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So What?

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By Savitri Narayanan

Pitamber was new to the village school, to teaching itself, actually. After completing the teacher training course from Delhi two years ago, he’d worked on leave vacancy in a couple of schools – once when a teacher in a neighbouring school went on maternity leave and then when a teacher in another school  took three months leave to be with his ailing mother. Pitamber was hopefully waiting for a permanent job when this Maths teacher’s vacancy came up in a school in Shiragarh. He grabbed the opportunity, joined the school and put his full effort into to proving his abilities.

A strict disciplinarian but warm and friendly, he soon won the hearts of, both, his colleagues and the students.

The lunch bell chimed at half past eleven, the students opened their bags, grabbed the lunch boxes and rushed outdoors. They had their own corners where they assembled to eat their lunch.

The teachers took turns to be on ‘lunch duty’. There was nothing specific to do but keep an eye on the children. They ate their lunch amazingly fast and got into their favourite games like ‘statue’, ‘catch-catch’, skipping or hopscotch. Occasionally, there was an argument, a fight or a minor injury to be sorted out.

On that day, Pitamber was on lunch duty. He walked around for a while and then sat down on the cement bench under the badam tree.

Within no time, a few students came running to him.

“Sir, Sir, Arjun told Kanika, ‘I love you!’”

Pitamber Sir’s first thought was, ‘So, what?’, but something in the air made him cautious so waited patiently to hear more.

Both stood there – Kanika almost in tears and Arjun with a defensive, slightly scared look which he tried to cover up with a daring expression.

“What’s the matter? What happened?” he asked.

“Sir, Arjun told Kanika ‘I love you’ and did this too!” said one boy with a gesture of a flying kiss.

Pitamber instinctively knew it was a touchy situation.

“Sir, the other day, he said ‘I love you’ to me too,” another girl chipped in.

The matter was getting graver!  Arjun felt cornered, was on the verge of tears, too. Under the watchful eyes of the children, Pitamber Sir turned slightly nervous which he covered with a serious look.

‘What to do? What’s the appropriate reprimand?’ was the thought. He scanned through his teacher training manuals in his head to find the right response.

Thankfully, the bell chimed, the lunch time was over.

“There goes the bell!” he said hiding his sense of relief, “But we need to sort this out; what’s your next period?”

“EVS,” they said.

“That’s Manju madam, right?” Let me check with her if we could exchange periods!”

As he headed for the staffroom, the children returned to the class.

Pitamber felt more collected and confident as he surveyed the class. The mood had shifted. The air of blame was gone; they looked calmer and more relaxed. There was also an air of anticipation of reconciliation. Arjun’s best friend Irfan sat closer to him and Urmila held Kanika’s hands under the desk. They still looked victimised but the focus had shifted. All eyes were on their teacher.

“I understand how you feel about this, children!” he said to the class, then turned to Kanika and Arjun, “I’m sorry for what happened and how embarrassed you must’ve felt! But that’s over! As they say, forgive and forget!”

The class listened as he continued, “Children, as you grow up, in life you’ll have to face difficult situations often. The thing to do is overcome the difficulty, learn your lesson and move forward!”

The children looked at each other as they tried to figure out what lesson to learn from the lunch recess’ incident.

“The offensive word was ‘love’, right? Think again, what’s wrong with ‘love’? In the morning assembly, don’t you all repeat the pledge, ‘I ‘love’ my country’? Don’t your parents ‘love’ you? Don’t we love so many things and people? How about  sharing  some with the class now?”

There was hesitation to start with but soon the classroom resounded with responses. ‘I love ice-cream’, ‘I love kho-kho’, ‘I love swimming’, ‘I love my puppy’, ‘I love travelling’, so it went on.

“I love my cow’s new baby!” said Irfan, “It was born this morning.”

“Yes, Irfan, the cow too loves its baby, the way your mother loves you!” said Pitamber. Now that the ground was firmer, it was time to deal with the central issue!

“Love is a universal quality but there’s a right occasion and a right way to show it. What Arjun told Kanika is what we often see in the movies; sometimes grownups too say that to each other, but not in public! There’s a time and place for everything!”

There was silence in the classroom as he continued, “In our school you all are friends and classmates; some of you are relatives and neighbours, too, isn’t it? The way the mothers love their children, we teachers love our students, the way the school gardener loves the plants – there is so much love everywhere. There is no need to say, ‘I love you’; we know it, don’t we?”

The many pairs of eyes showed complete agreement.

“The school is a place where you come for education so focus on your studies, other things can wait!” he concluded and asked, “Any questions?”

There was respectful silence broken by the school bell marking the end of the period.

“Thank you, sir!” they said as Pitamber walked out of the classroom.

(The author is a retired educationist at present in Goa. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travelling.)