By Savitri Narayanan
“The Saturday Forum is about to start,” thought Rupa looking at the deserted staff room, “hopefully they won’t miss me!”
The Saturday Forum was an experimental idea put into practice recently. It was the brainchild of the new Principal who had taken charge a year ago.
“It’s a forum for children to show their talents,” she had said at the staff meeting. “We all know how we select, train and show off the best, what about the rest?”
So was born the Saturday Forum of which Rita madam was put in charge. On Saturdays, at the 8th period bell, all classes assembled in the hall. The teachers too wound up and took along their bags and dispersed from there. Every class teacher ensured one presentation from their own class. A poem, a skit, a group song, a speech – the children got a chance to gain confidence.
Rupa put away the notebooks and closed the shelf. She switched off the fan and light and was about to go to the hall when someone came up.
“Please may we come in, madam?” a young couple with a child stood at the door. Since it was the admissions time so many people were in and out of the school with their little children.
“There, there,” Rupa pointed to the left, “The Principal’s office is there; better hurry, it’ll be dispersal time soon!”
“Madam, we came to meet you”, said the mother, “meet my daughter Mihika, your new student!” Then she turned to her daughter, “Remember your manners, Mihika! Say ‘namaste’!”
The little girl ignored her mother and looked at the door. They looked like well-to do people, the type who would opt for the English medium schools in Sitlapur. Why were they seeking admission here in the Government school? And after getting admission why were they here in the staffroom?
“Madam, you don’t know me but I will never forget you,” the mother bent down to touch her feet, “You’re so kind and caring—“
Once in a while some old students did come back to reconnect. Looking so different, so grown up, so difficult to recollect! Beards and moustaches, fancy jewelry, modern outfits – but somewhere there was a little child!
“I am Meena- Meena Bhandari; just got posting in the bank here,” she said, “My husband Pranav and daughter Mihika!”
“Meena Bhandari…from Chhangaon? Did your grandfather own the medical shop?”
“Yes, madam”, she was thrilled to be remembered and happily chatted away about her family and old friends.
“I am curious Meena, usually the bank staff’s children don’t come here – to a government school; and you are the manager too!”
“This school has caring teachers like you, who leave good memories”, she said, “How can I forget the way you came to my rescue on that rainy morning….”
A quarter century had passed but the day was still fresh in the bank manager’s mind. Walking the mile and a half across the fields Meena was caught in the rain without an umbrella! Urmila did try to share hers but Meena was rather wet by the time they reached school. There she sat on the back bench feeling cold and feverish. Nobody really noticed her. She felt miserable, wished she could go home but didn’t dare ask for permission. Her lunchbox was left behind at home so she was hungry, too. The weather brightened up in the afternoon so Paresh sir took the class for outdoor play. Meena stayed back in the class, shivering a little.
“Oh! dear! What’s wrong with you? Why are you here alone?”
It was Rupa madam on her round. She hugged Mina close and said, “My! My! You are wet; what if you catch a fever!”
Rupa madam called out to the peon across the window, “Shanta di, go search in the old clothes box; find something warm for this little one! She’s freezing!”
Shantadi brought a faded pink frock and an underwear, too. In warm clothes, in Rupa madam’s lap, in her warm embrace the day brightened. The ‘roti subzi’ and the mango pickle in madam’s lunch box tasted out of this world!
“Meena is right!” the gentleman spoke for the first time, “It’s not the buildings, school buses and computer labs that make a school, it’s surely good teachers!”
“Teachers like you, madam!” a tear rolled down and Mina’s voice broke when she said, “With those like you around, I know Mihika won’t go hungry and drenched on a rainy day!”
“Thank you for coming,” said Rupa and she turned to the little girl, “Before you come to school, make sure your mother remembers to give your lunchbox!”