I spend a lot of my free time thinking about Haji Public School. I am currently sitting in Ranchi in a hotel room after a day full of adolescent girls laughing and I pictured my classes in the school.
I know teachers aren’t allowed to have favourites. But I might have enjoyed teaching Class 7 (now 8) the most. They were a small class full of characters. Mefhooz who could never really sit down. Munee and Humeera who were quiet and vibrant. Ajaz who asked questions and wouldn’t let me proceed till he understood. Haroon who surprised me with how well he wrote, everytime. Ramzan who was eager to learn, patient with my many failings and insistent with his questions. Shahid who spoke loudly and finished things quickly, his brain working much faster than his hand. Abbas who once made me cry while I corrected his exam paper – he wrote about the dismal state of the world with so much violence. Umar who rarely came to class but was always quick to grasp things.
Once before their English exam, I had created a treasure hunt with them. Each location would have an entire set of questions that they had to solve before deciphering the clue to the location of the next set of questions.
Ajaz being Ajaz was super sceptical. “We will lose. I don’t want to play.” I had to encourage him to have fun and not focus so much on the end. I stood back and watched them play that day. They were quick, active on their toes and very diligently answered all questions. I think it was my favourite afternoon with them, until of course they told me none of them had prepared for the test.
In the end it didn’t matter who won. We sat in the classroom after discussing their mistakes, sharing the clues with each other and learning. I hope I taught them some English; they definitely taught me to enjoy the ride.
She was a natural at teaching. I am not sure I have ever come across someone so at ease in a classroom. It was a pleasure to linger outside her classroom and watch the kids listen to her. I respected and admired her grace; for accepting her mistakes and for being vulnerable in the classroom. It was something the children loved and reciprocated. I could only teach subjects I cared about. She could teach anything because she cared about the students. Her class’s morning assemblies were always the liveliest. They sang songs with joy and actions. They actively participated in the making of their assembly. You could hear her reading books to them sitting on top of her table. It was heartwarming: her relationship with the students and her sincerity with teaching.
Her voice is still clear in my head. She is Shomasree Majumdar.
He was tall, lanky and honest. Brutally so. “Have you studied for the test?” “On my way to school for five minutes.” He never lied. He saw the world in firm shades of black and white. This meant our relationship was a difficult one. He was an honourable young boy. Hardworking and absolutely sweet. He was extremely shy but in the walls of the classroom he spoke his mind. It was special. He worked hard at getting better. I still remember all our big fights. He would sheepishly not look me in the eye till he apologised. He was smart, funny and extremely naughty. English was hard for him but he tried very hard (most of the time). He loved playing cricket and forcing him to play baseball for a games period was an arduous task. His letter to me when I left was beautiful. I still read it and can picture his confused face writing it. Most kids wrote letters to all teachers who left. Not this boy. He told me he would write only to those he found nice. It was so difficult for him to lie. In his letter he asks me why I didn’t inform him before and how hurt he is by my actions. This is the essence of him. His honesty is an integral part of him and I miss his shy smile every morning. He is Ajaz Ahmed Bhatt.