By Fayezah Iqbal
I had the opportunity to visit the place where I was schooled for 14 years. I was there to give an invitation card for a poetry function at the college, where my father teaches.
My father, who takes immense pride in my schooling and the ‘convent ambience’ he afforded me as a child, advised me enthusiastically to have a word with the Principal of the school after all these years, so I could recreate the memories of my childhood once again. Initially I was hesitant to go to my school for this purpose as I always develop naturally but unconsciously a feeling of strangeness and aloofness to people and things of past, especially my educational institutes. And as it often happens, I sulk and irk initially at my father’s starkly worthy but apparently discordant remarks and suggestions. I was reluctant this time too, but later I happened to follow it, experiencing unexpected jubilation and delight, reigniting truckloads of memories.
I reached my alma mater with the thought of both meeting and inviting the current Principal of my school for the function. There I was informed that both the Principal and the Vice-Principal were occupied in the classes and I could give the card to any staff and it will be passed on dutifully to the Principal. But I insisted that I would not go without having a word with either of them, as per my father’s advice.
At school, I came across Sister Sophia, who was the Principal when I was in the 12th, whom I used to dread and sometimes dislike because of her strictness. This was compounded by my categorization as a weak student because of my haplessness in Mathematics.
“Despite her good marks in the 10th board, we won’t give her Maths and Biology combination in Class 11 and 12 as she has been consistently weak in Mathematics since her last performances.” Sister Sophia had delivered her verdict to my father with all the determination and strength of a school guardian. This was the happiest moment of my life and I rejoiced at getting rid of this subject at last, which was not made for me and had troubled me throughout. But then I glanced at my father, sunken in deep despair, as I was deprived of a crucial subject (according to the demand and trend of the times), which would have enabled me to opt for a supposedly bright and promising career as an engineer. The disappointment was more because I had pulled up all my energy and grit in my last battle with Mathematics, scoring my all-time high – 91. My father was proud that I worked so hard to score a high grade in the subject but he was equally saddened, when Sister Sophia, my then school Principal, unhesitatingly turned down his wish for his daughter to study Maths. I was left with the only option of pursuing the combination of Bio- Hindi (English, Physics, Chemistry being mandatory others) for doing my 11th and 12th in Science from my school. Needless to say, I was again quite at peace as I had always loved Biology and wanted to study this very subject combination further. But my father could not reconcile with the tragedy for long and mourned till the recent past for being disallowed to study his choice of subjects in +2. It adulterated my gleeful emotions with his genuine sadness.
Ten years down the memory lane, these memories came back. A bit of unsettled past, some uneasy remembrances, some half-vented feelings, and some unspoken gratitude – all rushed forth in an exuberance. Her last words echoed in my mind, ‘I am afraid if she will get admission in Delhi University, but anyway I wish you luck to choose the best career option for your future.’ I had listened to her tolerantly, trying to find out some positivity in those words. I was not sure if she had expressed her concern or bias against me, when I went to meet her with my father after I had passed 12th successfully, telling her how I looked forward to higher studies in DU.
There she was, standing with the same gait, wearing the same hairstyle and attire with few more wrinkles and imperceptibly shrinking face but with good grace, as always. The reminiscences of disobeying her and getting reprimanded by her in front of my father, her impression of me as an ‘average student’, and her last stern but good-intentioned word with me – all crowded my mind.
I stepped ahead, greeted her, and extended the card to her for the function. She quipped with a forced smile that she was not the Principal any longer and that the Principal would be coming soon and I could give this to her directly. As she moved away, I sprang on my feet and said pointing to the invitation card, ‘Sister, I was a student here 10 years ago and you were our Principal then. My father teaches in the same college and he asked me to give an invitation to my school too.’ Before I had finished my sentence, she gave a genuine smile, which was rare in her. She glanced at me quietly and said, ‘I have grown old and you are still growing. So it is easier for you to recognize me.’ Her words from my student days flashed in my mind, ‘One page of your diary is soon going to be filled with remarks for coming late.’ She had said this with a sullen expression and an implicit warning while writing a complaint in my diary as I had arrived 5-7 minutes late in succession for last 2 weeks.
Now as I gazed at her ageing face and the human fallibility of weakening and withering with time, all my anguish and prejudices of the past melted away. I couldn’t stop myself from saying, ‘You are still ageless enough for me to recognize at any point of life.’
Underneath the veneer of civility, I was also notoriously relishing the fact that she didn’t really remember me. I forged a forgotten relationship, contented that the time has rightly obliterated not only memory but also the bitterness along with it. While she was still smiling gently and inquiring about my education, I gauged that she was also trying her best to recall the girl talking to her. I left her, thanking for her time and pressing her with an air of adult firmness and assertiveness to come for the function.
As I walked towards the exit, the new and attractive, and yet humble, infrastructure of my school grabbed my attention. I was tempted to take a few photos. But overwhelmed with the raw and unpretentious reality of life from my recent meeting, I shunned this fleeting and deceitful tendency of our age for the time being.
I sank in a bit more in my environs, inhaled more of that air and more of that soil, saw myself as one of those children frolicking, romping, and eating silently there during the recess. My present coalesced with my past.
Fayezah Iqbal has graduated in Medical Imaging Technology from Sikkim Manipal University and Masters in Spanish from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been indulging in creative writing since the age of 12, in which she found solace and a means to express her vital and true self. In the last 6 years, she wrote for some blogs, Journal of Pioneering Medical Students (JPMS blogs) being the major one, and contributes regularly to Mainstream Weekly magazine. Recently, she also authored her first e-book, I said I Can: a journey into the truest self, which was published by Amazon.in
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