Class Photo ! A Youthful Me in Maroon
Triiingg ! Ah the long bell! Walking out of my classroom after an enthusiastic but as yet incomplete discussion on the Origin of Life with 45 fourteen year olds, I thought, “Let me put away IX F's books in my locker, can't lug it around Chandni Chowk. Wonder if Sujata is still in the Science Block, hope she's not forgotten...”.
Stepping out of the staff room I bumped into Sujata, my Art Teacher colleague in the corridor and together we strode out into a cool crisp sunny December afternoon in Delhi towards the school bus parking lot. We boarded the school bus going to North Delhi. This was the early and mid-80s – an innocent, more easy-paced era, before the internet and personal computers and mobile phones or even faxes !
We were a pair of young foot loose and fancy free teachers, wholeheartedly immersed in our teaching responsibilities at school – that included editing the school magazine, directing school plays, taking students out on Nature trails in the scorching summer in the Delhi Ridge behind the school. But after 2pm we managed to pack in an equally interesting life.
So this December day we were headed out to Old Delhi – to Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and lunch at the famed Karim's. We wanted to scour the alleys of the Old City to look for amazing bargains amongst the so-called antiques that are commonly sold on the streets. Karim's wasn't any thing posh – it was tucked in an overcrowded alley on the first floor of a dilapidated looking building. I was then far less finicky about hygiene and ambience and the food was its redeeming feature - authentic Mughlai khana.
We walked tirelessly, bargained unabashedly and returned home, before it got too dark and cold, proudly carrying treasures to give away as gifts or display at home. I still have an engraved copper tumbler and bowl and a brass owl from that day over twenty years ago, prominently placed in my living room today. Our respective parents, were very tolerant of our new-found independence and light-hearted indulgences.
Our afternoons after work were our time to chill out, let our hair down, visit art galleries, go to the latest matinee shows or have extended lunch and coffee sessions at Nirula's, when we discussed school, hobbies and the world at large. Often we'd drop in at the Janpath office of Neelu, a close school mate of mine to chat up with her and brighten what we considered, her grey government office life, with our anecdotes from the classroom. We would often joke with her that the only bright element in her office was the red fire extinguisher!
Looking back on those years – evokes warm pleasant memories. Our traipsing about the city wasn't all frivolous – we chased dreams and made plans – big meticulous plans of saving up and travelling the world. We wanted to see the world before we turned 30! In 1983-84 I went back to being a student in evening school and enrolled for a Diploma in Journalism. I embraced this new phase of studenthood with a clarity of purpose that had been missing during my undergraduate years. It was almost as if that as a teacher I had discovered the joy of learning. In the late summer of 1985 Neelu and I decided to go on a memorable uplifting Himalayan Trek to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. This spurred us to be bolder next year and plan a 3-month travelling stint all over Europe and the US inspired by Arthur Frommer's Guide to Europe on 10$ a day. And we did ourselves proud – we travelled in less than 10 $ a day. We stayed in Youth Hostel dorms and used a Eurail Pass to travel across 6 countries in Europe. Single Indian women travelling by night train were a rarity those days and generated friendly curiosity and interesting discussions. Our parents were resigned to letting us go on our 'risky' world travels – but they cheered us on too with pride (their trepidation notwithstanding!)
I always returned from these sojourns enriched by memories, photographs and tales to tell my students. I even earned the sobriquet of having wheels on my heels!
My parallel life after a busy teaching day at school contributed to my own growth and education as a person. I sometimes wonder how my life after school would have been if I had been married, before I became a teacher, like so many of my colleagues. Would my domestic pressures have stifled all the joy, wonder and quest that kept me fired and interested as a school teacher ? Perhaps that's what happens to so many of us!
(I wrote this article for Teacher Plus and it was published in the Teachers' Day issue in September 2009)