“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Words can make, or break people, hearts, dreams, and lives. You can create a world where smile don’t carry baggage, tears are shed from joy, and the only fights would over what to eat for dinner, or set it all on fire by walking away from it. Kids are promised this magical world, where adults are happy, jobs are satisfying, love is tangible, and friends are easy, and so on. But there is always this one teacher in school, who’d have said something, or quoted someone, that would have had a colossal impression, or leaves one thinking.
“Are you happy living like just any another Tom, Dick, or Harry? Do you want to someone in an ocean of somebodies? Or that your heart, mind, and soul yearn for…” said my English teacher from school. Or at least this what I remembers from one of her talks in class. It’s been six or seven years since this happened, and over two years since she passed away.
She was a fairly tall woman, a half Tamil-ian and Mallu, who grew up in Mumbai. She had a very captivating smile, and when she laughed it echoed through and spread smiles like witchcraft or magic. The most striking thing about her was the big red bindi on her forehead and the sports shoes she paired with her cotton salwar. The first time I saw her was when she would come by the school to pick up or drop off her daughter and son, and she’d waiting by the gate talking to another Mallu aunty and laughing heartily. Her voice was pleasant with a grainy nature to it and sounded like it was meant to be amplified and heard on speakers, making her the default MC at all the school events.
I first spoke to her when she took up the Librarian’s job at the school. Her office/ the Library was a little room in the spooky house. The school rented a house that shared a compound wall with us; broke that wall, dumped everything there, including the teachers to renovate the auditorium and start the construction of the new building to accommodate the increasing students.
The broken compound still carried battle scars, but it had opened up enough to allow movement between the school campus, and the spooky house. There was a lot of place in front of the house, and the school got a little shack set up that sold junk food to the students, which was where everybody hung out, it was the ‘cool place’. So this was also where all the students waited for her to walk by so they could strike a conversation with her.
“Most of the books are lost, destroyed, or missing and that cupboard has the ones I salvaged a few from looking around the storage” she told me, pointing at the little wooden doors to a shelved cabinet on the pale green wall. I was probably the happiest boy, in that miserable school that day. Amongst the sports instructor bullying kids, or bullies making lives miserable, or teachers who felt soap bars were more important than a kid tripping and falling flat on his face, this books seemed like a whole new world. She probably noticed the desperate look in my eyes, “You can borrow one book, when you return that pick the next one” she said, looking at me from her chair next reading a book or correcting papers, I’m not too sure. This was the beginning of my reading life and that’s the beginning of love affair with words.
She left the school six years ago, it was scandalous and raised a lot eyes, ears and noses too because in my school, the teachers loved their noses where they didn’t belong. A lot of things were said about it, mean, nasty things and I saw the true face of a lot of people I respected, and god were they ugly; uglier than the backside of a burnt animal. The respect I had for these people evaporated. The teachers didn’t dare talk about her or even take her name, ignored the fact that she ever existed. And we finished our last year in school, at the graduation ceremony all the -four- speeches made by the students were proof read thrice, by three different teachers, and all of us were subtly warned to not talk about her, or even mention her or the bunch of other teachers who left after her. But she (The English teacher) also made sure to be scarce from the students, avoided us like the plague, because the school did trouble students who were in touch with her. In the end I didn’t get to know the real her.
In my head there was another version of her that lived, just like in the movie Ratatouille where Gusteau lived in the rats head. It started off because I couldn’t talk to her, I’d imagine myself asking her something and what she’d probably say from the two or the conversations with her and all the things she’s said in class were the reference material.