BY R. SATISH KUMAR
I grew up in my grandfather’s house in a Tamil Nadu village. At school I was a weak student, preferring to spend my time watching the squirrels scurry by or admiring the birds outside the classroom. In 1999, when I was in class nine, I met Thilagam Ma’am, our new Tamil teacher. I can still picture her, standing at the head of the class, short and homely, with red kumkum on her forehead and a small stone-studded nose ring.
One day, she asked me to read out a chapter she had taught. But I lost my nerve. As I stammered and stumbled through the paragraphs, my hands began to tremble. My classmates laughed, and I felt ashamed.
“What’s the problem?” Thilagam Ma’am asked. “Tamil is your mother tongue, isn’t it?”
“I’m afraid I’ll read it wrong,” I admitted, bowing my head.
She touched my shoulder gently and said, “Don’t worry about what others think. Get some story books. Pick whatever subject you like. Read. Your vocabulary and reading will improve.”
After a few months, Ma’am got a government job. She came to our class one last time and wished us all a bright future. During the vacations, I found a novel by Sujatha, the noted Tamil writer. Remembering Ma’am’s advice, I began to read and found that I loved it. I joined a library in the nearby town. My newfound adoration for books translated into good marks in school, and later, college. Today, at age 24, I teach learning-disabled children. I don’t know where Thilagam Ma’am is now, but I’d like to thank her for the simple bit of advice that changed my life.
Satish Kumar is a special educator with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district.
Life’s Little Equations
BY ASHWINI V. LOTHE
“Roll No. 12, please come forward.” I’m eleven years old, waiting to be summoned for my PT exam at Saraswati Vidyalaya, my school in Nagpur. Kirti, a very plump girl from my class, steps ahead. I hear classmates giggling and so I try to shame them with my eyes. But my good intentions go awry. The next morning, my teacher, Mrs Kamble, tells me, “Ashwini, I’ve received a complaint about you.” I’m stunned. The very girl I was defending thought I’d been mocking her.
I try to defend myself but the teacher refuses to hear me out. She makes me kneel down on the floor. The sheer injustice of it all makes my heart ache. I know I’m innocent. Such punishment to a class topper is simply unheard of. But, slowly, my pride melts away. Instead of being angry, I empathize with the other students who have been punished at times. For the first time, I feel humbled.
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