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No one has ever fascinated me like life has. I had been an obsessive lover to life and deeply fascinated by it. It was the summers of 2008; I was out of school trying to figure the ways and means to the real world. Everybody around was doing the same. Each one of us was going through some heartbreak or other. The best of friendships were breaking apart. I had no clue where we were all going wrong. That was how 2008 began!
If this was not all where life wanted to take me, I was attacked by viral jaundice, just a month after; I joined a firm as a trainee copywriter. Ten days I was in hospital. Resigned the firm, took the first flight home. I had to be on special diet and I lost more and more weight. Yeah! Like always, I was the chirpy one, trying to be wise, talking more of what Khalil Gibran said or the latest book I read. I was talking and laughing too much because it was a time, I did not know who I was and where things were going. But then life has its own surprises. On one such low day, I saw bunch of little kids running in the playground next door. I failed to realize that a new school had sprung up the house next door.
Next morning I decided to join the school as a teacher. Thus began my magnum opus. Shy little children trying to figure out who the lanky thin woman was. I had the least idea that I was about to fall in love over and over again. I entered class nursery. Twelve tiny hands, long pencils, erasers tightly clutched and packets of crayons; I was the art teacher that day. Ten boys and two little girls, they were my students. It was only time that finally revealed who was the teacher and who was actually taught. The boys looked with a forever fascination to a woman who was losing weight and peace, whose body image was at shatters; and the girls could not just get over my sandals. They asked me once; if they grow up will all sandals they wear will have a bow on it. But I had a feel good feeling, at least I was not judged and there were no standards to meet. I think little children have a strong sense of fascination for their teacher; specially boys, she is the first powerful woman who seems to know it all after their mothers at home. I think what fascinated them most is that I did not talk like other teachers, I never used a stick or I threatened them. I was the only teacher who held their hands and told stories.
Neha joined the class late. She was a slow learner like Animesh. Both of them had difficulties in learning the alphabets. I know that feeling too well. I myself had been one. I know that desperate feeling when you want to finish the class work with everyone and submit it to your teacher. It hurts a lot to sit all alone in the class to finish your work while your friends are there in the playground. Your sense of alienation begins and it stays with you for real real long; even as adults. But in my class Neha and Animesh always finished first, because I helped them doing so. And I could see their faces glow, of not being told that they need to stay back or that they were always the last one or not intelligent enough. I just hope they know it someday that no one can ever decide who they are by an alphabet they failed to write in a class one day. They are wonderful and that is what they are. I believe the greatest crime of humanity is telling a child that he/she is not worth anything. The child may grow but the feeling remains. And another journey to try to prove oneself begins.
It was teacher’s day I remember, Bhaskar from class one could not help drooling over the new perfume I was wearing. Step by step he came closer just to smell the Pallu of my Saree. He looked at me and asked for my number. I wrote it on the back of his diary. He held the diary closer to his chest as if it carried the address of his beloved. From that day on he always called me around 3 p.m. His voice will be mellowed with deep admiration and fascination that his favorite teacher always picked up the call and answered all his questions religiously. I loved his little giggles that interrupts the conversation at times. Maa said that after I left for Delhi, he would still call and keep staring at our house for many days in the hope that I might just walk out of the door. He just took my heart away.
Amlan from class 5 would always have things to talk. I learnt from them the art of listening. At 3 years a boy has a problem opening his tight pencil box and at 11 a boy has huge issues sitting in the girl’s row. I always tried listening to them; their problems are very vital to them. It can take their peace away.
Many a times, I taught extra classes in the morning. I still vividly remember it was Valentine’s Day. I had that sick feeling in my heart because I had no special one. Facebook did not help much either. Everyone flaunted their lives. But I guess I had the most precious day awaiting for me. That day I wrote this letter to Devina. Here is an excerpt.
My day started at 5:30 am, with a prayer and my morning tea. Today being a Saturday, I had no class. By 6:00 am I went off to my children, 8 boys, we started our day with some light free hand exercise, then sat for our yoga session and finally had our meditation practice. It’s really amazing to meditate so early and in such place of silence, there is an extreme sense of relief. It was almost 8:00 am by then we had our handwriting class, then cleaned the school, and finally had a cricket match. Came home by 9:30 am. That was my Valentine’s Day Devina, far away from the hype and noise of the crowd with 8 little boys. We all loved each other. We all were peaceful, energized and happy. My dates even loved me in my ragged tee and jeans. There was no comparison or competition. None of us spent the night thinking about the best dress or hairstyle. We had no gifts, my boys did not even know it was Valentine’s Day, but there was 8 little kids waiting for my arrival. Even with my uncombed hair, I was the most beautiful woman in their life. They cheered my entry, and appreciated my presence. My presence made them so happy Devina, and no Valentine can beat me. Even though I am sick, thin as a reed, with uncombed hair, I had the purest love ever; I am the most beautiful Valentine in the world. No one can even dare to come near me; love is profound when it’s pure. God bless each one of them. They shall always be a part of me.
The only song that came into my mind when I was with my children was the song from Swades that says, “Jaise Barsho mein Koi Ganga Nahaye’ (As if someone bathed in the holy Ganges after years.)
The most important lesson I learnt is that I am beautiful and worth every good on earth. And till date that feeling has not left me. It has grown. I learnt from those children that I am not supposed to be perfect but whole. Children are not perfect; they fall while playing, pull their best friend’s hair yet begin a new day and love themselves.
I came back to the city in 2010 again. Took up a job, made the most empowered choices, yes! The same people came back, as I went to them. Life is going good and I have never felt this wonderful before. A dear friend of mine asked me a few days before, “How is it to be Paromita Bardoloi?” I think now I know the answer. “It feels beautiful to be me.” And those tiny little hands sowed the first seeds of beauty and love in my once tattered heart.
Thank you, my little ones. It was me who needed you. It was you who taught me how to live life again; how to love myself with all my imperfections. Yes! I can roar back to the summer sky today, “I am beautiful.” I am indebted to all of you till I breathe.