As the final words of our vice principal faded away to an eerie silence, I saw tears glistening on the cheeks of every student who had stood up in reverence to pay their final respects to the man who had unknowingly held a significant piece of their hearts. With their heads bent down and their eyes brimming with tears everyone mourned for him and then bade him a final goodbye.
But there was an exception; me. I never bade him a goodbye cause I never even said a hello.
I was new to the school and didn’t know the names of all my classmates let alone my teachers. I am a bit of an introvert and it sometimes is hard for me to fit in as I get easily scared. But it had been three weeks and I had finally started to feel that I belonged there.
I had reached my class and was taking my books out as we had our maths test that day. It was a perfectly normal day with the boys fighting among themselves like a pack of dogs and the girls sitting in a corner and sharing the latest gossip. Little did anyone know that a huge catastrophe was about to befall us.
The bell rang and we all stood up to utter our daily prayers. After some time our teacher came in with a sheaf of papers and we started writing our test. Our test was interrupted suddenly when our maths teacher came to our class. She was in a mess and it looked as if she was under a great stress. She whispered a few words in our teacher’s ear and left. We all resumed with our test.
I finished my test earlier than all the other students. Suddenly I heard a low sniff. I looked up but I couldn’t determine where the sound came from. After a few minutes the bell rang and our teacher came to collect our papers. When I was giving my paper I looked up at my teacher’s face and saw that her eyes were moist. Surprise flashed across my face and the teacher seeing my expression abruptly turned away.
A few other girls saw what had occurred and turned to me with questioning looks on their faces. I shook my head to make them understand that I had no idea of what was going on.
For the next 5 minutes I and these girls kept observing our teacher. We soon understood that something was wrong. She was staring blankly into space and glistening tears were slowly pooling in the corner of her eyes. Her lower lip was trembling and even her hands were shaking.
Our class monitor, Adwaita asked, “What is the matter, Madam?”
But our mistress remained dumb and just shook her head. The boys who still remained oblivious to their surroundings continued to talk loudly. Suddenly our teacher stood up and shouted,
“Don’t you all have any shame? Why do you talk so much? What will happen when I leave you all forever? Will you still continue to talk? Why are all of you so heartless?”
This sudden outburst was unexpected. She was a strict disciplinarian but she rarely ever shouted. She had again lapsed into silence. Though she now stood erect she looked as if she was under great stress. Her face betrayed a strong emotion which I did not recognise.
She suddenly exited the class in a swift movement. By now even the boys were wondering what the matter was. Through the window we could see her crying and being escorted away by our physics teacher.
After a few minutes our maths teacher entered the class. We looked at her in amazement. She was in a mess. Normally her hair would be pulled back in a tight bun but today her hair was coming down as if she had clawed at it. There were tear stains on her face and her eyes were red from crying. Without looking once at our inquisitive faces she went, sat in her chair and put her head on the desk.
Lisa, the gossip queen of the class went up to her and put an arm on her shoulder and asked her what the matter was. She just shook her head mutely. She got up, composed herself and asked Adwaita to keep us quiet. Then she too went away.
After some time, Prachi, a girl from the other section came to our class and it was clear from her expression that she had some news to deliver. She slowly went up to Adwaita and Urmi (another girl) and whispered something in their ears and left.
I saw a myriad of emotions flash across the faces of both girls-curiosity, shock and finally pain. Since I was in the first bench I had partly heard Prachi.It seemed that our art teacher, Dhiman sir had passed away from a heart attack.
I froze. My mind went back to my first and only encounter with Dhiman sir.
It was my first art class and the bell had just rung. I knew I was horrible in drawing so I was definitely not looking forward to the class. Apprehensive, I turned to Adwaita and Chinmoyee (the girls who were helping me to get adjusted to the new school) and asked about our art teacher.
“Oh Dhiman sir is awesome. Whenever we wish him good morning he says ‘Yo’ in return. He never ever scolds anybody at all. You’ve got no reason to be nervous.” Adwaita replied
“Well I am horrible in drawing so I might be an exception to this case.”
Chinmoyee said, “Well so am I, but Dhiman sir thinks that everyone has talent and that drawing should be something that we enjoy not something that was forced on us.”
When Dhiman sir came into the class I saw that it was indeed the case. He didn’t scold anyone. Since I was new I did not get all my books so I didn’t have my drawing copy. Sir said that for then I could just as easily do my work on a rough sheet as he wanted to test my drawing skills. I told sir that I didn’t have any talent in drawing but he just laughed and remarked, “We’ll see.”
Sir had given me to draw the human face but as soon as I finished my drawing I saw that there were many flaws but he didn’t seem to be discouraged. He just made a few alterations and Lo! It looked perfect. He put his hand on my shoulder and said,”See your drawing is perfect. Maybe you are better in drawing than you think.” He laughed and moved on to correct the next student.
Thus passed my first class with Dhiman sir. Little did I know then that it would also be my last.
End of flashback.
I shook myself out of the daze. By now it seemed that all the students had got the news. Some like me seemed shocked but a few others seemed to sniffing loudly.
Sapneel was the best artist in our class and was closest to sir. He was pouring rivulets of tears from his eyes. Some other students who attended sir’s drawing class were also crying uncontrollably.
All the girls were covering their faces to hide their tears. Most of the boys had their heads in their hands and their shoulders were shaking. Sangeeta, sir’s favourite student, was sobbing loudly not caring the least that her hair was getting messed up when she ran her fingers through her hair. In a matter of minutes the class’s atmosphere had turned from one of curiosity to that of mourning.
As I sat there among all my classmates I realised that I was the only one who wasn’t mourning. Actually I did not feeling anything at all. I just felt numb and a strange sort of emptiness. My classmates had all been studying under sir’s guidance for many years. They were all remembering the countless moment they had with Dhiman sir. But I had interacted with sir for only 15 minutes. I had just one memory of him to hold onto.
At that time I felt sorry that I couldn’t participate with my classmates in their task of mourning for sir. All these students had something in common, something that I could never have- their love towards sir. I didn’t know sir long enough to love him or miss him and I felt sorry for that. I felt that I did not belong there. That it was not my place to be there. Their grief at sir’s demise was unfathomable to me. It was a feeling I would never understand. I felt hurt. I felt left out.