गुरू गोविन्द दोऊ खड़े, काके लागूं पांय।
बलिहारी गुरू अपने गोविन्द दियो बताय।।
The 15th-century poet Kabir had written that if Guru and Govind (God) are standing in front of you, one should bow down to the Guru because the Guru has shown you the path toward Govind.
Guru Purnima is observed in the Hindu religion where Gurus are honoured and revered. It falls every year on Ashadh Poornima. We also celebrate Teachers’ Day on 5th September every year, in honour of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, to honour the teachers.
Every year when I read people thanking their teachers for having reached where they are and having achieved what they have, it reminds me how my teachers from the school have scarred me for life.
I was 5 or 6 years old. I was wearing a powder-blue coloured frock and my hair made up in two tiny ponytails. While I don’t exactly remember what I was being punished for, I do remember the punishment threatened to me. The Maths teacher asked me how would I like if she removed my clothes. And no, I’m sure she didn’t mean it in a sexual way. She probably thought threatening a child with public humiliation is a great punishment. It has been over two decades since that day. My eyes still well up from the memories of that day.
Three years later, my personality report card read “she does not express joy or happiness.” Yeah, I wonder why. I tried to be as invisible as I could, lest another teacher may want to punish me. I never participated in any competitions. You see, the threat of public humiliation became so deeply rooted that being in the public eye in any form sent me on an anxiety trip.
Our school had ‘compulsory’ extracurricular activities. One could choose between learning classical dancing, karate or skating. I chose classical dancing. When I was in 4th standard, my dance teacher asked me who taught me to dance so badly. She asked me this in front of everyone. Girls giggled. At around that time due to the medicines, I was taking (which contained a higher dose of steroids) I had started putting on weight. Plus puberty was knocking on the doors. The teacher then walked up to me and poked on my belly. That was the first time I was body-shamed. After that, I would always ‘dance’ in the last row, trying to hide behind other girls who ‘danced better’.
I still cannot get myself to let go of my inhibitions and dance like the proverbial ‘no one is watching’. Thanks. I withdrew myself deeper into the shell. I also turned to food for comfort, obviously.
A couple of years later, when I was in 7th standard, I had sudden new-found confidence. I had discovered books and was happy at least these books are not telling me how I am not good enough. During the 15th August function in school, we used to have various competitions. Singing, dancing, drama, athletics, yoga, everything. I decided to audition for singing.
You see, my grandfather was a music teacher in one of the most prominent schools in Ahmedabad. And all these artsy things are in the genes, right? Just how bad could I be? According to my music teacher, “do not even sing in chorus.” Yeah, I joke about it all the time on how I am such a bad singer that my music teacher once told me not to sing even in the chorus, but there is a reason I never forgot that insult.
My confidence levels crashed. There are many such incidents from my school life hiding deep under. I am too afraid to think about them because what if it sends me on a downward spiral again?
I never talked about these issues with anyone. Not with my parents, not with my sister. It was too humiliating. Plus, parents would have perhaps dismissed it as tough parenting and how I should not be this sensitive.
Well, guess what, thanks to these teachers, I grew up anxious, with a confidence level lower than the deepest point in the Pacific Ocean.
It has taken me years to find like-minded people who ‘get me’ and my weirdness. I may not have completely healed but I am better. Every day I strive to get a little better. I suffer from a tremendous lack of self-confidence and I would rather stay invisible than get the spotlight. Large groups of people make me nervous. But, I am hopeful. Hopeful and confident that I am healing.
Hence, when I read people thanking their teachers, there is a bit of bitterness in me. I try very hard to get over it. Maybe I have not forgiven them completely for being shitty teachers and ruining my childhood. But someday I will get there.
So, if you are a teacher reading this, don’t be that teacher. If you are a parent, listen to your child and notice little changes. Perhaps your child is not acting out ‘because teens’. And if you have had your share of horrendous teachers, remember, you are not alone.
School doesn’t last forever and neither should those memories. We shall heal.