‘So the most disgusting of pronouns is-‘ She paused.
It came from a bench in the back. The class fell silent.
The young teacher turned pale.
The most hated pronoun in the language. ‘She!’
The class consisted of only twenty students. There was only one girl in the class. And she happened to be absent that day.
The only female of the species present in the small room among the nineteen boys was the young teacher herself.
The most disgusting word-‘she.’ The voice was only too familiar.
And she also knew only too well that she ought to haul him up and take him to task.
She stood before the students for a moment, her face pale as paper. Then she walked out of the class, not even bothering to pick up her book lying on the table.
When she returned to the staff room right in the middle of a period, all the other teachers were there.
‘Ah! Let off classes whenever you feel like it! Well, well, not bad.
Lucky the principal didn’t see you.’
Mr.Kartha said, half in earnest, half in jest.
She couldn’t hold out any longer. She rested her head on the table and burst into tears – tears which simply couldn’t be held in check.
‘Oh! What’s wrong?’ Everyone rose to their feet.
‘What did you say to her, Kartha Mash?’ Everyone was getting to be chivalrous.
This is a great shame, she told herself, it’s so degrading, breaking into tears like this before all these men. They are all nice people but still they’re strangers.
She thought all this, but she couldn’t hold her tears back.
Somebody went over to another department and fetched a woman lecturer.
The men trooped out.
The lady – a nice woman, the mother of three kids – didn’t ask her any questions, but drew up a chair and sat beside her, patting her head gently.
Gradually the sobs subsided. She brought her a glass of water. ‘Wash your face.’
Going over to the window she washed her face. She made a pretence of wiping her face dry with her colleague’s dainty handkerchief.
‘May I go? I don’t feel like engaging any more classes.’
‘Yes of course, Rema. I’ll tell them. Go and sleep it off. You need come only tomorrow. I’ll get someone to engage your classes.’ She accompanied her to the gate.
People who were on the verandah or out in the yard at the time noticed her as she left, hiding her face behind her umbrella.
What really happened?
There was furore on the campus.Mr. Kartha himself called one of the students and spoke to him, to learn about the affair.
The news spread like wild fire. It was an unprecedented event in the history of the college.
A teacher to leave a class and burst into tears! And poor Miss Rema at that.
As for her teaching, there had never been any complaints. The incident grew more dramatic in the telling.
She had been crying when she left the class.
A boy stood up in the class and said something obscene.
And she walked out, crying.
The poor Miss Rema who wouldn’t hurt a fly. And the person who made the comment was Paul Verghese, the President of the College Union.
Complaints against Paul Verghese which no one had heard before began to surface.
He’s something of a rogue. Now that he’s become the president, he’s getting too big for his boots.
Someone came up with the discovery that he was hanging around the girls’ waiting room all the time.
There were others who had seen him enter a liquor shop through the back door.
It took only twenty-four hours to make a villain out of Paul Verghese. What really transpired in the class? Only this? Were the other students lying to shield him? If this was all that had happened, why should the teacher have taken it to heart – well, nobody comes to the staff room and breaks down just like that, do they?
What really did happen for her to take it so much to heart—that was what Rema too had been wondering about.
Why did she have to break down like that ? Just because the boy said that? Was she really so ineffectual? If she couldn’t even handle just one student – or was it Mr. Kartha’s teasing that did it? Oh, no! She wasn’t that touchy.
Okay, she was fond of Paul Verghese. A smart boy, so bright and smart. When she heard that in his voice – still, did she have to –
Could it be that she was reminded of something she’d lost – lost irrevocably –
Or could it be that she glimpsed the emptiness of what she called life as it stood unveiled in the unkindly glare of the moment?
The anguish of yesterdays, the emptiness of today and the futility of tomorrows – did she glimpse them all, in that moment?
Was that why she wept?
The next day she walked into the department without raising her
Everybody was considerate. The professor came to tell her that she
need no longer engage the Final main class.
No longer engage the class?
It ought to have made her happy. It was there she was insulted. She ought to be happy that she didn’t have to go there or meet them any more.
Paul Verghese –
He would never have imagined that this affair would become so controversial.
What will he be thinking of her now? Will he think, she brought on all this trouble by bursting into tears?
Why did the boy have to say that? Did he mean to insult her?
In Stratchey’s essay the phrase ‘most disgusting pronoun’ stands for the first person singular.
And she had been teaching the essay. A predilection for the word – ‘I’
The most disgusting pronoun –
Being saddled with a big ‘I’ – hadn’t that always been her trouble? ‘Let me not, oh Lord, be troubled by the feeling of ‘I’
She’d been to the class, thinking how akin Stratchey’s thought was to Vedanta.
And there, after the introductory remarks, she’d been warming up to the topic, when –
Paul Verghese –
The tall, slender, handsome boy, what did he hope to gain by insulting her?
The issue was becoming serious.
She was told it had reached the Principal. And that he was said to have taken the whole thing seriously.
Paul had been asked to bring his guardian.
Oh, that’ll be the end of it, Rema consoled herself. The guardian will come, chat with the Principal and leave. The case will be closed. What a relief it will be!
If only the whole thing would be over and done with –
It did not turn out the way she expected it to. Paul didn’t fetch his parent.
The Principal was getting more and more incensed. Paul was barred from attending classes.
Someone so good in his studies, she agonized, cannot attend classes just because of my –
Why can’t he bring his father?
Nobody in her department discussed the affair in her presence.
Oh, damn! She said to herself, may be they thought, the woman might start to bawl –
But this was the topic of conversation in all the other departments. And there were women in those departments and there really was nothing to stop them from discussing it in their presence. So Rema also got all the news fresh and hot.
It wasn’t solely Paul’s fault that he couldn’t bring his father. His parents didn’t get on well. Apart from paying for his studies, his father never concerned himself with his son’s well-being. He was not likely to turn up to settle the case. If he came to know about this hullabaloo, he’d only ask him to quit right away.
Except for his father, he had no close relatives either. So it came about that he didn’t fetch his guardian.
The Principal got more and more irate.
She’d been told that the place was the kind where you could procure any number of guardians for a couple of rupees. At any rate that was said to be the standard practice among the students.
Why can’t he do the same, she wondered, anyone might claim to have a couple of uncles.
He did nothing of the sort. The President of the College Union had been out of the classes for over a week.
He had to appear for the final year examination that year. Just because of me, she censured herself, the boy–
Does this mean, she asked herself, that I can only set the wheel rolling, and not stop it?
He might have blurted it out without thinking about it, may be with some practical joke in mind.
For which –
Just because of me –
Why not go and meet the principal, she wondered, tell him my breaking down had nothing to do with what he said. If he were to ask her why she broke down in the first place –
There was nothing to say.
She kept thinking it over in her mind and finally decided to meet the principal, whatever be the consequence.
He welcomed her with a beaming face.
She recalled that students referred to the man who was well past middle age as the tiger.
The exchange of civilities over, she had to broach the topic, hadn’t
‘Sir, that boy Paul Verghese –‘
‘Why, did he create any more trouble for you?’ ‘No. He doesn’t attend classes these days.’
‘I told him not to.’ ‘He’s very smart.’ ‘That isn’t enough.’
‘Sir, why don’t you call it a day and let him attend classes?’ He laughed. A couple of teachers present in the room joined in.
Does he take me for a damn fool, she asked herself, breaking down
over something said by a student and then demanding that he be let off? ‘You needn’t have any compunction in this case, Rema. Lack of discipline – that’s what’s wrong with their generation. What’s more, he’s the President of the Union. The elected representative of the students.
He’s supposed to be a role model for others. I intend to punish him severely. Let him be an example to all.’
‘Oh, No, Sir! Just because of me, I don’t want a student –‘
‘‘Since you took the trouble, Rema, I’ll do this: I’ll give him a choice. Let him apologize before the whole college. If he won’t, let him get his Transfer Certificate and leave.’
‘It won’t be embarrassing to you, Rema. We’ll all be there. You only have to be present.’
‘Still, before the students, the boy–’
She had a feeling that the principal was looking at her oddly. Oh God!
‘I have a class next hour. I’ve to go.’
The whole college came to know about that too.
She was told Paul Verghese had agreed to apologize.
Before the two thousand odd students who had elected him their leader. It was to be on Monday. The notice requested everyone to be present in the main hall as soon as the classes were over, precisely at four.
She couldn’t very well keep away, could she?
The principal arrived at ten minutes past four. The seventy odd teachers were on the platform; below the platform, a sea of students. She wondered whether all the two thousand pairs of eyes were riveted on her.
The principal waited impatiently till a quarter past four. Paul Verghese did not come.
The very same day, a notice to the effect that Paul Verghese, No. 3572 of III D.C, had been expelled from the college for indiscipline was put up on all notice boards.
Not heeding the words of her friends, she took leave for a week and went home.
She returned, with a mind that had to some extent cooled down.
As soon as she entered her room, Raman Nair, the watchman brought her a packet.
‘The day after you left, a boy came here to meet you. When I told him you weren’t here, he gave this to me. He told me to hand it over to you personally. It’s a book. When I told him you weren’t here, he wrapped it up and gave it to me.’
It was a collection of poems by Pushkin.
Inexpensive Moscow edition. On the title page, quoted in a beautiful hand was: ‘When I came to kneel before thee, thou closed the door on me.’ – Paul.