‘No bookmark, no book,’ she would say in an impervious tone and that would wreck my entire week. That was Ms B our library teacher in school.
She’d stand their one eyebrow raised in a silent dare – challenging me to challenge her. Torn between my fear of her and my love for reading – it was fear that always won. And I would have to make do with re-reading an old book or borrowing from friends.
Books were my sole entertainment back then. We were allowed three books each week – each of them a treasured treat. We had a wonderful library – not the few cupboards at the back of the class that double up as libraries these days. Rows of tables were flanked by glass cupboards full of rows upon rows of the most enticing books. Enid Blytons, Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys all sat there along with Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, and scores of other authors. Within the pages of those books lay the most exciting times my young self had ever seen.
However between the most exciting times of my life and me stood Ms B, a bit like Cerberus. She had an acerbic tongue and a short temper and she wouldn’t let anyone pass unless they showed her a book-cover and a book-mark. And woe betide anyone who forgot to get their books on the assigned day! They were condemned to a book-less week. No allowances, no concessions.
Not just that, she took it upon herself to discipline us on almost anything that caught her eye. ‘Put your plaits back, who do you think you are, Rekha?’, ‘Don’t slouch’, ‘Don’t shuffle your feet when you walk’ or ‘Why must you always wear black?’ (we didn’t have a uniform in class 11 and 12). Those days teachers wielded pure dictatorship. Yet we emerged unscathed with no permanent psychological damage. Instead, we came away with a bunch of good habits that we carry with us even today.
Despite such ‘ill-treatment’, on Teacher’s Day today, the first one who comes to mind is Ms B. While she didn’t teach me any subject nor was she directly responsible for kindling a love for reading she did teach me some very valuable lessons.
She taught me to respect and love books. That’s a habit that has stayed obstinately on. It drives me crazy when I see anyone manhandling books, folding pages, scribbling in the margins (use a pencil for goodness sake if you just have to), turning down corners.. aaargh!
She taught me to widen my reading horizon. But for that raised eyebrow I would be stuck onto fairy tales forever. After she gave me one of those ‘looks’ I was forced to look at other genres and developed an eclectic taste. (I have to confess though, that I still pick up a fairy tale somedays).
She taught me essential library etiquette. I learnt to keep quiet – not a mean feat for a 12 year old. I learnt to shut out the world and lose myself in a book as also to not disturb a person engrossed in one.
She taught me discipline and punctuality – a useful lesson even outside the library.
So tell me who is that one teacher that comes to mind when you think of school?