Tuesday, January 22, 2008


There are things that had happened recently and people that crossed my path yesterday that are forgotten. And then there are things that happened and people that crossed my path a couple of decades ago and are still fresh in memory like they had happened just yesterday. This blog is dedicated to one such person and numerous memories revolving around that person and most importantly this is a tribute to a woman that unfolded to me, the love for language, literature and writing and the teacher that taught me some great lessons in life.
Ms. Sheela was best known for her flawless complexion and sense of style. I have layers and layers of details that I remember about her.The first things I noticed about her when she was our English teacher in the year 1988 were the robust cascade of hair that fell below her waist, the stainless steel hair pins that gathered and parted her hair at the sides and a globe like crystal that adorned her dainty neck occasionally. She was all about Chiffon sarees, wide framed glasses that strained her cheeks and formed a natural flush of color and a soft voice that whistled ever so slightly when she pronounced the letter "s"
Until she started teaching us that is. "Sing me a song of the lad that's gone" by RL Stevenson was the first piece of poem she taught us. "I met a Bushman" was the first piece of prose. She used to painstakingly write down the essays on the black board for us to copy. Some accused her of spoon feeding. It was alright by me as I never took notes down. One day she caught me sketching her picture on the back of my notebook. "Whose picture is this supposed to be?" she questioned looking at a pic that probably looked very much like her with that hairstyle that never changed in the academic year, and the glasses that she never removed. We never saw her without her glasses nor did we catch her uttering a word in Telugu. That day, after the class I ran out to apologise to her. She patted my head and smiled that it was okay.
She probably started noticing me then. But she stood up and actually took notice of me when I was the only person who wrote an essay that was not dictated by her in the class. She said that I was great and except for a couple of spelling mistakes, my essay was awesome. Incidentally, my essay was about the beautiful world that books present to us. She took every chance - every time, to stop and appreciate the things that I did differently, the poems that I deciphered differently and the grammar exercises that I cracked before the rest of the class. I never thought that I loved writing as much as I did after having her as my English teacher or it was probably the attention I got from her that made me love the language.
In the process of appreciating the language, I wrote a lot of senseless writings and took them to her in the staffroom during intervals and lunch breaks. She never turned me down. She always patted my back, always wrote "Very Good" in small, neat letters in the margin of my note book.
I used to make up stories about the love of her life and imagine the kind of mom she would be to her children and the kind of man she would fall for. My little gray cells wondered what she was like when she was my age and where she shopped for those elegant sarees and one of a kind accessories. It was an admiration that bordered on obsession. I used to imitate her hair style and longed for a pair of glasses.
On a couple of occasions, she read my essays in the class. That would beat the experience of an author's book reading any day. She was never rude to me or anyone in the class. Her anger was subtle and it made us all obey her without her getting worked or yelling at us.
"My donkey Sally", "Maggie cuts her hair" and "She walks in beauty" were some of the lessons that I'll never forget - thanks to her.
What ever little I write, what ever little I started understanding about poise, elegance and professionalism, I learnt from her. She never ever talked about anything else in the class, except about the subject on hand. That to me was the epitome of professionalism then - and even now.
In my twenty first year, my fashion icon's hairstyle was imitated by me, on my wedding day. It was weird that I thought about her on the rush and excitement of getting married to the love of my life:-)
She must have come across hundreds of students like me and I am not sure if she'd remember me at least faintly. To me the layers and layers of details come to mind every now and then. I imitate her, not just in that hairstyle but also in the way she talked and carried herself. Most of all , I remember her as the greatest, most positive influence in my growing years. An influence strong enough to sustain me thru a handful of decades to come and here she is with me, across seven oceans from that remote town in coastal AP, after a couple of decades of walking into my life - making me type a nostalgic blog!