Sunday, July 24, 2011

School Day Reminiscences - VI

It may have been a while since I blogged about my recollections of those wonderful school days of mine, but they have, for sure, been constantly underlying my daily thoughts and actions. Needless to say, now that my high school reunion is coming up next month, those memories are all flooding my grey cells, vying with each other as they come rushing to the surface. I have mostly fond memories of the halcyon days of my childhood at SDA School, Madurai, but I must confess that there are three predominantly unpleasant incidents that I have never been able to reconcile with, even after all these years. Life consists of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I know that now, from my vantage point as an experienced adult, but as an innocent child, those unpleasant experiences made no sense to me at all then. On all those three occasions, I was let down very badly by the adults around me, for reasons that were incomprehensible and inexplicable to me at that time.

I debated long and hard within myself if I should be talking about unpleasant things now, but then decided that it might be cathartic for me to acknowledge that not all my memories of school are rosy after all. I may not be able to share all of them in the online world, and perhaps will never do so lest I hurt others, but one of them at least will resonate with many of my readers who have taken a physical beating from a person in authority, for no fault of theirs at all. I was beaten black and blue one horrible summer's day, and by that I literally mean black and blue, when my petite body was bruised so badly for weeks to come. I was a mere child at that time, perhaps ten years old, and had always been a good student and an obedient child at school. I had, and still have, the utmost respect for all my teachers. No one had cause to lay hands on me, not my parents, not my teachers, until that fateful day when I lost faith in my teacher, of all people!

It was our History class, and our teacher had brought back the test notebooks for us to see. Children that we were, we were all curious to check our scores on the test we'd taken the previous week, and scrambled for the notebooks all at once. Perhaps the teacher hadn't anticipated this mad rush to get our notebooks, on which we fell like a pack of wolves. He was unable to control the situation and couldn't hold us at bay, so he yelled at us to return the notebooks to his table so he could enter the marks in the register first before we could have them. I was a first row student, as always, and promptly returned it to the table, but so did the 25 other odd students in the class, all at the same time. Some of them from the back rows leaned forward from behind me and placed their books as well, but in the melee, the notebook pile got knocked down and went sliding down the table. Now the teacher had a pile of notebooks at his feet on the floor, and he completely lost it when he saw my notebook that had slid down with the others and was the one that caught his eye first.

To this day, I honestly don't know what came over him at that minute, but he went BALLISTIC. Yes, 'ballistic' is the word! He grabbed me by my uniform, pulled me forward, and slapped me multiple times with his bare hands. He then proceeded to rain down blows on me - on my head, on my face, on my back, on my hands, on any part of my body that was accessible to him - all with his bare hands. All his pent up fury was focused on battering my petite frame as he raged in anger at me. The entire class was aghast and fell silent, and I myself was speechless in total shock, confusion and pain. I could not understand why he was hitting me for no apparent reason at all, when I had implicitly obeyed him and had dutifully returned my notebook to his table. My agony and humiliation were compounded when he hauled me by my arms, and literally flung me out of the class, shut the door against me, ordering me to stand outside in the sun for the entire class.

My classroom at that time was the right side vestry at the back of the chapel, and I stood outside in the hot and harsh sun, sobbing uncontrollably. Another teacher, Mrs. Chandra John, who was teaching Grade 1 then, happened to come out of her classroom at that time and spotted me crying my heart out, with my hair in shambles and my face all swollen from the slaps I'd received - something quite unusual and not right to all those who knew me in school. The class had just ended, and she took me by the hand to my mother (also a teacher there), on the other side of the school campus. I was still seized by racking sobs and was clearly not in a state to explain to both of them what had happened. By then, angry welts and finger marks had begun to appear all over my face and body, and for the first time and the only time that I can recall, my mother took me to the teacher's room, and pointing to the telltale evidence on my body of the monstrous beating I'd received, she asked the teacher what grave offence I'd committed to warrant this kind of a punishment. The teacher said that I had been disrespectful to him and had thrown my test notebook on his table, and had knocked down all the other notebooks as well. All my mother said was that he should have known me better, that I would never be disrespectful to my teachers, that everyone at school could vouch for my good behavior, and that he had jumped to conclusions about me in this matter.

I went home in the evening, still sobbing, and continued to sob in my sleep, I was told. My father was outraged when he saw the finger marks on my swollen face, and when my mother removed my chemise that evening and he saw all the black, blue, and purple bruises on my body, he was practically livid, I must say. My trust and faith in my teacher was lost a little that day, and on extension, it was of a child who became distrustful and skeptical of an adult's unlikely and unexpected reactions to seemingly normal events in life. I have no clue why the teacher lost his temper with me in a big way that day, but what I'm sure of a hundred percent is that I had done nothing wrong. The next day, the teacher came to class with both his pant pockets full of chocolates and piled them in my hands - his way of making up, but I was very wary of him and steered clear of him from that day onward. I was never able to look him in the eye thereafter and not remember the severe beating I'd had at his hands. He was transferred elsewhere soon after and I never saw him again, but the incident left a deep scar on my psyche, deep enough, obviously, to warrant a blog post decades later! My beating had been senseless, monstrous, and unwarranted from my point of view, and he was the only teacher who ever laid hands on me in my entire life, thus making him quite an unforgettable part of my life for all the wrong reasons! :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Saga Of My Long Hair

Strange how whenever I reconnect on Facebook with my students from a long time ago, say anywhere from 15 to 25 years ago, they almost always are startled on seeing my short hairdo and question me about the looong hair I used to have! Oh yeah, that was another time and another place, for sure! While teaching in the Department of English at Lady Doak College, Madurai, India, I seem to have impressed my students a great deal with my long hair, if not my teaching! Many of them have distinct memories of the particular way I used to put up my hair, and surprise me with their recollections of the same.

So it goes that I had hair long enough to sit on and I used to wear it in a single braid like a snake. By that, I mean that my braid wasn't too thick or too thin, but just the size of a medium snake. My students tell me that I wore matching hairclips with my hair pulled up from my face, and then loosely bound at the nape of my neck with two colored ball clips that matched the color of my saris. Seriously, I don't recall this very much at all. From the ball clips downwards hung a single braid that swung like a pendulum when I walked. The only thing that I remember was the hassle of having to pull my braid to the front so as not to sit on it and have it caught under my kind bottom. That, and also having my year old son pull my braid and grab those colored balls so he could chew on them like candy!

I do remember though that I held on to the long hair for 3 years after I moved to California. By this time, maintaining it was becoming a problem. In addition to caring for a rambunctious three year old, having to take care of the hair as well was wearing me down. My sister took me for a perm, and I sported waist length hair, all in curls, for some time. That too proved to be a nuisance soon enough - I had to iron curl it, mousse it, and what not - not exactly my cup of tea! My husband kept urging me to chop it all off, and one day out of desperation and frustration, I took the plunge. I categorically asked the hairstylist to do the deed, and to my greatest surprise, she refused to take the scissors to my head. She tried to talk me out of it - "It's beautiful as it is. Why do you want me to cut it?" - but when I held on, she asked me if she could take my hair after it was cut. I asked her what she would do with it, and she replied she'd make beautiful hair extensions with it. I sort of felt like the heroine of O.Henry's "Gift of the Magi", only my hair wasn't used to buy a gift for my beloved, but was probably meant to be attached to some stranger's hair!

Thus ended the saga of my long hair and the rest is history. When I tell my current students in Vancouver that once upon a time I used to have hair long enough to sit on, they look at me with an incredulous expression as if to say, "Get out of here!" Have I regretted one bit about having lost all that hair? Not really. I feel like I belong in this part of the world, and I think it goes quite well with how I dress to work these days. It's the perfect foil to my dress clothes, and needless to say, my husband has now quit complaining of how long I'm taking to groom my hair!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No Time To Stop And Stare!

What is life if there is no time to stop and stare, I wonder! As much as I exult in the fact that both the husband and I have jobs that leave us gratified, I can't help quell that niggling thought that our lives have become so busy, mechanical, and high strung for leisurely pursuits of any kind. From the moment we open our eyes at 5.30 AM each morning, it's GO, GO, GO all the time, till we hit the sack around 10.30 or 11 PM at night. There's hardly any time for a breather in between ... my days are so super-structured and highly regimented that sometimes even bio-breaks are impossible to have. I am left with what my professor at the University of California used to call a "teacher's bladder" ... go figure! If that is my case, the husband brings home his lunch uneaten, or worse still, has his sleep disrupted to troubleshoot something that has cropped up at work - the price one pays for being in senior management, I suppose!

When was the last time we took an extended vacation as a family? That would be in January, 2008, when we both managed to make a two-week escape from all the madness and made it to India for a wedding in the family. I almost didn't make it because I was asked to cancel my trip two weeks before I was scheduled to fly out, all because of some inspection from some Canadian licensing board for which management wanted me to be present. I put my foot down and refused to do so, angering the management a great deal. I couldn't care less, because we were making it to India for the first time together as a family, after 10 long years of having left India for America, and I was determined not to let anything throw a monkey wrench in the works. Did we have a great time in India? Yes, we did, but we were so sleep deprived during the 2 weeks because it was a Hindu wedding, the rituals of which were spread out over many days, and my mother-in-law would wake us up at the unearthly hours of the night and the unholy hours of the morning for some ritual or the other! :)

Since then, we've only managed to get away for 3 days at the most at a time, that too for short road trips here in North America. Even then, the husband used to bring his work with him, and sometimes lock himself up in the bathroom at 4.30 or 5 AM in the mornings to take or make calls, in order not to disturb our sleep. On one occasion, he was whispering instructions on the phone at 4.30 AM, when the person at work on the other end asked him why his voice was so feeble and if he were sick. He had to confess that he was calling from the bathroom lest he woke us up! That's our life, and sometimes, we feel terribly sorry for the kid who has to put up with all this crap. He hasn't complained, at least not yet, because he's busy with his studies and doing his own thing. As for me, I have no reason to complain, but sometimes I wish I just had the time to do all the things I've been putting off for way too long. My reading list has been growing of late, and I feel a rising panic if I can read them all in time - that's just one example, from my long list of pending things to do!

After all, what is life if there is no time to stop and stare?!?

Friday, July 8, 2011

An Outrageous Verdict

Civilized America has just let out a collective gasp of disbelief and dismay on hearing the acquittal verdict of the jury in the Casey Anthony trial. For the past three years, the entire nation, and its neighbors to the North, have been riveted by the unseemly case of a young mother having allegedly done away with her two year old child, Caylee, in order to continue with her partying ways. It was a drama the likes of which we had never seen before, the "tot mom" as Nancy Grace had dubbed her, being the most reviled woman in America thus far. The circus brought to the fore the entire dysfunctional Anthony family, the press out like a bloodhound every single day, a legion of angry protesters outside the family home crying for blood, and eager members of the public trying to get into the courthouse each day of the sordid trial to watch the legal drama being played out by both the prosecutors and the defense.

While forensic analysis, common sense and gut instinct cried out that Casey Anthony had killed her defenseless child by allegedly administering her chloroform and suffocating her with duct tape placed around the mouth and nose, and then disposing off the body in the woods less than a mile from her parents' house, it has come as a great shock to the public that the jurors acquitted her, going against the common grain, citing lack of motive and conclusive evidence. Her lawyers mounted a vigorous defense that the time or manner of death of Caylee were inconclusive and that there was no concrete proof that Casey was responsible for the deed after all. The prosecution had asked for the death penalty in this case, but in retrospect, perhaps they had overreached in their charges that could not be proved without the shadow of a doubt.

Passions seem to be running high since the verdict was read out a few days ago, and with Casey to be let out of jail in the coming days, there have been many death threats to her, the jurors, and her family as well. Her defense lawyer now has an agent to field calls from the media, television corporations are vying with each other to score the first interview with Casey, and jail officials are planning how to let her out through the back door, away from the prying eyes of the media and the blood calls of the protesters. Casey Anthony has already turned down a jail cell visit from her estranged mother, and the drama continues to unfold on the airwaves, from everyone to her former friends, ex-boyfriends, psychologists, and lawyers from all over weighing in on the case. As to what the future holds for Casey, one has to wait and see, and as to who killed Caylee Marie Anthony, and how, one may never know the answer!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I celebrated my birthday recently, very quietly and without fanfare. I didn't breathe a word about it to my colleagues or students, but since I have the day listed on Facebook, many of my well-meaning friends greeted me on my birthday. Birthdays signal the inexorable passage of time and mark an added year to our lives, and this, from the vantage point of an aging adult! However, when one is a child, birthdays are looked forward to with eager anticipation as a day of gay abandon, gifts galore, cakes, candles and the works. Children start dreaming about their birthdays well in advance and start the countdown to the big day at least a month ahead of time. They keep wondering about what surprise gifts are in store for them, what clothes they will wear on that day, what kind of party they will have, and which of their friends and classmates to invite to it. While this is the norm, strangely enough, in my case, it wasn't.

As a child, I never had a birthday party or cut a birthday cake with candles for that matter. My parents thought it was a very frivolous thing to do so. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the only things that indicated my birthday were a new set of clothes, and my mother cooking my favorite food. That, and of course, a special mention of thanks to God during the daily family prayer. As for gifts, I received a book, only a book, and nothing but a book! To this day, I don't cut a cake on my birthday. In all my life, only twice have I done so, that too only because someone brought it as a surprise. My husband also had a similar childhood, so he's not into the cake-cutting thing either.

We decided that we'd do things differently for our only child, so it was parties, cakes, candles, guest lists, goody bags, etc., - the usual stuff - but only until he was 10. We explained to him that he was well on his way to becoming a teenager and didn't need a big bash from then on, and surprisingly, he took it well enough. Birthdays are rather muted, played-down affairs at home these days. There are cakes and gifts for the kid, with occasionally a few of his friends coming over for pizza and pop, but none of the hoopla that characterizes other children's birthdays. It's mostly a quiet family dinner, with just the three of us. We donate money for a cause or to a charity of our choice, and that's about it. We'd much rather have it that way, and not sensationalize the big day with wild parties of any kind. After all, as John Glenn once said, "There is still no cure for the common birthday!"

Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada Day 2011

It's been almost 8 years since I landed in Canada with my family, and regrets there have been none! Fourteen years ago, when I left India for California, had anyone told me that I would eventually become a Canadian citizen and hold a Canadian passport, I would've laughed at them as being ridiculous and dismissed the whole thing as being far-fetched and preposterous. Back then, Canada was nowhere on my horizon, but strange how life takes you on an incredible journey! From smalltown Madurai to San Jose in Silicon Valley to Vancouver in beautiful British Columbia has been one hell of a ride, I must acknowledge. Life has never been without its inherent struggles, but as I went along with the natural course of events, Providence guided me along and eventually landed me in the safe haven that is Canada.

Today marks my eighth Canada Day, and I celebrate life here with gratitude for all the blessings that this wonderful land has to offer. With acculturation and social inclusion has come a feeling of peace and contentment, and when I look back, I realize this was where I was meant to be. When I became a Canadian citizen, I was invited to give a speech on behalf of all the new citizens that day ( to about a hundred or so people from all over the world), an honor I will always cherish for the rest of my life. In my speech, I touched upon my immigrant experiences and held myself as an example of how to work towards comfortable settlement in our adopted land, and I felt truly elated when many people, including the chief guest, came afterwards to congratulate me on my speech. Life has been good so far, and I find added fulfillment each day, teaching new immigrants to Canada and helping them in their settlement process here.

Though I love India, the country of my birth, as well, it has become clearer to me that I will never be going back to live there again. Apart from making trips to visit extended family and friends, and to take a look at property that I still own there, there's nothing else going for me in India right now. While I feel a pang about it as always, the reality is that Canada is my home now and for the foreseeable future. The choice has been made and I embrace it wholeheartedly with sheer pleasure and gratefulness. Happy Birthday, Canada, and wish you many more glorious ones to come!