‘Experience is the best teacher but its fees is very high’. This happens to be one of the favourite quotes of my mom. Teacher’s day has more importance in our house than Mother’s day, since my mom’s a teacher and in my schooldays there were never so many this-days and that-days but only a few countable ones like Independence day, Teacher’s day and Children’s day. Of course now we wish her on all the this-days/that-days too. For us, Independence day meant the national anthem and ladoos, Children’s day meant Chacha Nehru and Teacher’s day meant that my mom had a special function to attend at school and that she would come back with bouquets, cards etc which my sis and I would go through, at times finding it odd and at times finding it sad that we had to share our mom with so many!
With time, Teacher’s day started meaning something else altogether. I realised early enough, that in class XIIth, one gets to wear one’s own clothes and not the school uniform on teacher’s day. As if that wasn’t exciting (read embarassingly) enough, females needed to wear a saree and some (un)lucky students even got “teacher’s duty” to get a taste of the other side by supervising a junior class in that fancy dress! (That reminds me of the time everyone got titles from the junior class during farewell, but that makes another post). Years passed by when I would stare at giggly and unelegant girls metamorphosing into ‘women’ suddenly. Stupid grins got replaced by lipstick, school ribbons and hair bands gave way to open wavy hair, or maybe a mature looking hair bun – stylised to suit the occasion, the school shoes (with the horrible buckles) gave way to high heels and of course the uniform’s existence was forgotten as if the day marked freedom from well-ingrained ‘conformity’ of 12 years. That was the day most girls went all out. Of course they had another chance in the form of ‘farewell’ when they could air the backless cholis and halter neck blouses meant to expose a back or a cleavage in a ‘popping the cherry’ sense. But then the farewell also meant boards and pre-boards round the corner, leaving lesser scope of getting noticed by the ‘dashing’ guys or leaving an everlasting impression on a crowd which had other issues like exam fever or the turmoil of finally bidding goodbye, on their minds.
I was never the butterfly and was quite scared at the prospect of showing the world what my tucked-under-a-school-shirt,-skirt-and-belt tummy looked like. I had never worn (like many others) a saree in my life nor had I any experience in brandishing my palloo as if a saree was the thing I came to school in. Matters needing attention, like how to keep ones hairstyle in place, ones lipstick in check and heels from getting stuck in the saree were the ones I considered would be topmost on my mind, when my turn came. God forbid if I got a teacher’s duty (of which there was a high chance, being the man-eater..err monitor), I would have died of fright at the thought of being mercilessly torn to pieces by the boys just one year junior, who considered it their duty to take advantage of the fact that a damsel in fancy dress couldn’t even deduct their marks, if the need arose.
So it was with butterflies in my stomach, rather than being one on the outside, that I approached the teacher’s day when I was in class XIIth. ‘Silk is the easiest to handle’, was what I was told by my mom and my aunts. Several times. But then past experiences with silk had taught me that it also cluttered around in a very unbecoming fashion and one needed to be mannequin thin to look elegant in it. I chose to take a risk this one time and chose a blood red chiffon saree of my mom, knowing very well that it was a self inflicted nightmare, for not only did I not know the s-a-r-e-e of a saree, I didnt even know the spelling of chiffon, leave alone managing it with the above mentioned attention seeking things niggling at my mind. But then one gotta do, what one gotta do, when it’s just once in your life.
This teacher’s day saw me getting up rather early, to wash my hair, iron the saree, get ready with the help of my mom, who being a teacher herself had other things to attend to, than my own saree. Unfortunately this time she wasnt even in the same school as I, which would have given me some solace in case my saree failed to comply and landed me in Draupadi like trouble. Armed with only the courage that a FAT safetypin, a reliable saree pin and a long, stomach-and-back-covering blouse lent, I set out with my lipstick in place, heels carefully kicking out the saree (as I had been advised) and a fancy strappy purse on my shoulder just for the effect.
The first hurdle came soon enough even before I reached the bus stop. My neighbour’s pesky kid instantly remarked ‘Oh you look like Juhi Chawla’. My already flustered mind got even more flustered when it couldnt make out whether this cheek of a girl was paying me a compliment for a change or taunting as usual. I had other important issues to concentrate on. Oh! the woes of an inexperienced sarree-wearer! Next I had to get into a modified army threeton. Can one imagine the plight of a rather flustered girl, trying to balance a precarious saree, being stared at in the face, with not only the mammoth task of now accomplishing the feat of getting into a truck with all this finery, but also the amused looks given by the rest of the school kids who wonder if that’s a new teacher or just twilight fairy out on the path of self destruction. I understand, I really do, what an Indian bridegroom goes through when he gets onto the mare. Well, an army officer’s daughter is taught to plunge head on, and that’s what I did. I leapt onto the modified truck’s steps, throwing caution and my saree to the September wind and thinking that I would carry out the damage control, when I got to school, for there would definitely be more of it. At least my hair was a manageable length and I had carefully ensconced it into a bun, replete with a whole packet of invisible and fancy joodaa pins, which posed a problem for later but would help me hold my head high just this while.
Thankfully I had no classes to ‘take’. But this fact did little to make me less jittery. The truck soon reached the school and now I had another hurdle – getting down from the truck without the saree giving the vehicle a much needed sweep or all other kids stepping on my saree from behind. It was my mom’s precious possession after all. Not only was I responsible for myself, but also for the saree, the heavy earrings and the ’tilladi’ (a sikkimese pendant) I had borrowed from my mom. Somehow, aided with the weight of the joodaa pins, my head held high, I made it through the gates with panache – into the school. Colorful butterflies gave me some comfort. Seeing others whom I had seen in uniform all along, distracted my mind somewhat. The comparisons would come later, for now I just wanted to reach my classroom. Never had I realised that reaching my class, something I did everyday, would be so difficult just this one time. No amount of kicking the saree out, helped, I was more scared it would eventually just kick off and if that happened I would just kick the bucket. Amidst the exchange of compliments, I finally reached my classroom and under the protective cover of the two other girls in my class out of a class of 60 students. The excitement in the air, the “oh you look so different”s, the combination of various heady perfumes, made me forget soon enough that I *was* wearing a saree. Relieved just a little, I began to enjoy the attention, rather than getting embarrassed. At the end of a day well spent, I understood, just how magical it can be, wearing a saree and just how a ‘woman’ is born.
After this school function, I went and watched my first movie ever in a cinema hall (Yes, at that age in life), sans the saree and in the comfort of a long skirt and frilly top. It happened to be a Chirpy Chawla movie. But that makes for another post altogether.