It was when everyone was looking into their books on their desks, listening intently to Sister read out a poem from the anthology book – part of our English literature course in tenth standard, that I realised the book on my desk was the Hymn Book. It was exact in size and thickness to the one Sister standing at the head of the class held, and to the ones that lay open on everyone’s desk. This likeness had resulted in my placing the hymn book in my school bag hurriedly, when packing my bag for classes at the study hall, where we boarders kept our books on allocated shelves at the back.
I whispered to the girl in front, a boarder “I’ve got my hymn book instead of the poetry book. What do I do now?” and she wrote on a slip of paper, threw it back for me to pick and read – “Keep quiet now, I’ve moving to my right, follow my book from behind… take notes in yours.” I wasn’t convinced and really scared, as we all were of our Headmistress and English teacher and whispered after signalling to the girl to my right with my hand, while looking down at my book, – “Should I get up and tell Sister I haven’t got my Panorama (I think that’s what it was called)? What if she asks me to read or worse still to explain a stanza?”
“Don’t, don’t…you’ll get a demerit slip right away” she scribbled on a chit of paper and chucked at me. “You’ve already got two this week.”
This was the same advice I received from the girl behind me as well. It was true, the first demerit slip I had received was for bringing my Hindi library book the day of our English library period, and the second for forgetting to submit my Physics weekly test book, leaving it inside my desk, while collecting everyone else’s and carrying them to the staff room.
The third slip now would mean a two week suspension from school that one of my friends had just completed for more perky reasons. She was talking in the dormitory, and so were many of us, but with her loud voice she was most often in trouble; and another slip she earned for helping another girl pull her bed noisily at night. I don’t recall why she got a third demerit slip, except that this was the time when demerit slips had just been introduced, luckily to last for a brief period, and we were being handed them at random. Perhaps in our nervousness we tended to be collecting them real fast. In my case this surely must have been the case, I realize now, out of immense fright – of my mother being summoned to hand me over to, after it was announced to her I was suspended from school. Why else was I forgetting every other thing, when I was pretty meticulous actually?
So here I was scribbling serious notes on poetry, all over the pages of my hymn book, with baited breath, scared of my life, for that dreadful moment when Sister might ask me to read or explain something she had just read. She was the strictest teacher I’ve had to date. So I listened to every word that left her mouth – of course of a poem I had not read as yet, memorising it, to be able to explain if she asked me. Though my daring allies had assured me they would quickly shove their book to me, marking where I was to start reading. But no way could I afford another demerit slip.
Perhaps this was where poetry and song merged, and froze in my mind forever, I think now. Could this be why I tend to write sonnets – lyric poems, even when I don’t intend to sometimes. Somewhere the love for god in the hymn book got translated into romantic love. 😛
All this floods my mind now, as its a few days away from my first poetry reading and Sister Andrea is incidentally in Chennai, as I write this. I was to go and meet her this evening, but the timing was changed very late to early afternoon, and I was not able to reschedule so soon.
My school (SJC) friends…would well imagine, how daring this situation must have been at the time. It was frozen in my head in fear, all this time – and I hope writing about it now liberates me to write better poetry 🙂