(As told to Himani Pande)
He was my rescue child. As an institutional trainer, I was friendly but no pushover. I believed in fellowship. He being a sulking student, I was always trying to reform him! I wanted him to be a performer, a student proclaiming his rarity. In the chalk-dusted classroom, I was, however, daily dealing with my ‘crucible of pain’. He would interrupt my sessions, fool around, get punished and stand outside like a statue.
An unwelcome message
Come Friendship Day I received an unwelcome notification on my mobile. ‘Happy Friendship Day Ma’am! Love Abhimanyu. ☺’ I was not a teacher of easy affection and physical display with male students. Only during counselling support services would I become affable. I’d asked him two months back in our school bus, “Do you have a personal problem?” Abhimanyu vigorously shook his head side, “No Ma’am!” I’d reassured him that I would always be there as a guide. I returned the text, “Happy Friendship Day! Take care my child! Love…” Next what I read in Caps Lock hit me like a meteor. “I DON’T LOVE YOU AS A TEACHER, BUT AS A LOVER. I ACT DIFFICULT IN CLASS TO GET YOUR ATTENTION. PLEASE ACCEPT MY FRIENDSHIP. DON’T TELL ANYONE.” I was shocked.
[restrict] Was he romancing the sense of power I wielded? Would I be his meal ticket to fancy restaurants? Was he influenced by ‘Desi Rapper’ types of MTV, belting out pathetic street numbers to pursue a teacher instead of a bae, for a change? Had his friends issued him a challenge? Either he was too lazy to pursue a love interest of his age, or he expected the teenaged girls to make him feel special.
Say yes or no!
That was the first year my ‘soft skills’ sessions were introduced to his batch. Probably being the bored and moody person he was, he felt like a king doing something different, trying to make a statement by claiming to be in love with his teacher and expecting the teacher to respond positively to his proposal of friendship. So he dropped the idea of babes and started assessing me as a love partner. He asked me for a yes or no regarding his friendship proposal. He wasn’t in love but was experimenting with relationships.
The next day he rushed to touch my feet and whispered, “Ma’am, my answer! Yes or no?” After his first text message he had become emboldened to ask me on messenger ‘Will you accept my love cum friendship proposal? I had not answered so while touching my feet in school (to ensure that no one was suspicious) he slyly reminded me that I had not answered his question for a relationship with him in clear terms of Yes or No. I didn’t report him to school authorities. No ringing slaps, instead I distanced myself from him. I didn’t pay attention to him. He felt less confident about himself. He knew he had to break new ground to impress me. His cousin came to meet me in school complaining that I was not paying attention to him.
Was it my fault?
True, I was not assigning him much independent work, not asking him questions and not even expecting answers from him in a group activity. I’d been gentle with him. I reminded him that I was aware that he was disturbing me, disrupting my classes with his silly pranks and plea for attention. I knew he wanted to belong. But he could only belong as a student or in a stretched sense as a son. I told him I was like his mother. Later when he proposed to me on Friendship Day, I was extremely upset. I had never encouraged him! Had I failed? What complex was it? Oedipus?
It was only my understanding of his age and the fact that I didn’t want to take such a ridiculous complaint to the school management that he got away. Then suddenly as a student he started progressing. No issues of discipline or lack thereof, yet a strange wistfulness on his face! It was gradual.
Resetting love’s compass in the digital age of viral memes is a tough job. No, I was no Simi Grewal and he was certainly not a young Rishi Kapoor from Mera Naam Joker for a rerun of student teacher love chemistry.
Related reading: Incredible story of a teacher who was funny, dirty and gay
Redirecting his energies
I was shaking Abhimanyu’s baser impulses and redirecting his energy to an ethically higher aim. I incorporated Vivekanand’s philosophy in my class modules for positive reinforcement and proper mentoring. In the absence of a rulebook of sorts, my classes continued, “Students! Love is not always sappy, nor most times round the corner. Awww love is the overwhelming love you feel when you pick up a kitten, rub your nose on a pup’s wet muzzle or see a pretty flower. Love may also be like Venn diagrams that don’t merge together.” Abhimanyu got the message. In a sensible ‘set of outcomes’, romantic love between a student and teacher has to be a mutually exclusive conclusion. His batch graduated and he secured fairly good grades.
Four years went by. One day I was on the exercycle at the health club when he took the treadmill across me. I panicked, “What now?” He spoke to me soberly, “Ma’am I went to Kota for coaching and I have now cleared the IIT entrance.” I addressed him after all those years, “Congratulations, my child! Don’t count your worth in pennies. You are worth a king’s ransom.”
A mature man
In the health club my daughter was cycling next to me. I panicked! She is a growing girl of 14. It was almost night and I began to worry that now he would start eyeing my daughter. I just could not bear the thought. However, Abhimanyu did not look at my daughter. Just came over to me, touched my feet, and informed me that he had been selected for engineering at a prestigious college. This time when he touched my feet I could feel the difference. He had sobered. Till date I don’t know exactly what he felt for me. Maybe he was confused. I hope he got over his confusion. He does not bother me anymore even if we happen to cross each other. He just wishes me politely.