My daughter Pihu's first day at a nearby day care centre was a disaster. The teacher could not handle her crying as my daughter missed me, my number was not reachable and by the time I came to check on her, the clueless teacher shouted at her. My girl (now 2 ½ years old) fell into my arms, crying. "I want to go home," she said between sobs.
Immediately, I took her back and did everything for her to be her usual happy self. I am now looking for a really nice school for her, no matter how elite or grounded. I am so thankful that my girl goes after her father, who was always confident at school. I don't want her to go through what I did as a child.
The incident at the day care took me back to the time when I was a timid 8-year-old girl who'd get bullied almost every day and was once mercilessly battered by a teacher in primary school.
As an under-confident toddler, I had a shaky start at school. However, not one of the teachers really seemed to notice or care. Years passed and I remained the same, scared to go to school.
"She started hitting me. Hard. Once, twice, three times. I lost count. As she hit me, she made me repeat the word "traitor" after her. Ashamed and trembling with shock I said it. Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.
Matters came to a head when I was in the fourth standard. That day, I couldn't find my subject book in my bag. Afraid of the teacher--who when she was nice was a barrel of laughs and when she was angry was known to be downright demonic--I took out another book of same size and kept it on my table. I had never done such thing before. I must have looked pretty shifty because the teacher made a beeline for me. When she realised what I was trying to do, her inner demon was unleashed. She didn't bother to ask me why I did what I did (the answer: I was terrified of her) but she started hitting me. Hard. Once, twice, three times. I lost count. As she hit me, she made me repeat the word "traitor" after her.
Ashamed and trembling with shock I said it. Traitor. Traitor. Traitor. The word etched itself into my memory that day. There seemed to be no end to the anger of this teacher, this woman in her late 40s, but she finally got tired and made me stand outside the class, my lips bleeding. After a few minutes I was summoned back to the class. She was standing holding my book that has been found in the class locker. Apparently, it was with her for correction and I was too afraid to ask her! "Who taught you such tricks? Your mother?" she asked me angrily. I bowed my head in silence and shame, lips bleeding, cheeks red and hot, in pain, and eyes dried of tears. I was again sent out of the class to be mocked by passersby in the corridor.
That night I couldn't sleep. My very core was shaken. I stared into the darkness until day dawned. Was I really so terrible? Terrible enough to deserve such a punishment? I dreaded going to school as the word "traitor" echoed in my ears. I sometimes wonder if that teacher slept well that night.
"It took me years to come out of my shell and face the world confidently, to speak up... I struggled to enjoy my childhood and adolescence like others but failed miserably."
It took me years to come out of my shell and face the world confidently, to speak up. In between more so-called teachers vented out their anger at me as I found it impossible to find my voice. I struggled to enjoy my childhood and adolescence like others but failed miserably.
It was a long time before I could understand when I was actually right about something. That everything I thought or did was not wrong. Before that, I always doubted the validity of my thoughts and was looked upon as a strange person!
But eventually I did understand that I was less at fault that day than my teacher. It is a teacher's job to work on the weaknesses of children, to nurture them. It is not their job to be bullies in the classroom or look at children with contempt in the manner that I experienced.
I came out of all that misery, forgave everyone who had hurt me and became a confident woman who still prefers to remain quiet most of the times but knows how to break the silence when required. My family helped me, as did my love of reading and writing and my will to survive. Each experience can shape us or break us. I chose the former. Those days at school have made me thoughtful. I may not be the most spontaneous person, but I definitely have a balanced and understanding mind. Maybe that was the hidden good for me in that whole episode. I don't enjoy making fun of others and do not oppress anyone as I know what it feels like to be on the other side.
"Where is their sense of responsibility? They have the power to mould small children into beautiful people, so why do they choose to destroy young personalities instead? "
That day has left an indelible impression on me and I am determined not to let any such bad "teacher" near my daughter. I am determined to not let her be either a victim or a bully. I am all set to guide her in finding her voice.
Yet, I am still incredulous and disturbed by how some teachers can behave in such a callous manner. Where is their sense of responsibility? They have the power to mould small children into beautiful people, so why do they choose to destroy young personalities instead? Instead of capitalising on teaching moments to inculcate values in children, why do they punish and torture them with guilt and shame? How can pupils of such teachers grow up to become good, compassionate persons?
And the fact that I got so mercilessly beaten up by a Moral Science teacher in an English-medium convent makes this harsh reality even harder to swallow.
This post first appeared in a slightly different form on Roohi's blog Soulful.