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Class Notes

I went to a co-educational school where the boys and the girls never talked to each other,” said G. “They didn't even sit together. Some Catholic teachers would mix us up but that didn’t work either.” Jerry Pinto tells more.

entertainment Updated: Feb 21, 2009 12:19 IST
Jerry Pinto

I went to a co-educational school where the boys and the girls never talked to each other,” said G. “They didn't even sit together. Some Catholic teachers would mix us up but that didn’t work either.”

The image of “Machado teacher” at the Indian Education Society’s original school in Dadar, trying to break the barrier between the sexes, caused a gurgle of amused laughter. Everyone has had a Roman Catholic Goan teacher in a floral two-piece, a mop of salt-and-pepper hair and a distinctive way of speaking.

Miss X
Miss G at Victoria High School often spoke of “October cherries”. This was a term of some disapproval since it meant that the person referred to had failed the March-April board examinations and had to sit for them again in October. Miss M – and it is odd how some teachers were known by their first names and some by their surnames but all teachers, regardless of their marital status, were known as ‘Miss’ – would, in times of stress, order us not to give her our “jellabee smiles”.

I never did understand what she meant. It is only now that I think she might have been referring to the intense sweetness of the jilebi; perhaps she thought it too sweet.

Miss D’M, who went to teach in another school in Bandra, routinely accused us of thinking that we were superior. In the face of her ineffably elegant person, it was difficult to imagine how we could even begin to think this but it was obvious from our behaviour that we did. Somewhat lower down the totem pole, other teachers often said that I was, “one sample”. No teacher ever specified what kind of sample but assumed that it was something that went into a pathological laboratory where it was handled with rubber gloves and facemasks.

English class
It was Miss X who was my wild delight. Wild horses will not drag her name from me so don’t even try. She was a teacher who could turn English – my favourite class – into an exercise in boredom, alleviated only by short periods of intense agony when she got something completely terribly wrong.

For instance, we were once reading a passage from some Victorian novel in which a young man was left on an island with “some powder and shot”. According to Miss X, this meant that they threw some powder into his face, he lost consciousness and then they shot him. I made the mistake of suggesting that she was wrong, that the man had been left on an island with some gunpowder and solid missiles (like bullets but without powder in them) but she was sure of what she said.

She knew. She had it on the best authority. She asked me if I thought I was a “shaana boy”. Mrs Pinto didn’t raise no fool. I knew without being told that a shaana boy was the same as being “superior”. I quickly retreated from the position where I could be accused of being a shaana boy and sat down again.

Miss X’s other favourite line, enshrined in the history of my school, was “Take this for a blank”. This meant she wanted you to underline a sentence since it might possibly turn up in that section of the question paper called “Fill in the blanks”. We all took those lines for blanks. It might explain the state of our education.