126- Monday Musings – Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’
The day before yesterday I talked to my English teacher from school, almost after two decades. She located me. As I saved her number on my cell as Niharika ‘Miss’, who is surely not a ‘miss’ anymore, but to a mind that will remember her as she was experienced well over 20 years ago, will perhaps always remain a miss.
Niharika Miss had joined our school immediately after her Masters in English literature from Utkal University in Orissa and belonged to Bhubaneswar and was one of three imports from Orissa as the school management changed during my last three years there. For an extremely ‘bihari-tribal’ mix of linguistic influence, the addition of Oriya was only to cause a bit of flutter. She was young, freshly out of her college, in hindsight I can clearly see she was nervous, though she tried hard to put a brave and confident face, into her first job and in an alien place. Her 5 feet 2 inches frame did not help much as a few of us already towered over her. To make matters worse, she was to teach us English, which to put it mildly was not quite our strength, neither was there any desire to make it so.
I remember the first spelling she corrected for me was that Bhubaneswar was not spelled ‘Bhuwaneshwar’ as I had phonetically written. I was battling with an English handwriting that was somewhere between pathetic and horrendous, so during summer break she gave me ten 100 word essays to be written. If she was not impressed by the product of my limited linguistic abilities as she should have been, then she did not let me know it. She tried to put a 25 paisa fine (the same 25 paisa coin that has gone away from circulation last week) every time someone spoke in Hindi during her class, needless to say with little effect. I remember asking her audaciously if advance payment could be made for the fines that will fall due as there was no intention on our part to talk in English.
Once I went to meet her where she stayed and she was trying to explain why we should be reading English books and I spotted a small book on her table with a girl and a boy picture on its cover – something that made that book quite read-worthy to my young mind. When I asked her if could borrow it, she looked a bit flustered but gave in. Many years later I realised I had attempted to read a Mills & Boons title. Thank God I did not complete it.
It was a very happy day for me to talk to her – after all those years. As years went by, I did fall in love with the language and went an extra mile to develop a working proficiency in it. I have no doubt in my mind that the seeds were sown much earlier in a manner inconspicuous enough, that only a great teacher can do.
Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’. I owe you more than you can ever imagine, and more than I can ever tell you.