Who Said You Were Deaf?
Thokchom Gautamjit *
It was the second day of the new session. The headmaster introduced her to the class. She couldn't even lift her face. She was his cousin. He personally orchestrated her transfer from a public school. Public schools were 'too' public, he often said.
Eleven years old Dareq was absent that day. He was a lazy boy with a burden of unblossomed potential. Though he passed every exam with little effort, he never took it to the next level. Oddly enough, he had learnt to keep a diary at age nine. This was one of the few things his mother was proud about him.
Early in the morning, he told his mother there was no class the previous day and sneaked out for angling. He was nowhere to be seen at school hour. He caught up with other local boys and headed for the canal. He loved angling as it was the only thing he was very good at. Others admired him in it. He knew the feeling very well. When it was about time for the third period in school, he came back. He bunked the next day also, in just the same way.
On the third day, he told his mother he had better go to school properly from the coming Monday. He even surmised, "They told me the teachers are busy with the admission of new comers." It was a small school, and the teachers had to help with the increased workload of the first few days. At the canal, he did not have a great day as the wind was constantly unsettling the water surface. He coiled up the thread and was ready to go back, when his classmate Dilip asked,
"Dareq, you have been absent for three days. You know they made a new rule?"
"Dunno. What is it? It's only three days."
"Five rupees fine for a day of absence."
"Then it's fifteen for me including today. Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Starting next week. That's why I'm here today."
It was a cold morning in January 1999. Dilip pulled Dareq out from his bed. After having tea and snacks together, the two went to school on Dareq's bicycle. Dareq's mother was very happy for him. Once in a blue moon, her son would show such enthusiasm in attending school. His father would have felt the same.
After the morning assembly, the class was waiting for the first period. The new CR was trying to control the noise. The class schedule had been out the previous day and pasted on the new notice board, but Dareq had no idea who was coming to take class. He had his favourite teachers and quite the opposite ones. He asked the other boys on his bench, and then those in front and the back rows. Usually it was written by a teacher on the board to be noted down by them or distributed as prints, so no one had had any idea about the schedule. In a fit of anger, he shouted,
"Who is coming for the first class?"
There was a pin drop silence. All eyes were on him. Then, a girl from the first bench calmly replied, "Miss Nancy. She will take our English class."
Dareq turned his head and saw her. She was staring at a notebook, occasionally looking up at the roof like trying to by-heart something. He had never seen her. He sat down slowly, feeling ashamed of his behaviour. The noise started again. He looked again at her. She was still fixated on her notebook. She was different.
"Who is that, Dilip?"
"Headmaster's cousin, transferred from the public school. She is good in Maths, Social Science, Science, English, Manipuri."
"Maths also, huh?"
"Yeah. Denish has got to work extra-hard this time."
"Huh... I don't care."
Miss Nancy entered the class. The students greeted her. She made them sit and started taking attendance. Dareq kept an eye on the new girl whom he thought was weird. She was a mystery, at least to him. A little of this mystery was unravelled when she stood up and responded to 'Sanalembi H.', just after Jack. Jack was at number 44. So, she must be 45.
"4 plus 5 is 9. An odd number. Yeah, just like her." He was nodding to the thought, when the CR came upto Miss Nancy and said,
"Dareq shouted in the class, miss!"
Miss Nancy turned and stared at him for a few seconds. Dareq thought that he would certainly be made to stand outside. Luckily, she reached for her book to continue the lesson on 'Sentences.'
God knows why Dareq listened to class that day. Miss Nancy was pleasantly surprised to see the glow, as often seen in very attentive students, in his eyes. Impressed, she spared him a warning she thought of giving at the end of the class for that shouting.
After three more classes came the recreation hour. Dareq and his friends played football for 28 minutes, two halves of 14 minutes each. The other 2 minutes were for placing the ball back and drinking water. His shirt got wet in hankering and dodging for the glass. When he entered the class, the girl was still into her notebook on the first bench. He stopped and tried to peek into her notebook. She looked up at him sternly. Dareq was a picture in himself after the football match. Stunned, he turned away quickly and quietly joined his friends.
"She is reading Measurements, Dilip. Has it been taught yet?"
"No. What is it? I haven't even heard of it."
"She is weird. Studying the whole day. I think she skipped the nursery rhymes."
"That's why she is going to be the topper. The maths teacher likes her a lot. She knows everything."
"Division with decimal points."
"That will be easy. Subhash sir likes me too." Subhash was the Maths teacher. He had an eclectic childhood and the two shared some air.
The next class turned out to be Moral Science. Nobody took it seriously. The whole class was falling asleep. The teacher started picking out the dozing students.
"Dilip, which is better - silence and talkativeness?"
Startled by the sudden reference, he blurted, "The ...the...first, sir, (what is it?) ... Silence."
"Is it the type when you doze off and stop listening?"
"Then what is it? Tell your friends. C'mon, you should be able to tell this."
"Because silence is golden, sir."
"Yes, true. But I'm asking what type of silence?"
"Like I shouldn't answer my father when he scolds me, Sir."
The whole class burst out in laughter. The teacher covered his mouth with the book he was holding.
"Ok. Sit down. You did well. You have a useful insight."
"Everybody is awake now? Good. So, who can say what is the type of silence we are comparing to talkativeness?"
Dareq stood up slowly with a boldness that didn't sleep the whole time. He came up with an example,
"Silent like the new comer on the first bench."
The whole class laughed again while teacher was grappling the answer.
"Who is that?"
The students answered in chorus, "Sanalembi H., Sir."
"I must say you must've observed her. What makes her a good example, Dareq?"
"She is so different from us, Sir?"
"That is -?"
"She speaks only when needed, Sir. She listens more than she talks."
The girl gave a suspicious look at the teacher. Then, she lowered her head more and more. Her face grew red, as did her small white ears.
"That's perfect, Dareq. That's the type of silence, we say, is golden. All of you listen. Dareq is right. Sanalembi is quiet and studious. She does not doze like the rest of you. She is attentive. You should try to be like her."
Dareq said to himself, "Except that she is a little weird."
After one more class, the final bell rang. The students ran out of the class in a hurry creating a turbulence at the door. The girl sat quietly with her chin resting on her curved palm waiting for the haste to die down.
Dareq was not among the other boys that day. He walked towards her and said, "Hey, school is over."
She didn't even glance at him. She took her bag and hurriedly headed for the door. Dareq was behind her thinking more than ever sure that she was totally weird and now, stand-offish too. At the verandah, the girl paused for a moment and said, "I'm not deaf."
"Who said you were deaf? Over-smart girl!" Dareq entered to his diary that night.
* Thokchom Gautamjit wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a student at JIPMER, Puducherry and can be contacted at thokchomgautamjit(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 02, 2014.
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