By Nusrat Osama
It is said that ‘hennah’ does not release its color unless it is whetted and a person does not learn a lesson unless he stumbles.
Thanks to Almighty, I did not stumble in life but my experiences whetted me enough to give an everlasting color to me. Life is neither a touch of Midas nor a bed of Roses, it is in fact a thorny seat on which the person sitting remains in pain.
I worked as a teacher for almost fourteen years. Since I belong to an Army background, I served institutions which were invariably controlled by one of the Forces. Not Cadet Colleges as someone might think but those Public schools in which children of Forces personnel as well as civilians are educated.
Interestingly, honoring a senior is a hall mark of our Forces. A second Lieutenant must salute to a Lieutenant, he to a Captain, Captain to a Major and the Major to a Lieutenant Colonel…the system goes on up to the rank of General. The poor Second Lieutenant who stands on the lowest rung of this ascending ladder of Officers has no officer to salute him. But under this small officer are the burly JCOs with their grand moustaches who in their capacity are victims of a similar situation.
The schools managed by the forces are run either by a ‘hazir service’ or a retired officer. Whatever the case, the syndrome travels from them to the school management and trickles down to teachers and students as well. The sons and daughters of a senior are also senior, although the habit of saluting takes a different form. As the saying goes in the army, the wife of an officer holds a higher rank than him. So the wife of a Brigadier often falsely believes herself to be a General and that of an Air Commodore acts like an Air Marshall. Most of the times the principal and teachers are at the receiving end of this system of ‘false’ seniority.
Luckily or unluckily I joined one such institute. It was a co educational school with a huge strength. During the recess period the rush around the water coolers used to be very large. And as the saying goes ‘it is the survival of the fittest’ the strong and bully boys would not let girls and weaker boys to quench their thirst. On the girl’s request the Principal installed a new cooler and announced the same in the assembly. The order came as a blow to the boys. Before the school closed the information was passed on to a ‘high ranking father’ who called up the Principal who was told ‘to withdraw his order, ‘it is a coeducation school and such discrimination will not be tolerated.’ The next morning the poor Principal had to announce ‘I withdraw my order that I gave yesterday, the cooler may be used by girls and boys because some ‘Phannay khan’ has ordered me to say this’, the Principal avenged his hurt ego.
During admissions by some chance many students were admitted in my section. I was taking them in with a sinking heart as the strength of the class was exceeding far beyond anyone’s imagination. The school had a policy that the children of the forces personnel had a birth right to be admitted. Anyway, a time came when some students were literally standing in the class. I requested for extra chairs which fell on deaf ears. One fine day, a peon entered the class with two new students. The pen literally dropped from my hands ‘where will they sit’, I looked at the two poor boys who were sharing chairs with their classmates. ‘Ma’am! allow me, I can get chairs for you’, one smart student stood up. ’What can you do?, I said. ‘Ma’am, please allow me.’ I knew the boy was the son of a senior officer. I said ‘ok! You may also try your luck.’ In the next ten minutes I saw him triumphantly entering the class, followed by two peons carrying two chairs each.
The following incident is also an example of bowing down to the whims of seniority. Traditionally, in the school there was one section of every class which had the brightest students including some of ‘not-so-bright’ children of senior officers as well. Some of the best teachers were asked to teach these sections. Judging my teaching ability I was also awarded one such class. It was undoubtedly a class of very bright students, very well mannered and a pleasure to teach. As is the usual procedure, I had to give notes to the average and below average ones. At the same time I told the students to look up books other than text book and write relevant matter in their exams. ‘This,’ I told them ‘will deserve more marks.’
After the exam I marked their papers as per my promise. When I was showing the papers to the students I received a message from the Principal’s office to see him. Such messages usually meant that there was a problem. Any how I went to his office.
The Principal was holding a marked paper in his hand, which I recognized as one belonging to one of my student. “Madam! Is the note you give in class not fit to be given full marks, that you have cut marks of this child.’ He handed the paper to me. The student was bright but a rote- learner, she was unable to write on her own. Her mother had an annoying way of maneuvering her daughter’s position. I always failed to understand what her influence was, but influence she definitely had. I tried to convince the Principal. I knew for sure that he agreed with me in principle but he was denying it. ‘Madam! Please take this paper and do what you are told’( he wanted me to increase her marks). Quietly, I took the paper, went back to the class and handed the paper to the student. She took it and without a word put it in her bag. Next morning when I went to the school, I was handed a new time-table. My best class was taken away from me.
This was one of the serious examples of showing helplessness in front of senior ranks. A more hilarious situation arose when the Principal confronted students who were to be admonished for their unruly conduct. He first asked the name and rank of the father. The punishment – a slap or a punch– would come later. I remember when I joined as Principal of a school, one question that was asked was ‘Madam how will you deal with teachers whose husbands are holding senior ranks?’ As if I would first stand at shun position on seeing them. … ‘In the same manner as I would with all other teachers.’ I replied.
All one can say in the end is ‘a General is not a general but a General.
The writer is a pioneer of two schools and a girl’s college. She has recently retired as principal of a prestigious school and is presently contemplating writing down her memoirs. She often writes for Ideas Evolved.