She Is My Soul Teacher, My Sister In Arms!

Posted: May 21, 2019

What if I was too tall for them, or too smart? What if I was the only child or full of self pride? The goblins couldn’t reject me, right? For all the men, who rejected me, were not perfect themselves.

In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.

The writing cue for May 2019 is these lines from Victorian poet Christina Rossetti from her most famous poem Goblin Market.
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”

The third winner of our May 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Ragini Parashar.

There wasn’t anything remarkable about that day. Just the same time table to be followed. The same set of classes to be taught, the same bubbly kids with their gleaming eyes and wavering talkathons. Oh, perhaps the difference lay in my choice of purple rimmed spectacles! One glance at my cubicle for the syllabus breakup and I realized that it was the day I had to conduct ‘it’. I was reminded of a mushaira that our professor had conducted in the classroom. A session he deemed fit for a bunch of naïve youngsters. Faiz Ahmed Faiz commanded appreciation and understanding, we were told. I smiled at the memory, caressing my copy of ‘Little Women’, thinking if a poetry recitation session with ten-eleven year olds could be the same? Goosebumps inducing, that is.

As I glided into the room, each child was armed with the choicest weapon- a string of words written carefully on a crisp sheet of paper. And so, the session started.  After a number of recitals, a boy came up to recite ‘Three Plum Buns’ by Christina Rossetti. “Oh, A wonderful choice,” I gleamed. My ducklings had to know that I had read an exquisite poem titled ‘Goblin Market’ while in college. Just like any other member of literati, I have the tendency to take trips of nostalgia about the moment when I found home and love in that author, that poet.

Of course, eleven year olds were not to be told about the discussions we had in the classroom with phrases like ‘veiled sisterhood’ and ‘homosexual undertones’ bouncing around the walls of the all girls college. My stream of consciousness was broken when a boy, flashing his dimpled smile, informed me that he intended to recite the very poem. I smiled. “Come on, your turn, child,” I nodded with encouragement. With cries of ‘hear, hear’ around me, I perched on the table, to let myself enjoy the spectacle of the recital, albeit totally different from the one I had witnessed years ago. The woman inside me was about to face myriad emotions throughout the recital. The pied piper started his magic. The lines demanded focus. But I was in a daze…

“We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”

Emotions did a ballet inside my stomach, making me remember all those times when endless discussions on patriarchy made me believe that I was not alone. I had a bevy of girlfriends, standing tall with me, in the muck together. Eager to fight, eager to survive and find a way out and across. For when I gasped for breath underwater, they became the twigs, pushing me to breathe, focus and align my chakras better…

“But, I musn’t lose focus,” the teacher inside me reminded herself. ‘The teacher’, I mused about the term. What about that day when I felt claustrophobic, implicated and unappreciated at work? When the tears of exhaustion flooded my cubicle during a stayback? The empty staffroom walls could only stare and feel sorry for me. Another one hit by the gloom, they must’ve sighed. And somehow, telepathy showcased magic and I saw the phone ringing. My soul teacher, my sister in arms, suddenly felt this urge to hear my voice. And in a few minutes, I emerged stronger and ready to try. For myself, my students and womenfolk, who had never moved out of the four walls of the house, whom I owed a lot. Be it indirectly.

“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”

That day, when I felt as if someone was pushing me against a wall. When every relative, family friend felt like that horrid bunch of sorcerers. There she was, my sister, my school companion, who charged me to fight casual sexism, objectification and infantilization. “The hunters have had their share of fun, let us change the rules. Let’s hunt the hunters,” she zestily offered. When forced to consider the options matrimonial sites had to offer to me, she stepped in, reminding me to not lower my standards and play smart. What if I was too tall for them, or too smart? What if I was the only child or full of self pride? The goblins couldn’t reject me, right? If anything, she reminded me ‘penis envy’ was non existent and finding humor in the situation never hurt. And we laughed our way out of the sticky web. For all the men, who rejected me, were not perfect themselves. Neither King Arthur. Nor Sir Lancelot.

“One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.”

I focused again at the boy reading the poem aloud. The kids seemed hooked, sneaking sideways at their friends, ears pricking at the description of the luscious fruits.  They seemed in no hurry to grow up and conquer the world. For a moment, I was jealous of the innocence they still possessed. They looked at my smiling face, unaware of my internal monologue. I crossed my arms, remembering that warm embrace we’d shared before she set onwards to conquer new shores. My soul sister had made me proud when she got accepted into the business school. But, did the long distance between us ever matter? No.

“Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings”

Those midnight blues and existential crisis. The ‘what ifs’ and ‘what if nots’ troubled us equally.

“Then if we lost our way what should we do?”
Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care.”

For when one tumbled, the other picked her up. For all the love filled sermons about how retail therapy, skincare and self love could change the world, one affirmation at a time.

And I came back to the classroom reality, just in time, for the grand finale.

“Yet not to share.
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”

The class clapped enthusiastically. I clapped too, tad too emotionally. For the flawless recitation, gush of memories it flooded me under, for the boy’s exquisite choice (or was it the mother, grandmother or sister at home who had scribbled it down for him? I chuckled at the thought). As the class ended, I grabbed my phone to send the last lines of the poem to my girl gang. You can never thank them enough, right?

Who says teaching is boring? Ask me. The forty minutes made my day.

Ragini Parashar wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the movie Hichki

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Teacher. Wannabe Saree-ista. Optimist. Possessor of an enormous sweet tooth. Libran. Alhamdulilah!

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  1. Pingback: Winner For The Muse Of The Month (May 2019)|Women’s Web | PedestrianRaga

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