For most of us the answers relate to a place where we spent most of our childhood – our school.
Despite the above, for me, school memories are fun memories about my best friends, my classmates and my teachers. The teachers who taught me so much in life – to love, to respect, to be courteous, to put self-respect and dignity above all, to share, to enjoy life and be yourself .
The school is in the heart of a city with a campus as beautiful as can be – a fine blend of tradition and modernity. The old building made of black stone adorns the main gate. It has classrooms and halls with wooden flooring, dark alleys, secret passages, the scary science laboratory, the huge upper hall where we staged our performances and showed off our “acting skills”, the place where we discovered a new door or passage everyday, and the lovely 8th standard classroom that overlooks greenery and the huge court.
The huge play areas – basketball, volleyball, throwball courts, the lovely cottage that makes the entry of pre-schoolers to the school a memorable one, the canteen which served the world’s delicious pav bhaaji for a mere 2.5 bucks, the garden between the 3 buildings(2 new ones & the old one). The open stage -the arena for flag hoisting and major functions in school. Remember the Lejhim performances!
After spending 15 years in a lovely school and 15 years since passing out – only the good memories of the place and the people remain. For a city school and one established in 1832 – the first ever girls school in Mumbai – St. Columba Girls School was an institution we were and will always remain proud of until this bit of news hit us.
Darshana Ramgiri is a 9 year old child in the Primary Section. A time where you don’t understand the world at all. It is defined by what your parents and teachers tell you. So when a teacher tells you that you are unwanted, how are you going to feel about yourself? How will you ever develop dignity and self-belief? How will you garner courage to fight your battles with a disease that is not your fault, hell you don’t even know what it is and its implications are! You are not looking for sympathy – you are looking for acceptance, you are seeking your right to lead a normal life and even God has no right to deny you that – so how can a human being even think of doing it?
Worst, the school continues to employ this teacher and instead of supporting Darshana has supported this teacher’s actions! I question all the teachers in my school – are you all not mothers? Are you not mothers to your students? How would you feel if Darshana was your child and meted out similar treatment that your fellow colleague has dealt to her? Would you have stood by your colleague then? Would you support her actions? The parents leave their precious flowers in your love and care for 8 hours a day and this how you justify their faith in you? You derogate the kid and make her feel unwanted – probably making her feel she is worthless, does not have a right to education or worse to live? Thank god for Darshana’s mother who seems to be made of steel – the fact that she stood up to this injustice and won. Shame to my institution for not standing by the child – don’t forget, it is these little girls who will bring fame and success to you in the future. They will proudly look back on the foundation you laid for them when they were taking their first steps. Have you forgotten what importance a school and its teachers hold in the life of these young impressionable minds?
My school memories are good memories and I’ve consciously erased the bad ones. My experiences are nothing compared to what Darshana or some of the less blessed girls in my class have had.
But here I’m going to talk about them and why a few handful teachers this school needs to do away with – for they are terrible examples of what a teacher should be. They have managed to survive cause we girls were either scared to speak up against them or maybe most were like me who simply did not care or let their words or actions impact what we did in our lives.
I still can’t get myself to take their names except the one mentioned in the report. I’m still not sure if it is the right thing to do – I had a bad experience with them, maybe others did not. I leave it for the school to decide if these teachers need to be still around – maybe some of them have left already.
If the main culprit in this piece of news is the same teacher we had in our primary days, I will not be surprised. She was a bad example even 25 years back. She was our class teacher and extremely partial. I was fortunate to be in her good books, but she imposed some awful punishments on girls of age 5-9. She would pinch the cheeks hard, one of my classmates’ cheek tore, she was derogatory in her comments and would make them feel like scum of the earth. She crushed the self-confidence of many and I appreciate my classmates who overcame her horror and turned out fine ladies today. Ladies you will look up to and want to emulate.
If you are not good at studies it does not mean you are some deplorable person, similarly if I don’t like drawing it does not give you the right to insult me. Try telling our art teachers that, both in primary school and high-school. Aren’t creative people supposed to be more liberal, more easy-going? But here we had opposites - both were absolute terrors – I’ve bunked many a drawing classes cause I did not want to encounter their wrath or insults as I was horrible at art and simply did not like it. It’s a different story that the high-school teacher was a different person altogether when she became our class-teacher in 8th we came around to like her – but she still needs to do away with the scolding and insults for students who are not in her class.
The principal during my secondary years was equally disrespectful not only to us girls but also to our parents, she had the opinion that she was doing our parents a favour by allowing us to be in her school! Tell me how would we learn to respect her? She was mean, insulting and outright egoistic. We are taught to worship our gurus, but with teachers like her you’d only nurture hatred in your heart.
Walking in her footsteps – were two other teachers – one was my PE teacher and another who taught Marathi medium and was in charge of Girl Guide then. If you wish to learn to play politics, learn it from them and yes they will also coach you on how to do blatant partiality. During our final year both were responsible for sabotaging our prefect elections. It did not impact our life later but then it did deprive a lot of deserving candidates what was rightfully theirs. They carry with them a book of insults and how to demean a child. If you are not good at their subject you are lousy – even if you maybe a school topper. You did not choose Girl Guide so you must be lazy, you are not athletic so you are to be insulted. You don’t give me importance so you must be too proud. As you are every other teachers favourite, I need to show you your place even though you may be grounded and polite with all.
Who the hell gave you that right? I have the freedom of choice – I’m a geek, a bookworm so what? Did you ever have 10% of the intelligence I was blessed with? I don’t like outdoors – it’s my life and it’s my choice. You have no business determining how lousy I’m just cause I do not choose what you like. I have never ever disrespected my teachers and I’ve never sucked up to anyone – you need one you find someone else, stop demeaning me. I may have been a topper in school throughout but my parents ensured I stayed grounded, you have no business insulting me for being a favourite with other teachers.
There is a fine line between punishing students for the wrong they do and insulting them to the point they feel worthless.
I just happened to have some amazing teachers in school and fantastic parents who never let my confidence be affected and helped me ignore these exceptions. But what if not all are as lucky as I was – what happens to them? You think they will ever blossom and gain confidence to lead their lives.
I’ve refrained from naming or blaming people in my life which is why I’ve not mentioned names above – maybe they have realized their misdoings and rectified their wrongs. There is no intention to dig graves – I buried those incidents long time ago. But when I read this incident, all those memories came back. Some teachers have not changed and continue to be cruel. Which is why we need to speak up, I was deeply hurt after reading about Darshana Ramgiri. I feel helpless that we ex-students could do nothing to help her cause. Wish we had known earlier – we would’ve tried our bit.
I don’t know how the school is doing anymore – culprit for not being in touch! Used to visit my teachers and school every year until my graduation. Some stupid principal stopped ex-students from visiting the campus, I last heard. We have a right to that place in case she has forgotten – it’s our second home and you cannot stop a person from coming home. We love the place, it’s our shrine, our faith, our belief-system and we love some of our teachers there.
Maybe they were not perfect and they had their respective flaws – ego and favouritism we girls termed them as – but they were not cruel, they were not insulting towards us, and when the time was right they kept aside everything and praised our little achievements. We were a mischievous lot but they never held that against us. As long as we did well in our fields they were only proud of us.
I keep with me the good memories but when incidents like Darshana’s surface, it reminds me of those bad ones. Life is not perfect , with the good we have to deal with the bad. But no school or teacher has the right to do what it did to Darshana – discriminate and deny her the right to education. What message are you sending out to people? She is a normal child with a normal IQ, why was she discriminated against owing to her illness – do none of your teachers or students ever take ill? On one hand you preach equality and were pioneers of women education in Mumbai and on other hand you commit such a heinous act?
How we will deal with this I do not know – when the one place that built your life’s foundation begins to show signs of crumbling - tell me how do we restore our faith back?