I remember the fifth standard days of carefree fun and pure excitement which opened up to the promising light of each new day. Everything about life looked optimistically lively then, and I lived in happiness and contentment every single day of my life. There was no responsibility to hamper me, and I must say, I enjoyed the year immensely, and would like to call it the ‘golden year’ of my schooling.
That year, we had Sabitha Mam for Geography. She was an imposing creature, her looks traditionally suiting how teachers were supposed to look like. She had a sort of mulish expression, wore thick glasses, which, I think, she was unusually proud of. She had a reason too—those glasses magnified her eyes to a large extent, making that threatening frosty glare a hundred times colder. I always remember her in her blue shawl she wore on wintery days, walking serenely in the silent corridors every morning. She was a terrific teacher besides, drawing the map of India so superbly on the board within a minute.
She was stubbornly insistent about certain things, which looked like an annoying habit of hers then, which irritated us to no end. We were forced to sit strait, not to yawn, sitting in that perfect, erect posture, with a smile on our faces, and no unnecessary emotions disfiguring our charming expression. She carried with her a long wooden scale, which served useful in pointing out various geographic locations, and yes, the duster, which she continuously rapped on the table to subside the rising decibel levels due to daily chatter in the classroom. She was undoubtedly an energetic woman, rapping that duster continuously even after “pin-drop silence” (the most commonly used word in school language) was achieved. RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP-RAP….”I want everyone’s attention” was the phrase with which every class began, after which, she would become a little genial in her ways, teaching smoothly, without a single stutter in her commanding voice.
She did have certain different norms—she was unique in her teaching methods. After every lesson, there was to be a quiz—a hot contest between the boys and girls, and for that, to beat the boys at least (it would be the utmost disgrace to loose), we would somehow learn the lesson, mugging it up twenty times if required. We would eagerly await the end of each lesson, and that fair game, at the end, we would play…one could almost feel the excitement in the air. It felt like an India-Pakistan match being played inside the hot classroom….no one will guess how much I miss those quizzes now. We crossed our fingers, squeezed each others hands, murmured prayers, howled like crazy buffoons, and sometimes, even cried! We celebrated learning….five more points…six…seven….we cheered every time Sabitha mam added an extra ‘I’ on the board. Of course, I have reason to believe she was always inclined to the girls side, every time we won a neck-to-neck competition with one point, a small smile would quiver at the edge of her lips, and it would be gone in an instant, and you would swear you had imagined it. But I was observant, and I almost sensed that she silently supported us.
In the fifth year, she introduced a new method of learning, which has come to stay in my school for nine long years. When we were given books, I always had the habit of opening each one and smelling them (I loved the smell of new books), and while engaging in this worthless activity, I noticed one extra long note book which was plain. We always wrote in ruled books, so I was naturally curious. Then, Sabitha mam went on to explain that she had replaced chart-making with ‘Scrapbooking’ that year—that sounded like a big word, so we listened. She told us how we would use our scrapbook to do collect information and paste it ‘attractively’ in an organized fashion---that was the sort of formal language she used, but we all knew it meant using our scrapbook in the way we liked, sticking sloppy pictures in a highly disorganized and haphazard fashion, and I must tell you, we absolutely enjoyed anything which was not neat, and we made use of the opportunity to doodle in our books. There were some non-creative people who groaned and called it ‘absolutely wicious’ , but I ignored them, because I loved scrapbooking. I was terribly good at it, and I was pleased when I got that extra star or a ‘ v.good’ marked next to my picture.
Scrapbooking became a nice hobby and an enjoyable homework. It is because of my scrapbook that I now remember where the Chota-Nagpur plateau is, and where exactly the Himalayas are---I remember representing them with cotton on the map of India, and drawing an arrow below scrawling below ‘The Greater Himalayas’ in big bold black letters. I can remember it so effortlessly, better than I remember any other subject from school—it’s because I enjoyed learning it. My scrapbook became so dear to me, that I eagerly waited for homework, and my friends were repulsed and thought that I was abnormal. But then, I went on to receive some great marks in geography, and my scrapbook became famous. I still can remember using red sand for Karnataka’s ‘laterite soil’ and black seeds for ‘black soil’ of Madhya Pradesh and I still remember her saying cotton grows well in black soil. I did loads of creative stuff in my scrapbook, and I finished by adding a personal flavour to it—be it drawing a complicated volcanic mountain, or the earth’s meridians. That year, I felt special in geography class—like I was pushed into the lime-light. I was famous. I loved it. Everyone talked about “Lakshmi’s scrapbook” and I smiled.
From that year, every year, kids from my school have started working on personal scrapbooks. When I saw my brother working on his geography scrapbook, I instantly knew Sabitha mam was behind it all, but I ventured to ask, “Who teaches you geography?”
“Sabitha Mam,” he said.
I knew it! She is the sort of genius who can think up such wonderful things. It reminded me of the time I was his age, and also, that it’s already been seven years since then. Well, when mom’s teaching Arjun, and asks, “ What are the tributaries of Ganges?” I like to intrude and say “The Ghagra, the Gomathi, the Chenab,….” And instantly, my mind forms the picture of those diagrams I drew in my scrapbook with blue sketch pen seven years ago. My brother looks at me quizzically, as if I am too complex to understand.
I will remember my fifth year for all the fun it provided, and I will remember Sabith mam too…who continues teaching at Kumaran’s school even in old age. Countless students love her ways—like the ‘checkerboard games’ that we often played in her class…all her students mainly remember that rapping noise which was common in geography class and that commanding voice saying, “INDIA,” pointing proudly with her stout stick to the diagram on the board.