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Saturday July 2, 2022

A Teacher’s Ultimate Reward

Sudha woke up to yet another gloomy day. No, technically it was a bright, sunny day outside. She could see a buzz of activity in the garden. The gardener was busy pruning some rose bushes, Vaishali was sweeping away the stray leaves which had fallen during the night, and little Titli was running around excitedly.

But it was difficult for Sudha to brush off the pall of gloom that seemed to be her constant companion lately. Nothing had been the same ever since Monomitro had left her. She still was unable to come to terms with that cruel fact– why, oh why did Monomitro do this to her? Hadn’t they taken the vow to be together forever? Then how could he leave her alone, especially now when she was at her most vulnerable?

Monomitro had said that these names would stand testimony to their always being together, the names would keep reminding the children how they were a part of their parents’ souls. Sudha almost laughed aloud– how naïve Monomitro had been!

Yet, a part of her was at peace that Monomitro had left her, left this place, left this world when he did. He surely couldn’t have taken more of what they could both see was coming. He had been a teacher in every sense of the word. Sudha smiled to herself as she remembered their first meeting and how he had grilled her on her knowledge of History, the subject she taught at her school. Even in their domestic life, he had always been the teacher, right from teaching her how to make perfect round rotis to how to use the sewing machine. Unlike her, he had lived through a not-so-easy childhood and had come out a winner in every sense of the word. His deep interest in literature had made him a voracious reader, and till his last day, he had been reading up on something or the other. In fact, it was this knowledge and the desire to rationalize every behavior that had led him and Sudha to be taken for granted by Sumitro and Sumona.

Sumitro and Sumona– the names they had lovingly coined for their son and daughter after combining their own names. Monomitro had said that these names would stand testimony to their always being together, the names would keep reminding the children how they were a part of their parents’ souls. Sudha almost laughed aloud– how naïve Monomitro had been!

Throughout his life, Monomitro had stuck to the same schedule. Wake up, water the plants, wake up the children, help Sudha set them off for school, get ready for college, come back from college, and spend the evenings surrounded by knowledge-hungry students who would hang around till dinner time to grab every bit of knowledge that their MS, acronym for Monomitro Sengupta, dispensed. Towards the later years, when Sumitro and Sumona had just entered adolescence, Monomitro would force them too to join his student group, saying if they were not inculcated with these good habits now, they would miss the bus.

There was a time when this day had meant the world to her and Monomitro. Though Monomitro was oblivious to most occasions which he considered trivial, Teacher’s Day was one exception! Sudha cherished this day, the day when their students would make a beeline for her house to pay their regards to her and her favorite teacher, her husband. Anticipating visits from all former students who could make it, she would prepare her trademark narkeler naru and labongo-lotika for these students.

Somewhere down the line, even Sudha’s students started flocking her house in the evenings to grab the opportunity to be in MS’s esteemed cortege. Of course, Sudha too enjoyed these knowledge-sharing sessions. She sometimes stared in amazement at her husband– was it even possible for a mortal to be such a huge storehouse of knowledge? Her heart would swell with pride. Very often, she would find herself daydreaming of the future when her children would take their father’s place, when they too would be sought after for their invaluable company.

With a bitter jolt, Sudha came back to the present. Out of habit, she looked at the calendar perched on the table beside her bed. The date was splashed in red– September 5th! There was a time when this day had meant the world to her and Monomitro. Though Monomitro was oblivious to most occasions which he considered trivial, Teacher’s Day was one exception! Sudha cherished this day, the day when their students would make a beeline for her house to pay their regards to her and her favorite teacher, her husband. Anticipating visits from all former students who could make it, she would prepare her trademark narkeler naru and labongo-lotika for these students. She smiled to herself as she remembered how she would stay up till the wee hours of the morning to make sure that she had plenty and every student would get a share.

Her old eyes clouded again as she remembered this day last year– their first Teacher’s Day away from Kolkata, their first Teacher’s Day on the U.S. soil. She remembered how Monomitro had almost begged Sumona to visit them on the occasion of Teacher’s Day in New Jersey where they were staying with Sumitro and his wife, Reena. To their utmost shock, Sumona had not minced words when she had asked them to cut down on the melodrama and be practical. She had said,
– Oh cummon, just because you both were teachers, you don’t really expect us to drop all our work and come rushing to celebrate this day with you, do you? Teaching was just your profession, nothing more. What if you had been a barber? Should we have celebrated a Barber’s day?
With that, she had hung up on her dad. Monomitro, being the ever-compassionate human being, courtesy his deep knowledge of everything under the Sun, probably human behavior too, had tried to reason out Sumona’s behavior. He had even sent her a card saying “My Favourite Pupil” on the D-day. That Sumona had not bothered to reply was something that had hurt Sudha deeply.

Something stirred within Sudha. She couldn’t take this insult anymore; not from anybody- Sumona, Sumitro, or Reena who had been her Manomitro’s favorite protégé all her college life. Sudha remembered how Reena would come over to their house the previous day to help her make those sweets.

Titli’s shrieks brought back Sudha from her reverie. Titli had come to say goodbye to her. They were going away to the beach for the weekend. Sudha followed Titli out of her room. Sumitro and Reena were already loading their luggage into the car. Sudha couldn’t hold back her tears any more. In a whimpering voice, she said,
– Sumi, today is my first Teacher’s Day without your Baba. Can’t you all stay back today and go tomorrow?
Barely were the words out of her mouth, when Sumitro responded,
– Cummon Maa, when will you stop being melodramatic? My friends will laugh if I said I am putting away my trip because I need to be with my mom on Teacher’s Day. When will you stop glorifying this day?
Reena cut in harshly,
– If you still are so desperate to celebrate this day, why don’t you make your narkeler naru and labongo-lotika and eat them too? Just because Baba is no more, we cannot keep hanging with you every minute. And anyway, did you ever ask your children whether they wanted to be part of your Teacher’s Day celebrations? No, you thrust your choice on them. Now, it’s our turn. You need to understand that we have a life of our own too.
With that, she ducked into the car and they were off!

Something stirred within Sudha. She couldn’t take this insult anymore; not from anybody- Sumona, Sumitro, or Reena who had been her Manomitro’s favorite protégé all her college life. Sudha remembered how Reena would come over to their house the previous day to help her make those sweets. She remembered Reena declaring what this day meant to her and how lucky she felt that she had the blessings of two of the world’s greatest teachers!

She rushed back into her room and logged in to Facebook. Titli had opened an account for her only last week and had also given her a walk-though of how to go about finding friends. Much to her surprise, as soon as she logged into her account, she saw a huge number of friend requests waiting for her. Most of the names seemed familiar. They were all her students. With trembling hands, she accepted all these requests. Very soon, Teacher’s Day messages started flooding in. On a whim, she posted on her timeline, “My dear students, I am in New Jersey now and I miss seeing you all. I am preparing your favourite narkeler naru and labongo-lotika. Drop in by tomorrow if you have the time. I will be waiting.”

The next three to four hours went by in a jiffy. Soon, Sudha had not only prepared the two sweets she had promised, she also had prepared alur dom and the dough for luchi. By late afternoon, she began to feel foolish and a tad tired with all the work she had put in earlier. She went to take a nap, wondering what she would do with so many sweets.

Vaishali’s urgent rap on her shoulders woke her up. Vaishali informed her that some people had come to meet her. Trembling, she went into the outer hall. She couldn’t believe her eyes. There they were– in all age groups– at least twenty of her most precious jewels– her students. She learned from them that her post had gone viral within their Whatsapp community in seconds. They had all left whatever they were into and rushed to do what they wanted to do the most– pay their regards to her on this day. They told her some more were expected to come in the next day. Her eyes welled up with tears as they sang, “Happy Teacher’s Day, Miss!”

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