A tall, sturdy fellow in oddly fitting school uniform enters my office and asks for audience. He says, “If you don’t mind, Mr. Kafle, may I ask you a favor?” I tell him to go ahead, and he begins in an impressively maintained accent made in America, “In fact, sir, I’m going through a difficult time here. You know, I’m much older than other kids, perhaps as old as you. So, it really tortures me to stand among them, and be noticed and marked inferior at this age. I hope, as a teacher you aren’t inexperienced in matters of handling students, and understand my condition. I mean you know I’d never be willing to join the Intermediate level at a time I should have joined a graduate course. These two years for me with these teenagers are going to be like two decades of imprisonment. Is it OK that I bring my assignments directly to you so that you’ll never have to make me stand up to explain my position in the class, among the kids?”
I tell him I would surely help him if he helped avoid the situation of being ‘noticed’ and ‘marked’. I tell him that I would still try to ensure that the other kids would not think I exempted him from all his responsibilities as a student.
This fellow, according to my senior colleagues who had been a part of the selection team that permitted him admission, had an interesting story. He passed SLC years ago and went to America with his well-off parents. He went on to join there some ‘soft’ courses at his choice and reached as far as he wanted. But his parents saw that this lad of theirs was not going to make any mark in the land of opportunities without being an engineer or a doctor like other kids of their family and family circle. He needed to study science at all costs, no matter how late, and thus was sent back to the homeland to earn a prestigious and highly selling I Sc degree of KU.
About five years after his graduation with B. Tech. in Biotechnology, one of my old students sends a friend request on Facebook and wishes to chat with me.
I accept the request, and he writes right away, “Sir, though very late, in fact more than eight years later, I wish to tell you a truth. Do you remember you took my interview for the I Sc admission? I know from that day that you’ve treated me unlike rest of the people in KU. While I moved around directionless, absented from classes and showed fits of irresponsibility, you alone did not scold or threaten me but inquired about me with smiles. Truly, I could never retain the personality with which I came – the happy, optimistic, handsome lad of Biratnagar – but ‘spoiled’ myself in the company I don’t want to blame even now. They still are my good friends and rescuers. Perhaps we all are a spoiled lot but happy to have been so. I’m sure you knew this. And you knew that I was even more dejected during my undergraduate. You taught me there also, and pardoned me for the same fits of irresponsibility. Now I have somehow changed; I am more responsible. When I look back to trace how this little sense of myself persisted, I see you among a few other people who contributed. I thank you for all this.”
I am a bit surprised, a little puzzled. I respond, “I thought even though a teacher’s being good to a student might not be enough to change him after he’s been ‘spoiled’, but surely keep him from going worse from bad. I’m happy to be credited thus, and to know that you’re happy, too. Thank you. Keep in touch.”
I receive a Facebook message with a request to be added to my friend list. I accept. It could be anyone of my former students – from Pashupati, Bagh Bhairab, Tahachal, Siddhartha, Sanjeevani, DMI, KU.
I love to be in touch with old students. Friend requests give a sense of being meaningfully remembered.
“Sir, Namaste, this is Y, someone you taught long ago. Remember me?”
I receive this message as soon as I add the fellow. “Hello, what a surprise! How are you, dear?” I write back.
The fellow goes silent, but I can see him writing – Facebook lets you know this. In about ten minutes I receive a long text in Romanized Nepali which would read like as follows in English.
I’m happy to be in your friend list. This gives me a chance to tell you finally I am sorry for what I did with you at school. I did more than what you know. I was probably a part of almost every mischief that you handled as a vice principal during those crazy days. Such as catching the boys with a bottle of water that smelled raksi; getting your office latched from outside while you were inside; hearing complaints from little girls about being pinched repeatedly by a ‘big brother’ and getting attacked for taking action against the same, etc. etc. That was me, sir. The school rusticated me since I deserved it. You might have seen me loitering violently around the school after the rustication. I had no regrets, then. I had no feeling for revenge. It was freedom, just freedom, I wanted to taste because I was not given it. But then I began to see how my parents were suffering because their only child was spoiled, recovered myself, and found a direction. I joined the private SLC and passed it, and went to college up to Bachelors. Those who saw me in those days will not believe that I have become what I am now. I have a shop of electronic goods close to the same school. It is running well. Sir, if you ever came to the town, please give me a call at …….. I would be happy to welcome you.
“Ay, sir. You must be punctual.”
“I’m sorry, I was stuck on the way. A public bus is sometimes ridiculous, you know. And I come from Kirtipur.”
“No, you can’t have excuses! See, everyone here comes by a local bus from somewhere as far as that.”
“But, not everyone comes as early and regularly as I do, do they?”
“No, you must be responsible. I have the right to say this. If you can’t be punctual, you can go.”