Mrs. Subramaniam, our rather boring History teacher, rambled on… her sing-song voice devoid of emotion filled the air with sleep molecules. The resultant yawning faces struggled to stifle the forbidden yawn. She was reading to us from the text book and we had to ‘Pay attention in Pindrop silence.’ Offending her meant standard 10 minutes of humiliation and two giant hands knocking your cheeks apart in two head-splitting thunderous thuds.
Looking sleepy was potentially dangerous. We had mastered the art of looking busy taking notes while she read on. There was nothing to note though, so we busied ourselves with the infinite Mathematics or Science homework, hidden half-baked under the History text book. My two buddies, Shivani Saxena and Anjan Roy, our class toppers since times immemorial, were busy completing Physics. Wow, Mrs. Subramaniam could make even convoluted Physics look interesting by inverse proportions.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” I whispered, reading from Anjan’s textbook. “What does that mean? If I hit you, you’ll hit me back, right?” I asked looking unbearably serious.
“No” retorted Shivani, “It means Mrs. Subramaniam will hit him back!” Irresistible smiles breaking through our innocent demeanours. Who hasn’t known the guilty pleasure of seeing a friend in trouble with a teacher? Childhood is cruelly innocent. “Arre tum log chup raho!” Anjan sensed trouble. There we go. “Anjan Roy!” we heard our teacher’s ear-piercing tone and poor Anjan was summoned to her desk for the standard humiliation routine.
Sorry buddy, I never wanted to see you go through that. More than 25 years now, but the guilt still hasn’t stopped gnawing at me.
Did our teachers draw some guilty pleasure out of this discipline formula? In these scenarios, Newton’s third law failed us quite evidently! The giant hand or the narrow end of the wooden ruler hit you hard on your cheeks, knuckles or shins but you had to react with sheer silence. Earth-shattering pindrop silence, heart-wrenching pindrop silence, blood-curdling pindrop silence…
Explanations were demanded and demanded in a variety of tones while the sing-song teacher’s voice transformed into a bag of dramatic raging emotions. The fervently demanded explanations were certainly not to be given though. They were demanded and not called for simultaneously. Explain that one to us please Newton.
Responding, in fact had magnanimous implicit connotations. From disrespecting the teacher to not being attentive in class to being careless to being immoral… actually explaining could mean anything. Silence was the only safe response, even as one was chided to speak up through the beating retreat.
Newton’s law succeeded nevertheless. We still loved the teachers and they loved us back. We fondly remember and laugh at those memories now. School meant life’s grey lessons in so many ways. The secret of golden silence, the simplicity of acceptance, the transience of difficult moments and pain all mixed into the laws of motion and theories of relativity.