Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The French chronicles

Miss. Tapashi came into my life when I was in class 4. My mother teaching in the same school as I was learning, was the eternal bane of my life. Until I met Miss. Tapashi that is.

To my utter horror, she became my mother’s fast friend. Together they saw to it that most of my lovely sunny days at school were quite gloomy.

If my mom missed the episode where I was sent out of class for not completing my geography charts, Miss. Tapashi would chose the wretched moment to walk past my class.

I had two choices when I moved on to grade 6- Hindi or French. My mother handled Hindi all the way from 6th to 12th. Six years of Hindi and my mother… I chose French. And with that I unwittingly chose 6 years of Miss. Tapashi, torn answer sheets, red color liberally splashed on my books…

It is said, isn’t it that a teacher’s child is always hated by the children? Thankfully in my case it wasn’t so. My mother was a holy terror in school. Miss. Tapashi was a holier terror then!

My classmates oozed sympathy. Once Miss. Tapashi came up with this wretched rule that any kind of conversation in class should only be in French. You couldn’t have found a quieter class. How on earth were you to make sentences of words like monkeys, cows, cats, dogs, ties, socks, cars, fishes, the market…the only words we seemed to ever know.

To most of Miss. Tapashi’s questions, we would answer , “Oui”.

Sometimes she meant something like, “Have you not completed the homework”.

Notebook with painfully constructed sentences, I would stretch out at her and in all innocence say, “Oui”.Yes, I haven't completed the homework.

We became cleverer at spotting the traps. Any sentence that had even a faint tint of “Non” or “ne” we would answer the same. Oh-we got into innumerable scrapes, but like all survivors we survived too.

It was one of those wretched days when I felt rebellious against the whole world. I fought with my friends, immediately made up, was sent out of class, was called back in… it was that kind of a day.

We had this huge French prayer to memorize. All of us would religiously chant it-we were then too young to make a decision on to be religious or not.

Miss. Tapashi was a little late to class. I brought a long stick of chalk and began drawing on my brown desk. That was something forbidden. Chalks were meant only for teachers except when you had to write something on the board, but then it took all the fun out of touching those cool fingers of chalk- doing math and all wrong at that in front of the whole class tends to take away any kind of joy.

When Miss. Tapashi bustled in, my friend warned me, “You better put it back”

I promptly stuck my tongue out at her. But there was a small pang of fear in my mind. Today was the day I was rebellious- but even I drew my line when it came to Miss. Tapashi.

Recklessness is contagious. My friend told me, “I bet you can’t throw the chalk from here to the desk”

“I bet I can. And it wont break too”

Now both of us knew that was next to impossible. But it was my reckless, rebellious spree and when on sprees like this, I make sure I make the biggest mess ever possible.

“Dites vos priers” Say your prayers.

I should have read an omen in that. A sign at least.

50 pairs of eyes closed in habit. Two opened after ‘Seigneur’. Lord.

I aimed carefully and threw the chalk. Right at Miss. Tapashi’s thick glasses. My friend and I frantically joined the others loudly at ‘donnez-nous la patience’, give us the patience. We both changed the words to best fit the situation. “Give Miss. Tapashi the patience”.

Prayer was in vain. My first instance at realizing that. For someone who told us, we should close our eyes while praying, Miss. Tapashi broke the protocol. She had her eyes open and to her horror she’d seen a white missile like object that flew straight at her eyes.

“Qui a jeté la craie?”, she asked quietly.

To the rest of the girls, she might have very well have asked, “How many of you washed your ears”. That good was our French even after months of learning.

A usual silence filled the class. For the very simple reason that only 3 of us understood what the question was.

Miss. Tapashi was known for many things. Her beautiful Bengal cotton sarees, her staunch loyalty to her friend my mother and her temper. A story of how she shook a girl who was caught bullying one of the girls from lower classes was almost a legend.

“Who threw the chalk”, she asked in English. She’d realized by then why our class was one of the quietest she’d handled in her many teaching years.

A collective gasp went off from the class. I gasped too. Not out of pretence. But the sheer temerity of the act shocked me. All of a sudden my rebellious streak left me. I wished I was part of the background. A piece of furniture maybe. Something non living instead of this living, eating, heart beating creature that I was.

I was sitting and feeling miserable for myself and almost deciding to get over with it and ‘fess, come what may, when I heard my (ex) friend say, “She did”, pointing at me.

Another gasp went up. I stood up. My legs shook. I looked scornfully at my (ex)friend hoping that she felt like a worm in a cabbage.

Then belligerently at Miss. Tapashi, “Oui. J'ai jeté la craie”

My classmates were on a breathless and sighing spree I guess. I heard another loud gasp- it could only be for the fact that I spoke in French, right or not was irrelevant.

I was the first girl to ever construct an answer to Miss. Tapashi’s question.

Miss. Tapashi asked me, her voice unnervingly quiet and even, “Would you have confessed if she hadn’t pointed you out?”

I realized that a ‘yes’ would have made me the heroine that I never would be. I heard myself say, “I don’t know”.

That was the right answer to any question in the question paper. Technically speaking I knew the right answer here. Then what on earth made me give a lame answer like, “I don’t know”, I know not till today.

Miss. Tapashi’s face showed a plethora of changing emotions. To all of our astonishment and my relief, she laughed.

She came over to my desk and peering down at me said, “I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d answered yes. I wouldn’t have believed you either if you’d answered no. I know those moments of indecision. And am glad you told me what you felt honestly.”

Walking back to the front of the class she also said, “But I do know, you would have stood up and confessed. That much I do know”

Something in me changed that day. I realized I actually liked Miss. Tapashi.
I realized I had bad aim.
I realized too that not all people close their eyes while praying.

I looked at my friend who was laboriously writing, her tongue out with the effort. I even forgave her in a fit of magnanimity- after all you cant help be friends in times of adversity. But I guess it was partly because she had an even more complex sentence to write out than I did. I had a lot of time to think all this while I sat writing “Je ne jetterai pas la craie” 500 times outside the classroom along with my friend.


Blogger fr0z3n said...

:) wow.. nice.. your stories have some magic in them that make them seem so surreal..

btw i dont know french :(

12:31 AM  
Blogger Pleomorphous said...

Je ne comprehends pas le Francais. Vive la Google!

1:50 AM  
Blogger Pleomorphous said...

Je devrais avoir ecrit en Italien.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Pleomorphous said...

I know I am spamming, but should you not have said Oui instead of Qui? Or are my eyes playing tricks on me??

1:53 AM  
Blogger pallavi said...

" I will never forget my hindi notebook at home!!" in hindi!! 500 times!! sitting in the sun!!
do u blame me that i took up german the next year?!

my mum was a hindi teacher too...i think that how i managed till class 8 ;)

2:45 AM  
Blogger pallavi said...

p.s i wouldn't have given up studying german for the world, though..

2:47 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Frozen: You can always learn French. Magical stories huh?

Pleo: You ARE spamming! Google translator- lol, brings to mind another incident. Ah- another post.

Pallavi: Did my mom ever teach you? But she wouldnt have made you sit in the sun. Whew! So it was not my mom!

I wish I'd actually learnt French enough to talk. Damn. Maybe German.. Hmmm... the possibilities are very inviting.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

har har har har!! finally u made me laff..
btw..I read this book, Five Point Someone abt life in the IITs...unputdownable I must say...me thinks u will laff off readin that one.....
cya sometime in Oct....

P.S> Singin in the rain....La De Da!

4:02 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Sharat: Finally???? God- what a waste of time, all those hours I spent with you!

5 point someone and unputtdownable? It was very very putdownable. No, not really- it was very throwable-with-great-force kinda thing!

Ah-rain in London. Sigh...

4:15 AM  
Blogger aks said...

hey love...French...j'aime francaise...guess tats right... my french is pathetic..maybe there was not some one as wonderful as Ms Tapashi to teach me french...

4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, i liked the very idea of illustrating ur writeup with the equally expressive pictures...they say a picture is worth the thousands words...ur write ups are larger than life! The pics are absolutely gripping!! i liked all those pics, its a treat for me. btw are those the pics captured by u ?


5:20 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Aks: You can ask Miss. Tapashi to teach you French when you come for the next holidays. But remember- I am her favorite student. I always will be.

L_D: Finally I see you here!! Thank you for your kind words- I have not been very kind to you from where you came by. Pics- I google them up. The right key words during a search gives you the best pics. You just have to know what you are looking for.

5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you painted the picture and left me no choice other than appreciate u for that. Btw i never remember u been unkind to me. As far as my id goes lot of ppl made comment abt it, its all fun...i was laffing over. :) yeah u are right its all abt mood, and it gets damned sometime...


8:43 AM  
Blogger pallavi said...

touche about five point someone...
like someone said a few days back on my blog..."who put that piece of shit on the bestsellers list?!?!"

and WHERE is my email??

10:59 AM  
Blogger arvindiyer said...

I learnt french for two years, and still don't know a single word..Been a really long time, this place still makes me smile. And u still write fabulous stuff!!
btw..WHERE IS THE REPLY TO MY MAIL, I sent u eons ago?

10:21 PM  
Blogger Pleomorphous said...

I cannot speak French, German, Italian or Spanish like the natives, but I sure know to say hello.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

L_D: No.......... Dont be so kind to me!!!!!

Pallavi: Am writing, am writing!!!

Arvind: Ah- long time no see! How've you been?

Pleo: I can smile in all languages.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Pleomorphous said...


10:54 PM  
Blogger manuscrypts said...

miss tapashi is a recurring character?? seem to have heard the name before...

12:58 AM  
Blogger arvindiyer said...

I have been very well..thangyu. YUp It sure has been a really long time:)

2:13 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Pleo: Aha!

Manu: Miss. Tapashi is a recurring character, yes. She comes home every Sunday to meet me!

Arvind: Ah- good to hear that...

7:06 AM  
Blogger the wise old man said...

Chalk-fights. School and IIT. I miss them.

9:12 AM  
Blogger pallavi said...

how many of you down south are IITians!!?!?!?!?
its an appaling number...

9:16 AM  
Blogger Poornima said...

Zerish: You still are young enough to go to school. Go... go join a B school.

Pallavi: Each time I go out with Zerish, every other person I am introduced to is an IITian. The number is staggering!

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

L_D quotes " Pictures express 10 times more than Words " ... this is very irritating quites often heard from MY PL / PM / ME whenever i publish my Design doc / tech memo / Operation plan .. ofcourse without much pictures ... google search wont help me in those also ..........

Poorima : landed here thro other blogd ... intresting reading .. have book marked it already ...
will pour more comments


1:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you would just take your time to know your way around, you could discover

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just visit 3 Marketeers Productions LLC and fill out the short form, you'll be able to unsubscribe anytime

3:41 AM  

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