Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Death is a strange fact of life. Like everything else, it is momentary yet permanent at the same time. I have always been fascinated by the memories which push up to the surface of one's mind whenever there is an encounter with death. It is especially strange if it's the death of someone close to us. We may remember the most trivial incidents, seemingly inconsequential to our relationship with the person who died. It seems that just by dying that person made those moments special.

My English teacher, who taught me in school, died yesterday. Mrs. Mukherjee. She was not that old so it was natural for many of us to be shocked by this news till we heard she had been battling cancer. She lost the fight. Yes, I was sad when I heard the news and almost decided to attend her prayer service being held in St.James' church today. Then some long forgotten incidents suddenly came to mind.

  • Mrs. Mukherjee seemed to tower over us, both due to her height and personality. She constantly chewed paan and as a result had prominent bright red teeth - providing enough material for creative visualisation of imaginative students. One day after receiving a scolding for talking non stop in class (what else did you expect from me?), my friends and I drew a symbolic representation of her on the classroom wall. The face on the wall was of a errr...hmmm...devil with horns and two teeth sticking out from the corner of the mouth. We ensured that the drawing was barely big enough to be visible to us sitting on chairs right next to the wall. Each day before her class, one of us would add a little length to those teeth. It was our private joke ... or so we thought...until one day she asked us 'why does that devil on the wall have perpetually growing teeth?' We realised that besides large red teeth she also had exceptionally good eyesight and a sense of humour beneath that stern exterior. Needless to say, the teeth stopped extending from that day onwards.
  • I was never interested in memorising stuff. I figured if I loved something enough I would remember it and if I didnt it was not worth remembering anyways. I realise this philosophy is not helpful in case of subjects like history or geography and in case of Mrs. Mukherjee, in answering refernce to context questions. I had seen classmates write flowery essays in english, bengali and hindi with a fair sprinkling of quotes from famous authors/poets. It reflected their immense knowledge. I reflected my ignorance by making up my own quotes instead. Anything suitable to context was put within quotes with a tag saying 'as a great poet/author has said'. I took care never to mention which great poet or author had said those famous lines and hoped my teachers would never discover that the great poet was me. It worked fine till I had to answer questions set by Mrs.Mukherjee with reference to Shakespearean plays which we had to study. One day she read out my answers to the entire class while I stood there praying for the bell to ring. That was the day she officially renamed me 'Ranjini William Shakespeare'. I was embarrassed but I also realised that she had seen the humour even in this circumstance and in her way had appreciated the creativity even if I did mess up my answers. Yes, she made fun of me in front of the entire class but there was nothing derogatory or insulting about the way she did it. I could laugh with her and my classmates even if the joke was on me.
  • Mrs.Mukherjee forced me to enter the elocution contest. She even found the perfect poem which I would recite and then coached me for the contest. The poem was 'Cinderella' by Roald Dahl. She was so thrilled with her coaching and my recital that she kept making me repeat the poem for her whenever I bumped into her anywhere in school besides our regular practice sessions. I remember reciting in classrooms, library, playgrounds and assembly hall. And then it got worse. She started to get hold of other teachers and made me recite for them as well while she stood there grinning proudly at me. After a while my mom found me reciting 'Cinderella' even in my sleep. It was then that I decided to put a stop to it. I was convinced I would puke if I was asked to recite 'Cinderella' one more time. Mustering enough courage I finally told her I didnt want to participate in the elocution contest due to 'stage fright'. She was surprised since I had always been an active participant in all cultural programmes. However I  was determined. She was disappointed and had to find a very quick replacement to represent our class. I am just happy she never found out the real reason for me backing out. 
Now suddenly she is no more. The memory of these incidents are all that remains in my mind. Everyone else whose lives she had touched will remember her in many different ways. I want to remember her as someone who made a difference to my school life - adding a little learning, a little fun and loads of colour to my existence as a child. I did not attend her memorial service today. I did not want her memory tampered with the sadness of her death. R.I.P maam, wherever you may be!

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