With my perseverance, both the staff and students started responding to my request for support and shared stories from the time of his joining to the institution. Siju did his schooling in a Technical High School with specialization in Electronics, and scored high distinction. He used to assemble hobby circuits for his friends and repair electrical wiring and electronic devices like radio and tape recorder for his neighbors. In the first year in Polytechnic, he passed all exams with distinction. One day towards the end of the second year, something unexpected and undesirable happened, that made everything “ulta-pulta”! Reportedly, he was smoking ganja and a team of teachers caught him red-handed…!! News spread like wildfire… And in a few days, he was labeled as a “goonda”!!!
He had been continuously absent for a few days and I called him to class. On the next day while we were working in the lab, we saw him walking along the road as usual. I requested a couple of students to bring him to the class. They went out and called him. He was not willing to come. They insisted, but he was defiant. And at last they dragged him and brought in front of me at the corridor. He would not look at me instead looked down to the ground. His classmates were around him, not allowing him to run away. When I asked him a few questions about his prolonged absence, he slowly raised his face and looked at me. It was shocking! He was drunk with red eyes… and he could not stand steadily without support! He was struggling to manage the situation. Pathetic condition of a teenage boy! He didn’t utter a single word. To console him, I allowed him to leave then and asked him to come to class the next day, and he nodded.
He kept his word and I was happy more because he was not drunk this time. He was not ready for an open discussion yet, even in private. Quite natural, no surprise. After a cool off time, I started “Siju, I am in the process of winding up the internal assessment, you know. And now it is pending only for you. That’s why I asked you to come and finish them”.
I continued, “As you didn’t come for long, I made an enquiry about you. I heard about you as a brilliant Electronics student at the beginning, and as a ‘bad boy’ later!” He was listening to me silently, which was uncharacteristic of him.
“But… I don’t believe the second part of the story. I am a skeptic person by nature, and I never believe anything as I hear it, but look for other sides. I need a logically convincing explanation. I am not usually carried away by majority norms”, I tried to clarify him, anticipating a growing suspicion in his mind.
“I am your teacher. My only aim is to see you get your Diploma certificate, just like your classmates. I am trying to help you in that. I don’t want to see my students drop out after spending three years in college. Your final year exams are coming near. Just think of the back papers too… We don’t have time to waste now”, I continued my monologue in an attempt to convince him. What else could I do then?
“I understand that a student with a consistent track record never could nosedive all of a sudden, without any specific reason. There must be some “untold” or “unknown” part of the story. You can reveal it now, if you trust me and if you feel it convincing… or just leave it. It is your choice”, I concluded my part and paused for a while to allow it to sink in.
I looked at his dropped face. I could see tears rolling down his cheeks. The tough “bad boy” he was no more. Very soon, he started talking, telling me everything about him.
The first part was consistent – a brilliant student who joined the Polytechnic. During the second year, somehow he developed a bad habit of smoking. He was smoking secretly, beedi with tobacco. One day he was caught by the college authority. They alleged him of smoking ganja and started questioning him left and right. He explained his part that it was tobacco only and he had no idea about ganja. Whatever he had told them, they didn’t believe. They stuck to their version of the story. And most shockingly, they announced their judgment as he was suspended from college for six months for smoking ganja!
His parents were informed. They came and staged the second round of harsh questioning! Nobody was ready to listen to what he had to say. Even his mother and sister were not ready to give their ears. Every single person was blaming him, and treating him as a criminal. On that dark day, he was becoming a stranger to all of his beloved people – family, friends and teachers. His parents took him to a local black magic man for a solution. There he was tortured like anything – beating, hitting and what not! Alas… poor kid!!!
With that incident, he turned out to be a rebel, denying all sorts of majority norms, everything the society demanded from him! He hated the entire world and felt revengeful towards all around. He wanted to taste ganja… and used it for the first time in his life! To make money for drinking and smoking, he started undertaking quotations for crime, in addition to the old radio repair work… He explained to me his painful story with tearful eyes… Shockingly, I was realizing the fact that this was one way of making criminals in the society.
Though difficult to digest, I listened to him with a heavy heart and promised to support and mentor him to get the Diploma. I also ensured his classmates’ and staff’s help, to finish all the pending work for internal marks and to study for the exam. As a positive acknowledgement, he trusted me and started following my guidelines and instructions. He had the burning desire to escape from the dirty ditch. He was ready to change himself and put the efforts. Fortunately I could convince others also and gather their cooperation, once he started exhibiting some positive changes. He cleared all the exams including back papers in just two chances, which was unthinkable before that! And collectively we did it – Securing his Diploma Certificate!!!
Sometimes reality looks more dramatic, strange and unbelievable than fiction! I fondly remember that the students were very close to me by that time. Some of them considered me as their elder sister more than their favorite teacher. And for Siju, I was a mother-like figure. With this emotional attachment, it was easy for me to influence them further in their academics. I could help other students in making the required changes, relatively smaller though, to enhance their learning and achieve their goals. I have great satisfaction in being instrumental in that process, guiding that wonderful change. Some humble steps can make wonders at times, if we get involved in a situation and take the responsibility to control it for the better.
I reflected… “Most of the times children go in wrong directions due to the lack of love and care, both from parents and teachers. This demands serious attention as we come across many such cases of failure leading even to loss of lives, in our daily news. Once they fall into a ditch, it is not easy for them to come out themselves. They may not have the maturity and internal strength to do that. They need somebody to listen to them and understand them. They need somebody to provide support, a helping hand to pull them up. If anybody from those communities, either parents or teachers, takes an initiative, then that could help a life. Sometimes the teenage children will keep away from their parents and won’t be ready to open up before them in those kinds of situations, even if the parents make an attempt to support. In such cases, a teacher can step in and play a significant role, for sure. I wonder how beautiful this world would be, if more teachers could take this role to care and support the students coming to their hands! A humble support, motivation, mentoring – that can help change a life for the better or even for the most wonderful”, my chatterbox was working for myself, as if I were a serious and matured adult with profound life experiences… I smiled to myself, a poor young girl, who just started off that journey!
With the double workload from the eloped colleague, I worked harder, and managed my duties successfully, of course with the cooperation of students and other staff members. Even though an extremely tough job, and my first job, I could successfully complete all the academic activities of the year by March 31st itself, as planned!!!
In the last class, I collected written feedback from the students, asking them to write anything they want. They wrote about their course, college life, wishes, hopes and future plans. They were competing with each other in sharing their feelings so openly, and pouring their love and gratitude towards me…
When I woke up, I could see the familiar Thodupuzha scenes around me. But I realized a lump in my throat and it was growing… unlike the happiness I used to feel on coming home to Thodupuzha, during my college days! The short eventful six months has left a mark in me to remember forever!! The love those kids showered on me cannot find a match anywhere!!!
… വർഷങ്ങൾ കടന്നുപോയി. ഒരിക്കൽ ഒരു ചെറുപ്പക്കാരൻ എന്നെ കാണാൻ വന്നു. മെഡിക്കൽ ഇൻസ്ട്രുമെന്റേഷൻ ജോലി നോക്കുന്ന ഒരു യുവാവ്. തെക്കൻ കേരളത്തിലെ തന്റെ നാട്ടിൽ നിന്നും എന്നെ കാണാനായി മാത്രം തൊടുപുഴ വരെ അവൻ വന്നിരിക്കുന്നു. അതിനൊരു കാരണവുമുണ്ടായിരുന്നു.
അതെന്റെ പഴയ വിദ്യാർത്ഥി സിജു ആയിരുന്നു. അവനു ഒരു പെൺകുട്ടിയെ ഇഷ്ടമാണ്. അവളെ അവൻ ജീവിതത്തിലേക്ക് കൂട്ടാൻ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നു. അവളോട് തന്റെ ഇഷ്ടം തുറന്നു പറയുന്നതിന് മുൻപ് എന്റെ സമ്മതം വാങ്ങാൻ വന്നതാണത്ര! സ്വന്തം അമ്മയിൽ നിന്ന് അവനു കിട്ടാതെ പോയ സ്നേഹവും വിശ്വാസവും കരുതലും ലോകത്താദ്യമായി അവനു കൊടുത്ത, ജീവിതത്തെ സ്നേഹിക്കാൻ അവനെ പഠിപ്പിച്ച ടീച്ചറുടെ സമ്മതവും അനുഗ്രഹവുമാണ് അവന് വേണ്ടിയിരുന്നത്. തന്റെ അമ്മയോട് പോലും അവൻ ചോദിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല.
സിജു ഇപ്പോൾ തലസ്ഥാനനഗരിയിൽ ഭാര്യ രാജിയും രണ്ട് കുട്ടികളുമായി സന്തോഷത്തോടെ ജീവിക്കുന്നു. ഞങ്ങളിന്നും ആ ഗുരു ശിഷ്യബന്ധത്തിന്റെ, അതിലേറെ സ്നേഹത്തിന്റെ, ഊഷ്മളത കാത്തുസൂക്ഷിക്കുന്നു.
അന്ന് വന്നപ്പോൾ അവൻ എനിക്കൊരു പുതിയ പദവി പതിച്ചു തന്നിരുന്നു – ടീച്ചറമ്മ, The Teacher Ma.