my family celebrated every time I scored more than 35% in Math. But, Suresh thought I had potential. Our Tam-Bram connection too probably made him pay attention to me, I don’t know!
“Dey Soplangi, when did you study about Electron spin and all?” Suresh said.
I looked around. My heart was racing. My nails dug into my clenched, perspiring fists. I unclenched my fists and rested my hands on the coarse floor. I wanted to take a leak.
I wanted to say something cool. Something that told the arrogant bastards in my class who I was. And, of course, I wanted this moment to change the way the girl looked at me: I wanted to graduate to ‘my friend’ from ‘my younger brother’s friend’. But all that came out was
The sniggering echoed against the unpolished, jagged walls of the room. She looked uninterested and was busy poring through the text book.
“Enna daa? Muttaal! Say something coherent” Suresh said.
I took a deep breath and said,
“I read up on it. Sir…”
“Very good.” Suresh said and turned to the losers and the girl, and said, “I’d appreciate that kind of proactive learning. Your Physics book can be as exciting as Desmond Bagley’s The Golden Keel.”
An uncomfortable vacuum developed. All of them wore blank stares.
Suresh turned to me and raised his eyebrows and said
“Dey Asamanjam, do you know who Desmond Bagley is?”
That was familiar territory, all right. I was one of the two guys, at school, that read English novels back then. And, my family physician had a small library, which I raided regularly. It had James Hadley Chase (with newspaper covers to hide those lovely, revealing women on the covers), Alistair Mclean, and of course The Golden Keel.
“That’s a novel about Mussolini’s hidden treasure and how a group of adventurers smuggle it out of Italy, using the keel of a ship…” I said. My chest expanded to 56 cm.
Suresh stared at me. A crooked smile creased his bespectacled face. I noticed the green veins on his muscular forehand. He punched walls to strengthen his fists we were told. Some of his thick, unruly hair stuck to his forehead. A trickle of sweat drifted down his side-locks. He was still staring with that ‘Unfuckingbelievable!’ smile stuck on his face. I glanced around. The boys were already packing their bags.
“Not bad at all!” He ended the staring and said.
I wanted to tell him that I was not exactly one of those studious or brilliant wankers that aced all their exams and went on to become engineers or doctors. I was not a complete idiot all right but I wasn’t Krishna (our class topper) or Ramesh (topper from 9th C). He slapped my back with his Pop-eye arms and said,
“Class dismissed,” Suresh said. The other boys slithered out of the class. Their worried faces told me that they knew, they now had new, tougher competition. She stayed back to edit her essay with Suresh’s help. I was about to take off when Suresh said, “Dei, wait, I need to talk to you.” I slammed my brakes and I stood there like E.T. in a bowling alley. She had expressive eyes. She had a way of animating with her arms. Like when she asked a question, her outstretched palm too asked it… like a Bharathanatyam dancer. I was salivating at her and before long she finished her essay discussion and left. I thought she flashed a smile at me but it was probably my imagination.
Suresh was busy stacking up some papers on the shelf behind his desk. We were in the office room now. He switched the table fan on and settled down on his chair.
“Sit da!” He yelled.
I sat at the edge of the chair.
“What else do you read?” Suresh asked.
I stopped playing with the paperweight and told him about Chase, Mclean, Tintin, Asterix, and of course Disney. I also told him about how I read anything and everything. About my disagreements with Yendamuri. About how Yerramsetty Sai was India’s Wodehouse. He did not utter a word through it all. When I ended my chatter he said.
“You don’t want to be an engineer, no?”
I gulped. It was like swallowing a Cricket ball. If I said ‘no’ and he told that to my dad, that would be a catastrophe. I blinked and made some more incoherent noises.
“It is okay if you don’t want to be one. At least you know what you don’t want da. Look at me, my dad wants me to study engineering after my BSc and I have no choice. I have to do it. Hitler never died. He came to Chittoor and married my mom.”
Even teachers suffer from dads. He continued.
“Your dad seems a man of reason da. So tell him what you want to do. Set his expectations. You still have time.”
I nodded in agreement.
“You got talent da Soplaangi. Make use of it when you have time. Have a dream and pursue it.” We spoke for some more time. He treated me like an equal. He wanted me to read Ayn Rand (I will never forgive him for doing that to me. That was death by prose!)
That was that. As he pedaled away on his Bicycle down the slope, I felt a strange pain. I wrote my first novella in a 200 page notebook that night. I wrote till 2 A.M. When I finished scribbling ‘The End’ and closed the notebook, I knew that Suresh sir was indirectly responsible for unleashing another wannabe writer.
I never did any of what he asked me to do. I did miserably in school and college. I never bothered. But his words from that day made a lasting impact. He was the first person who told me I was good. That I was talented. I don’t know if I am, but I believed in him. He probably forgot all about me. He probably forgot our conversation in the next hour. But, to me, it was a start. I don’t know how you tell a good teacher from the ordinary, but I know now. A good teacher makes you believe. That, and only that counts.
Happy Teachers’ day.