By Savitri Narayanan
“I am OK with all subjects actually,” said Bhagyashree, “Except Maths! That too these decimals and fractions! Can’t make heads or tails of it!”
“Maths is OK; if we practice the sums, we can get through,” said Deepika, “but this English is so difficult! Parts of speech, figure of speech, antonyms, synonyms – so vague!”
The final exams were starting soon and all were busy with revisions. For the senior students, it was also time to leave behind the village middle school and move on to the secondary schools in town.
Being neighbours, Bhagyashree and Deepika often met to exchange notes and generally catch up. Deepika was more like an elder sister and a guide in school matters because she was two classes senior. Discussing the teachers and other students was not only fun but also good guidance for Bhagyashree.
It was very important to score well in Class VIII because all good secondary schools in town conducted admission tests. Maths and English scores were the deciding factor. Unlike Deepika, who went to the Municipal Secondary School, Bhagyashree was keen to go to Hill Valley School in town. They had lots of sports activities. They lifted several trophies in the inter-school competitions. Bhagyashree’s dream was to be in the national volleyball team. If only she could get in to Hill Valley School!
“Wish I could get some help with Maths,” said Bhagyashree, “Then I’ll pass any admission test!”
“Ronu bhaiyya knows someone who gives tuitions; I think he’s an ex-student of Hill Valley School waiting for admission to some course. He gives tuitions for pocket money.”
That’s how Bhagyashree’s tuitions started. Rakesh Sir attended some coaching class near the supermarket after which he would cycle down to Deepika’s house where Bhagyashree waited with her books. The house was small so they sat in the front verandah itself. The family left them alone except when someone brought his tea. This went on for a week or so.
“How is the class? Are you able to understand the lessons?” Rakesh Sir asked one day as she collected her books and got up to leave, “I mean, with all this disturbance around!”
“Yes Sir, I understand. Thank you so much”, said Bhagyashree.
“I can teach you better if only we could be in a place with no disturbance,” he said.
Bhagyashree wondered what was disturbing Sir. The family members did move in and out to do their tasks but there was no disturbance, especially as their table was at the far end of the verandah. Once in a while a neighbour walked in to chat, a salesman called out from the gate but none of these bothered Bhagyashree.
“We could have the tuition class at home, Sir,” she said, “will ask Mummyji today.”
“Or, if you could walk down to the Municipal Garden,” he said, “that’s closer to my coaching class, too; I mean I don’t have to come all this way!”
That’s how the tuition class shifted to the Municipal Garden.
“That’s OK,” said Maaji, “Sir is coming out of his way to teach you, if the park is better for him then so be it!”
Nothing really changed but something changed.
“Why’s he sitting so close to me!” thought Bhagyashree as she tried to solve the sums. His eyes on the cellphone in hand, Sir had slid closer. Bhagyashree felt insecure as she tried to squeeze herself against the handle at the edge of the bench.
The chairs in Deepika’s verandah were so much better than this park bench!
But a good teacher he was! Decimals and fractions were at last making sense! Now Bhagyashree actually understood how both were one and the same, just a different way of saying the same thing! Converting one to the other was so simple, why did people make it such a big issue!
“Do this sum first,” he said sliding closer to her, his finger on the notebook page.
“Sir, please sit a little far,” she wanted to say but couldn’t. She discreetly slid further and tried to concentrate, in vain.
“See you tomorrow, same time,” he said as he got up to go.
Something was not right. ‘What to do?’ she thought as she walked back home. Whom to ask? What to ask? He was a good teacher for sure and she could get better marks in Maths. How to get her class back to Deepika’s verandah?
“What’s the matter? You are lost in thoughts like a scientist!” someone called out from across the road as she turned the corner. Deepika was watering her garden. At the sight of her friend she closed the tap and ran to the gate.
“How’s the class going on? 100% in Maths for sure?”
“There’s something I want to tell you,” said Bhagyashree. Seated under the jamun tree, Bhagyashree confided in her friend. As they discussed, the problem seemed to grow smaller and more common but no solution emerged.
“Some men are like that,” said Deepika, “There’s this boy in Kusum didi’s college who……”
What to do! Bhagyashree wanted the tuition class but not like this!
“Here comes Usha didi, let’s ask her,” said Deepika and called out to their neighbour, “Ushadi, come for two minutes, need to ask you something!”
Doing her post-graduation from the city college, Usha was walking back home from the bus stop at the junction.
“What are you two up to? Telling love stories? Got a boyfriend?” joked Usha as she too sat down with them, “Tell me, whose boyfriend is fighting?”
Soon they confided in her. She was all attention and asked a few questions.
“Men are like that, sometimes they act funny; have some in my college too,” she said, “They are not bad people; learn to look beyond their behaviour and get your work done!”
“What do you mean, Ushadi?”
“This Sir of yours teaches Maths well, isn’t it? And that’s what your priority is now, to pass the entrance test!”
“But I don’t like the way…”
“Tell him that, what stops you? Don’t be afraid! No use blaming others; it’s up to us women to guard ourselves!”
The three of them discussed and made a plan of action.
“Let this be our secret,” she said in conclusion, “Be strong in mind, Bhagyashree; God helps those who help themselves!”
The next day, by the time Bhagyashree reached the park, Sir was already on the bench engaged with his cellphone. She handed over the homework book for correction and he gave her a practice sheet. She sat at the far end of the bench and got engrossed in her work.
The park was rather deserted except for a few boys playing badminton and two labourers beyond, one with a lawn mower and the other with his hose in hand.
“You went wrong here….,” Sir said, pointing out a mistake, leaning over her shoulder.
“Sir, please move away! Don’t touch me!” Bhagyashree stood up.
“You don’t have to shout,” he said softly, “Come sit here!”
“I’ll shout louder if you touch me again,” she said, “That’s my Mamaji’s house – that one with the blue colour wall and the guava tree; Mamiji’ll be here in one minute, if I shout!”
The hour went by quietly as Bhagyashree solved the sums and he corrected her homework.
“Sir, for the first time I really understood the concept of decimals and fractions – what they actually mean!”Thank you for helping me out!”
“These revision worksheets will help you,” he said, “Tomorrow, we’ll do Geometry; bring your instrument box.”
Deepika was waiting at the gate. “The plan worked!” said Bhagyashree as they settled down under the jamun tree, “I said ‘I’ll shout louder, Mamiji will be here in a minute and he went pale! Absolutely no fuss after that!”
“That’s what Ushadi said, isn’t it? We have nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of. When our mind is clear and strong we can surely guard ourselves!”
“A good teacher he surely is! Now I actually understand the decimals and fractions!”