There are some things which remain engraved in our minds no matter how many years pass by or how many different directions life takes us. One such memory is of my time as a class 4 student in Maharaja Hari Singh Agricultural Collegiate School, Nagbani situated on Akhnoor road off the main city Jammu Tawi.
My school had one of the best campuses with orchards, tall and majestic trees, a canal flowing inside the 350 acres of land, an extraordinarily big play ground in the primary section, laboratories, library and a sports complex. The secondary section was built on higher land and was connected by pathways and steps made of stones. In the time I studied there I was in primary section which had rows of classrooms built around the playground in a horse- shoe shape while my brother was in secondary section.
Growing up as an army kid meant getting up earlier than my peers, spending more time in travel because our cantonments were always far from the main city or town, leave home earlier, get home later and have very little time for playing.
The best part about school those days used to be my friends Jagdeep Mann, Sunaina Tickoo, Roopesh Bajaj and many others whose names I have forgotten, and my class teacher Miss Aruna Jamwal, a young Dogri woman who wore her light brown hair short till her jaws, clad in beautiful embroidered Kashmiri salwar suits, smiled very often and at the same time managed her students, that is us, effortlessly. We admired her so much that we listened to every word she said, every rule she would lay down for us and at the end of the day, fight with fists down on each other to be at the head of the line which she would lead till our school buses just so that we enjoyed that closeness and attention with/from her.
The love-hate relationship between me and Jagdeep Mann, an officer’s son from Udhampur who also travelled for hours every day, centred around seeking attention from Miss Aruna Jamwal and his ignorance about north-eastern people.
Jagdeep would win brownie points for his excellent dancing skills to Sridevi’s numbers. Whenever we got bored and needed entertainment, Miss Aruna Jamwal used to call out for Jagdeep and say, “Aja beta Jagdeep, shuru ho ja.” What a great sport Jagdeep was, he would come out from the last benches which used to be his favourite sitting place, adjust his turban while one of us would close the door of the class, and begin dancing to the popular song “Main teri dushman, dushman tu mera, main nagan tu safera”.
I had my halo moments when Miss would choose me to rub the blackboard with the duster, such a coveted privilege at that age. I would walk towards the blackboard with the duster extra slowly as if it was a big task entrusted upon me. And Jagdeep would be quick to offer unsolicited feedback pointing to corners where I had not erased the chalk writings well enough. Delegated to write the date on the blackboard was like winning a jackpot.
At that young age, winning appreciation and approval from our teacher was the sole motivating factor to excel in academics.
A group of classmates decided to pool in money to buy a birthday gift for Miss Aruna Jamwal. A total of Rs. 2 was collected after many reminders and the in-charge for procurement, Sourav, was selected from among us as he was the smartest and most confident. Sourav told us his mother could easily buy the gift from the market.
Next, we had to decide what gift to buy! We had many options but the money was scarce and we had to settle for something that Sourav could buy without inconvenience. We voted for a gold earring and waited every day to hear the good news that it had been bought.
Sourav got a thin gold loop not bigger than a button wrapped in brown paper envelop as small as the content inside. It was rather unimpressive due to the size of the gift but a little voice consoled me, “It’s okay even if its small because it’s a gold earring.”
On the D-day, the birthday gift was given to Miss Aruna Jamwal and we all encircled her while her face broke out into a big smile and she hugged and thanked us. I can still remember the joy I felt to give that gift.
During the coming months I would always look out for the gold earrings on her earlobes every day but those earrings were never worn. It would trouble me to think if the gift had been cheap and worthless and I felt ashamed to have given such a gift.
Soon we all got busy in preparing and appearing for final exams. My parents had decided to shift me to another school, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Akhnoor the following year and the good times spent in my class with friends and teachers was soon to come to an end.
My last day in school coincided with the report card day where parents accompanied their wards to collect the report card from the class teacher, have discussion on performance and weaknesses in the student that needed help and attention. It was a happy occasion where we made our parents meet our friend’s parents too.
A large crowd had gathered around class 4 in the morning and from afar we could see Miss Aruna Jamwal coming from Principal’s office in secondary section with a stack of report cards. She was wearing her finest salwar suit reserved for special occasions and when she got closer, I saw the gold earrings on her earlobes.
The joy from seeing her wear the cheap metal earring gifted by her class students to match her elegant ensemble on such a big day of the academic year was much greater than securing the first position in final exams.
When mother informed my class teacher that I would be leaving the school, I could see the sadness in her eyes. I was so small that I didn’t even say a proper good bye or take down her permanent address. All I have with me is the report card signed “Aruna Jamwal” in her beautiful slanted handwriting, a dream to go back one day and things she taught me over time to always compete with myself and my best performances and not with others.
Teachers leave a mark on our personalities because young children’s exposure to adults other than parents is to teachers. I was fortunate to have a teacher who was inspiring, kind, understanding, intelligent, expressive, energetic, fun, who took keen interest in my progress, understood my physical exhaustion from travelling four hours daily in a three-ton army school bus from Akhnoor, near India-Pakistan border to Nagbani and back but most of all for the capability to return love with love.
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Here is a special Teacher's Day wish to all the teachers today. Somewhere, someone will remember you for life.
My story " Miss Aruna Jamwal" was originally published on 5th September 2020 in the English newspaper The Morning Bell in Manipur (India).