I don’t know whether you remember me. You taught me in Class VII. I was twelve years old, and you were one of my favourites. There are endearingly familiar things that I remember about you, which are so special to me: your million-dollar smile, the way your eyes crinkle and your whole face lights up when you’re happy, the confident, graceful and dignified way you always carry yourself (a shining example for awkward, clumsy, too-self-conscious pre-teens like me). I particularly loved the saris that you wore so beautifully: deep green, royal blue, Cadbury purple, russet, ebony, ivory.
What set you apart from all the rest, though, was your truly amazing ability to listen to others’ stories with seemingly endless amounts of patience and love. Even though you never studied Psychology, it was clear that you had a way with us. I remember how – when we’d be difficult with the other teachers – we’d readily flock to you by the dozen, to confide in you…. about broken hearts, fights at home, self-worth trouble, flare-ups with a close friend, academic performance (in any other subject but your own, because you were – and always will be – one of the most brilliant teachers whom I’ve ever had). You had this wonderful way of listening not only with your ears but also your eyes and heart.
I remember an instance where one of my friends, Nandini, had come to you. She was a mess – on her way home from school, the day before she approached you, she’d been groped and felt up by one of the rowdy senior boys in the school bus. She couldn’t tell her family about it, since they were almost unimaginably rigid and conservative, and the blame would have been put squarely on my friend’s shoulders (she would have been reprimanded that “she’d been asking for it”, which – truth be told – is absurd and impossible; not to mention a completely baseless accusation). That night, Nandini couldn’t sleep – she had to bite down on her pillow to muffle her screams.
When she came to you the next day, she was visibly agitated. All it took, for her to calm down, was one look at your serene face; your gaze transparent with warmth and love. And I was so glad that she talked – really talked – about everything that had been festering inside her since that unfortunate and terrible episode the previous day. By simply listening and letting her get things off her chest, you offered her an unconditionally accepting and non-judgemental space in which she could sort out tangled emotional cobwebs, as it were.
After her “session” (it’s rather apt to call it that, don’t you think?) with you, Nandini told me that she felt lighter than she had in years. You see, ma’am, she’s starved for love….her parents have always been emotionally unavailable, and didn’t make an effort to really get to know their daughter. All her life, Nandini has felt neglected and unwanted. That day when she confided in you was the first time in twelve years that she felt accepted and loved.
Today, a decade later, she keeps telling me that you were the catalyst that transformed her into someone who is comfortable in her own skin; someone who isn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve and give warm hugs to people who, she feels, needs them.
Neither of us will ever be able to forget you.
Thank you for always being there. Thank you for listening.