The short girl just stood there with her hair falling over her eyes. She shifted from foot to foot, and squirmed endlessly as her teacher unloosed shaft after shaft from memory and accumulated grievance. Her classmates stood around, their lunchtime football match featuring a bedraggled butta quite forgotten. One boy picked up the butta and chucked it at her in an experimental sort of way. It bounced off her head, and then hit the teacher in the nose. Miss Ramamani stopped in mid-flow, her mouth now opening and closing wordlessly, and goggled at her and at her by-now shamefaced parents, as if this were all their fault…..
Nina wished that Jiddu hadn’t thrown it, now Miss Ramamani was really mad. The butta hadn’t hurt when it hit her head, but she just knew that everyone was staring.
Nina looked at the cracked tile floor, she was used to this view and hated it all the more for that reason. Her teacher was always unhappy with her, but it was wrong of Miss Ramamani to blame her parents when it was all Chintu’s fault. Miss Ramamani hated her, and she took every chance she could to humiliate Nina. Nina didn’t really mind, Chintu was funny enough to help her get over all the veiled and outright insults.
She didn’t think Chintu could take her mind off this misadventure with a little comic act. She was quite upset with Chintu. This time, like most times she got into trouble, it was all because of Chintu. Chintu just wouldn’t stop pestering her during classes. Of course Miss Ramamani only noticed Nina when she was distracted by Chintu, so her teacher thought she was always misbehaving.
Nina started her 126th apology of the month, “Miss Ramamani-” which her teacher abruptly cut off with “What have I told you about talking without being addressed?”
Nina knew she was in for it if she didn’t act quickly. Her arm shot up in the air at the exact angle Miss Ramamani had drilled the class on. By some small mercy, the teacher heeded this action and seemed pleased that at least some of her training had stuck. She said,“Yes, Nina?”
“Miss Ramamani, I am so sorry for the mess on your table, the ink spill was a huge accident,” Nina had to pause to come up with a believable explanation, “My science project is on the footprints of different mammals, and when I saw the ink, I thought I could…um…”
‘Oh no!’ It was the worst thing she could have said. The instant the words were out of her mouth, she knew that Miss Ramamani would have a fit. Miss Ramamani burst out, “You thought you could what? Play a trick on me? Do graffiti? Huh? Huh?” One corner of Nina’s mind wandered to that lapse in her teacher’s diction, the grunting noises were pretty funny, but they also really scared her. Miss Ramamani in this mood was someone every student of the 8th grade knew to run from.
Nina could feel everyone’s eyes on her—her parents looking more ashamed every second, the boys in her class happy for the show, while the girls were avoiding eye contact with her, but sneaking peeks at her with a mixture of curiosity, enjoyment and sympathy. Many had been on the receiving end of Miss Ramamani’s terrifying verbal attacks, but they really didn’t understand why Nina couldn’t try to follow the rules the way they grudgingly did.
Nina knew they didn’t understand her, but she didn’t know what to do. Maybe she should tell them about Chintu’s role. She hesitated, ‘What if Chintu is begin temperamental again and hiding, she really isn’t the most reliable creature.’ Sometimes Nina wondered how good a friend Chintu was, always getting her in trouble and then disappearing to some corner. It took Nina hours to get through all the proceedings that usually followed her escapades, and by then Chintu was happily at home–eating, exercising or sleeping. Chintu never did any work. Sometimes Nina envied Chintu, why couldn’t her life also be so simple?
Miss Ramamani was clearly very angry, Nina had to pay close attention to what was being said. She would talk to Chintu later. Miss Ramamani was asking her parents about the fictional science project. They were valiantly trying to save face. Nina watched hopefully as Mama said, “Yes, yes, Ninu beti is always doing her work, in school, at home, everywhere.” Miss Ramamani’s face became more forbidding—she was gathering force and was definitely going to frighten Nina’s parents, let alone Nina. Nina felt like she was at her dentist’s office, undergoing the painful process of decay being scraped out of one of her molars (the one she always thought looked like a mountain), but without the promise of yummy, fluffy and cold ice-cream to soothe her pain afterward.
Miss Ramamani breathed loudly with barely suppressed rage, “You have no control over your daughter. She has done more damage this year than any student I have ever known in my one year of teaching!” Nina felt her teacher’s lack of strong language here was more because of her desire to avoid drawing the attention of the peaceful principal her office down the hall, than an attempt to be civil, a complete violation of the teacher’s “Etiquette lessons”.
Nina’s father tried to calm down Miss Ramamani, but apparently the trail of small footprints across her table and its contents was the last straw for her. “I am not going to have Nina in my class, your family is totally childish,” Miss Ramamani exclaimed. With a petulant ‘Harrumph” and a slam of the door, she was gone.
When Nina got home, she would have to seriously talk to Chintu about not following her about at school and changing her other risky habits. It was great that Nina had been shifted to another class, but she was going to have to do lots of extra work, and the principal had whispered a warning “Be more careful about the company you keep.” Nina didn’t know how the principal knew about Chintu, when even her parents didn’t.
She was sure she would find Chintu in her abode, calmly consuming a meal. Chintu was always munching on something, or looking at Nina with pleading eyes, hoping for food. The squirming was the most annoying thing; it always distracted Nina in class. Chintu was forever squirming around. Oh, and the constant complaining—the squeaks of ‘This class is so boring, can we go to the park, why won’t you play with me’, on and on.
Silly hamster, that Chintu.