Hearing about the death of someone you knew long ago, but not having touch with for years, is strange. I came to know my English teacher Miss Irene Mary, passed away yesterday. When Jen called to tell me this, I said “iooooo”. But after that, when I called to pass the message to others, I was impatient to know more, not ready to understand that it would be a shock for them as it was for me.
From the moment of hearing the news, I have been searching desperately for some memories with her, trying to create in mind, some images from the past. The first line that comes to mind is “1999 March.”
She used to say these words every so often ever since she became our class teacher in class 9, enjoying the gasps she got in response. She was talking about the time we will write our board exam.
One time she called me to give me my paper and said “My dear, you write absolute rubbish. Take care of what you write.” The way she said it, I didn’t feel bad at all. Besides the important thing was I passed.
Once, I wanted to go home in the noon cause I was not well. My mom came to pick me and Irene teacher came down to talk to her. Mom was wearing a black salwar and I was worried if Irene teacher would consider it proper that a 14 year old’s Mom was wearing salwars. The next term, for our exam, I wrote an essay about ‘Clothes’. With some weird idea of justifying my fears, I wrote that clothes had to be chosen according to age and it would be very funny for a very old woman to wear short skirts or frocks. I got very poor marks for the essay. Guess she was purer in her thoughts than I was.
A couple of more scenes with my classmate Radha and teacher, and then some visuals of her sitting in her chair and reading Midsummer Nights Dreams, about sums up my memories of her. In less than 10 years, I have lost so much from my school memories.
Today as I sat in church listening to her funeral mass, I was going through my school days, somehow making petty confessions to myself, for some of the things I have thought or done at school (like the clothes essay). I thought of totally irrelevant insignificant things like this: once I was swinging with my feet on the school gates. There were these two girls from another division (A division girls we used to call them, we were C). One of our teachers – Shiny teacher – passed wearing a skirt – outside the school (school didn’t allow skirts for teachers). Suddenly, one of the A division girls said “Do you know how old she is?” I said “24-25 I guess” (thinking it was a really grown-up age). “Hah 24 my foot. She is much older, girl!” I was surprised and amused, thinking that this might have been the first and only conversation I had with this girl.
I saw many of my teachers there – Sofi teacher, Suma teacher (remembered Suma teacher and Irene teacher – Malayalam and English teachers – covering their heads in Suma teacher’s sari tail one hot day in the sun and laughing together. Ros, my best friend, pointed this to me and said “ayodaaa so cuteeee”), Anita teacher, Shiny teacher, Geetha teacher (Economics teacher… my friend DU once told me: She teaches about population explosion and has three kids!)… Couldnt talk to any of them… but their faces from 10 years ago were fast filling my mind.
I saw Sandra, who I barely talked to, but who used to be a popular figure back in school – she was one year my senior. She used to be so slim and now she has put on a lot that it is hard to recognise her. I remembered her second last window seat in bus… and her cracking voice and her braces and her uniform skirt (looked real cute on her that it made her a favorite among juniors), and her dancing to “Saturday night I feel the air is getting hot…”. I used to be a last seater in bus, but I was so quiet I dont think she’d know me.
Random memories kept scrolling through my mind, throughout the mass. I stood up when they prayed and sat down later, with the rest of them, not aware of what was happening. I wouldn’t have minded staying when they took her coffin out to the cemetery and would have waited till end of day – how could anyone be bored when old memories in blue and white check skirts and navy blue ribbons, just kept flashing scene after scene in front of me… better than any movie you could think of.
And then I thought… all those faces that came then. Ros or Radha or Irene Teacher – where was Ros? Where was radha? Where was Irene teacher now? Where was all that I thought was important in my life, back then? Why did I never think of all those important things all these years – did I not even know that I didn’t have them anymore? Or that they were not important anymore?
And then of course dramatic visions. I imagine her coming to see all of us grieve. Invisible of course. She stands there in front of me, looking – scrutinising – through those tiny eyes – each and every one of us – with a soft little smile on her lips, and her forefinger on her chin. She then walked out through one of the doors, and just flew away. It was such a lovely picture – my tiny little teacher in the sky. I hope no one thought it weird that I was smiling at a funeral.
It was time to see her. I saw her relatives cry as they kissed her for one final time. I thought, she has so many people to mourn her death even when she was unmarried. So maybe, I wouldn’t be too lonely in my death bed.
I saw her hands covered in white gloves clutching a cross tightly. I saw just a little of her face through the white veil. And I swallowed a lump. I don’t know if it was of sadness and loss of the teacher, or of the times I will never get back…