When Mrs. Verma came to Std V, she was surprised to find a disinterested student in Muthu.
Mrs. Verma entered the Std.V classroom. Her eyes scanned the classroom. The boys fidgeted uneasily. They, too, looked fairly neat, she thought, except for one boy at the corner.
“Sit down, boys,” she said.
“All A-graders put up your hands.” A few hands went up.
“Now the B-graders.” Several hands went up.
“Any C-graders?” A single hand went up. It belonged to the boy at the corner. Mrs. Verma looked at him with displeasure. Mrs. Verma looked at his uncombed hair, dull face, untidy clothes and his torn shoes.
“Are you not interested in coming to school and studying?” she asked.
No answer. She sighed.
“Are you ready,? A short recap of last year’s work before we start.”
The class groaned but she didn’t mind. As she put up the questions, the boys began to write. When the bell rang she collected their answer sheets. She checked the answers in the free period that followed. All the A and B graders had done well. She was pleased. But, she had to draw a red line right across the C-grader’s sheet. Back in class she distributed the answer sheets. There was an animated discussion amongst the boys as they looked into their papers as well as other’s papers. The C-grader sat glumly, looking at the red line across his answer paper. Mrs. Verma called him to her side.
“What’s your name?”
“Muthu, you did not give a reply when I asked you a question earlier. After seeing your answer paper, I’ve got the answer. You are simply not interested in studies I know.”
Break time, the teachers gathered in the staff room. Mrs. Verma asked the teachers, “Why is this boy Muthu in my class marking attendance? He knows nothing and is not interested in learning, it seems.”
The teacher of Class II said, “I remember that boy. He was the brightest student in class. My pet.” Mrs. Verma’s eyebrows shot up. The teacher of Class III added, “I remember him, too. He was smart. I liked him. Quick on the uptake. However, towards the end of the year, he slowed down. I heard his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness.”
The teacher of Class IV said, “His mother died during the summer holidays, I was told. He lost interest in studies. He slept in class and hardly did his work in class or at home. His father did not turn up at the PTA meeting. I made enquiries and came to know that the father had taken to drinking and Muthu was neglected.”
“I didn’t think…” said Mrs. Verma, her voice trailing away.
The next day, when the bell for recess rang, the children rushed out. Except Muthu. Mrs. Verma approached him.
“Aren’t you going out to play?” Before he could answer, she whisked out a comb from her bag and combed his hair. He did not object; his eyes closed and he whispered, “Just like amma.” When she had finished combing his hair she said, “Now run out for a few minutes. Recess will soon be over.”
“Thank you,” said Muthu as he ran out. Mrs. Verma continued to take special care of Muthu. One day, after school, when all the boys had left the class, she kept Muthu back and gave him a box of washing soap and bath soap.
“Have a bath and wash your clothes well,” she said. The following day, she found Muthu in cleaner clothes and smelling of Mysore Sandalwood soap. Not very long afterwards, she stuffed some nice clothes into his school bag. She helped him with his studies, too.
There was a change in Muthu. He looked brighter. He became more attentive in class. His responses were faster. Mrs. Verma hoped he would do well in his tests. He did not disappoint her.
On September 5, all the students of the class brought beautifully wrapped gifts for the teacher. Muthu’s gift was different. His gift was in a small crumpled brown paper cover.
“Happy Teacher’s Day, ma’am,” he said.
The first gift she opened was Muthu’s. She took out a pearl bracelet with the centre pearl missing. She wore the bracelet on her wrist, came and said,
“The bracelet fits me well. I like it.” Muthu said, “It belonged to my mother.” Muthu came third in class in the final exams. He was delighted. So was Mrs. Verma. Muthu graduated to middle school. Mrs. Verma lost touch with him. Years rolled by. Mrs. Verma retired. One morning September 5, while she was watering her plants in the balcony of her apartment the postman came with an insured parcel for her. She tore open the bubble pack and opened the box it contained. Out came a brilliant bracelet with a diamond at the centre of it. A card dropped out of the box. It read:
“To the best teacher on
Teacher’ s Day.
From your ever grateful student,
Dr. Muthuraman, M.D.