The thought comes to me almost unbidden. Of course the timing is right. The term has ended just now, and even as we are all busy finalizing grades and correcting exam papers and what not, the younguns have that look on their face – like they just ate really yummy candy. The smiles stretch out a mile. Some of them are running around getting their paperwork all sorted out before going away for good, others are just leaving for vacation, waiting for their grades, but for all of them, the way is out, out. If not this year, surely the next one?
Anyway, as a teacher, the principal emotion that one deals with is, loss. Every year, bunches of students leave you and go. Most of them have been annoying, you have hated the smirks on their faces, you have loathed their callousness and the devil-may-care attitude, you have openly criticized their dress, those nasty, dirty jeans, you have pulled your hair out while grading the exam papers and wondered if any of them wrote those four-lined copy writing things in their school, but finally, once they are gone, you miss them. There is a distinct sense of loss, a feeling of having misplaced something.
Within a week or two however, you discover that the next batch is virtually identical with the one that has just left, even the names repeat, the commoner ones showing up some five times in each group. Even the strange sounding names do not particularly matter, there seems to be uniformity even in the fact that some 10% of the names you encounter each year sound, well, foreign, sort of.
I remember a long ago encounter in a video shop, back home. Video as in those magnetic wound tape things that were monstrously big in size. In a sudden break from the even keel of pseudo-intellectualism practised at home, my parents decided to rent a video, after arguments, a hindi movie, starring Amitabh Bacchan, was to be chosen. We trooped down to the video store conveniently located at the end of the road. There even as the most exciting transaction of renting the video was in progress, a white-haired old man sidled up to my dad and went through the usual motions of greeting. On our way back, when dad told us that the white-haired person used to be his student, we burst out laughing, come on now, that’s impossible we said. And why not, dad challenged us. Because he is so old, we said.
But its true you know, five years pass since the boy graduated, the skinny fellow in that shirt of indeterminate colour and those faded jeans. You remember his smile though you don’t remember any of his academic accomplishments. The name is at the back of your tongue, so when he says Madam do you remember me, you hum and haw. You have not forgotten him, no way (is it possible to ever forget a person whom you have taught? Whose papers you have corrected, whose presentation you have listened to and evaluated – all a tad harshly, of course, that is your style now, isn’t it?). Anyway there he is in front of you, five years hence. He is all spiffy. With his B-School accent and ironed shirts bought at Raymonds, and gleamy shoes. A tad sweaty and uncomfortable in your office, under the aged fan, probably used to air-conditioning. But he is there, and he is not a boy any more. He is an adult, twenty-five years old and looking it. Perhaps he is here to discuss recruitment to his company. Perhaps he has come to invite you to his wedding. I am sure, he is looking at you and going, heck, she looks just the same as back then. A few more white hairs, perhaps a kilo here and there, but she is the same. He looks around your office and judges that to have remained the same as well. Nothing changes here does it? He says. Of course not, that’s our big selling point, remember, you joke back at him. Fighting with yourself, convincing yourself to treat him like the adult with a responsible job that he is. No more that skinny boy asking for two extra marks on his exam paper. That one is lost, gone from my life for good. Pff.
Well that’s all I had to say. Feeling proud of their achievements and feeling good about what you perceive is your contribution to that is all fine and dandy, but inside, every year, year after year, there is that, that feeling of standing stock still as the water flows all around you and beyond your grasp.