One person can make a difference

Updated: Jan 4

We were sitting in what seemed to be a lobby of a huge building. I could see out the window, where rows of the tree went by till the eyes could see. It was an enormous building. The trees were as old as the building or maybe much more. It rained last night, which could be seen on the top of the trees, droplets shining in the sun. Suddenly, a door in the lobby opened, and out came a sophisticated woman, fixing her glasses over her face. She stopped near us and said, “Mr. Rice your girl is accepted for admission in this school.”, she then looked at me, “You are one lucky girl, start coming from next week as school is about to commence at the end of the summer vacations.”

I could see the relief and happiness on my father’s face. He stood up, took the papers off of her hands, talked with her a bit, and then shook her hand to bid bye. I picked my bag and we walked out of the door.

While marching towards our car, I saw some more people in the front garden. Few were just strolling around; others are just waiting. A few of them were talking, but because of the distance, I couldn’t make out the conversation.

I was amazed by the looks of the building and the area it covered. My dad told me that the people I saw outside were the teaching staff, most of them live nearby in the residences provided by the school.

My dad was all praises for this school. While driving back home, he was very super-excited and kept on telling me about how much this school worth as far as standards of education and discipline go. I already knew that it was the best, not only in the town but in the state as well.

We arrived at the house, my dad dropped me and went back to the office. My dog welcomed me at the door. Her licks and kissing continued as I patted her. I walked through the veranda and entered the house. My mom came hurriedly out of the kitchen and asked about the admission. I reassured her that all was well. She embraced me with joy. I went straight to my room and she went back to the kitchen continuing what she was doing before.

I left my bag in the room and came down to see my mom. I hugged her from behind, she caressed me “what’s the matter? You got accepted in one of the best and oldest schools in the town and you don’t seem happy.”

“I am nervous, ma”, while my arms were still wrapped around her.

“Oh, don’t be, with this lovely smile and a beautiful mind you will adjust in no time”

Right, when we were talking grandma came into the kitchen,” Yeah, keep on spoiling her, instead of learning how to cook and help around the kitchen, you guys have put her in a school, where she will have no time to learn these things”.

My mum was quick to reply,” Now, the time is changing, ma; she can learn these things whenever she wants, but there is a particular time for education. If she missed that, it will never return. It is her first right!”

I knew grandma didn’t mean what she said, she smiled at me and answered my mom,” you should be a politician.” She hugged me, which I always loved, and left the kitchen.

My mum patted my hand and reassured me, “don’t give any thought to what your grandma said, she still lives in the old world, she is just concerned about your future.’

I smiled, picked an apple, took a bite off it, and went outside to play with my lovely silky. She immediately came grabbing her ball in the mouth and wagging her tail. I took the ball out of her mouth and threw it far away; this was her favorite game.

I was the only one remaining in the house because of the admission process, otherwise, all my brothers and sisters went out of town for summer vacations.

It started to rain at about midafternoon. As it was monsoon, so unexpected rains were the rule. Soon, it was raining cats and dogs. Silky loved to play in the rain, came in drenched in water. Long after the rain stopped, I was taking my tea on the veranda when my dad showed up from the office. The roofs were still dripping and so were the leaves. The rain stopped for a while and I knew that it was going to pour some more and continuously. He came and sat next to me in a bamboo chair. He showed me a piece of paper, “this is your admission letter, I forgot to give it to you”. Mom brought some tea for him too.

I took it and saw my name, passport size photo, and roll number along with the emblem of the school, the same as I saw on the main building entrance. That was the first thing I noticed about the building, second maybe those old trees.

The day arrived of which we were all waiting anxiously, the School day. I got up early and got ready. While taking my breakfast, the bus arrived. Dad gave me some pocket money, which I grabbed and put into my pocket and rushed out as the bus was honking.

I was the first one to get on the bus, as the route started from my home. It was 6:30 in the morning. The bus moved; it would take 45 minutes from my home to school. I was standing at the entrance, when I heard a sweet voice and looked at the face of a woman telling me to sit in one of the seats, “so you are Mr. Rice’s daughter, Right?” She asked, “yes mam,” I said confidently.

Steadily, the bus was getting full of all kinds of students, ranging from 12 to 18 years of age. Whoever climbed in, looked at me, and then ran back to sit with their friends. They were excited to see each other. I started missing my old school. My siblings were still attending that one. After a while, we arrived at the school. The bus entered through the back gate. Other buses were coming from every part of the town. As I stepped out, I noticed that a teacher was assigned to each bus.

One of the teachers waved at me, I turned towards her and said morning, she introduced herself. She was specifically detailed to look after me and one another boy, the newcomers. She took us to an office and asked us to submit our admission letters there and wait for her. She left afterward.

I noticed that the new-comer boy was more nervous compared to me. He dropped his books while looking for the letter in his bag. After completing our paperwork, we started waiting for the teacher, who arrived a couple of minutes later. She took a slip from the person-in-charge and asked us to follow her.

We were keeping pace with her, as we walked through clean and wide corridors. Along both sides, there were pots of plants with the same kind of plants. Amazingly, there was quite a silence, which was making the echo of her heels more prominent. Finally, she dropped us at a classroom. We both were in the same class.

We were taken by our class teacher who quickly assigned us to our seats, mine was at the front. The class was already on. The teacher asked us to make an introduction. As I was sitting up-front, I stood up, “I am Nina from this town and I am 12 years old”.

Then came that boy’s turn, his name was Joseph and he was about my age. Soon the lesson started, which ended with a bell. For the second lesson, another teacher entered the room.

He got a very huge belly and a stern face. He breathlessly introduced himself to us, while also asking about our names. It was the start of the new year in grade seven. He spotted some old faces. He asked the tallest girl in the class with a proctor badge to start reading from the book. She was quite a reader.

I was always facing difficulty in English Grammar, punctuations, proper use of tenses, etc. The next lesson was in English, but to my disbelief, the teacher, Mrs. Sharma, came out to be a quite nice and lovely lady. She was tall, fair, with hair tightly tied in a bun, she looked pretty. She didn’t bother with pronunciation and spelling mistakes at all. I liked her way of teaching and appraisal. It seemed to me that my difficulty with the English language had met its match.

At Lunchtime, in the mess, I discovered that proctors were the coolest students and everyone respected them no matter what. I didn’t yet get the mess card, but one of the teachers helped me to get my lunch. The food was nothing like local, but it was delicious and as I was hungry, I finished it all. After that, I got acquainted with another of my class fellow. All of her siblings were in this school. She revealed that because of her dad, she got admission here, though she didn’t meet the requirements. She helped me introduce myself to some of my other classmates. Some of them were weird, a few indifferent, many still trying to adjust.

I was told that the Geography teacher continuously picks on weaker students. They called him “the tyrant”.

As I got difficulty reading and making correct pronunciations, I was a continuous amusement for him. I got very upset in his class.

Days passed, I was getting acquainted in the school, though never talked about geography class to my parents as they were so happy and content that I was in one of the oldest and famous schools. Many great politicians and bureaucrats got their early education here.

These kinds of talks were a routine at the dining table, “Luna, you don’t know what this school will make her achieve”. My dad always reiterated with a proud voice to my mum.

Joseph had got more weakness in understanding the subject than I. He too was a constant target of the Geography teacher, specifically more than me.

One day my dad wanted to pick me up after school. He asked me to wait for him as he will take some time to arrive. As soon as all students left, silence fell on the school. It seemed like no one ever visited this place for years. It was humid that day as it rained all morning. High humidity and summer temperature were making it difficult to stay indoors. I walked across the garden and sat under a tree in the open. It felt so better under the shades. I spotted more trees behind the lines of trees visible from the school windows. I was told that if someone goes a little deeper in the canopy of the twisting trees, one can see bats hanging there.

To quench my thirst for discovery, I went into the woods. They were there. High up, lots of bats, hanging by the branches. Suddenly they made a strange sound, I jumped and a shriek came out of my mouth. I started to rush back, when suddenly someone appeared before me, “are you ok, dear?” He asked politely. He told me that he was sweeping the ground and came here to see what made that sound.

I told him about the bats. As we were talking, the Geography teacher came from nowhere and inquired from the person as to why he was talking to the student. He explained the situation that he just came to see whether everything is alright.

It was the first time I heard my teacher speaking the native language, so I was surprised. He told me that if I am waiting for my dad, I should go back to the waiting area. He escorted me from there.

The next day, in the Geography class, the teacher disclosed the previous day's situation to the whole class and asked me why was I talking with that man. “Do you know who he was?”, he asked to which I nodded affirmatively, “He told me that he was sweeping the ground,” I said slowly.

“What we call a person who sweeps the classes?” He asked.

“Sweeper sir”, the whole class said loudly, but the head girl raised her hand and said, “We can call them Janitors too, sir”

“Very good Jenna” and added, “you know why she has a good vocabulary because she didn’t waste her time talking to sweepers or janitors”. I felt embarrassed.

After the class one of my friends remarked about this and asked me to let my parents know about this.

“Nah”, I said, “they are already so happy that I am in one of the finest schools, I don’t want to pull them out of their dreams”

“Wow, what books you are reading lately”, she said in quiet awe.

“The book of humiliation”, I replied bitterly.

The days were passing and everything was not bad. One of the brightest girls Jenna wanted to earn the medal of the humanitarian award for the school club. She picked me as her scapegoat and started tutoring me on how to improve my reading skills. She was not that bad after all. She started lending me her storybooks and everyday listened to my reading and correcting me along with some friendly suggestions. I improved a lot and thankfully, did not remain a target of Mr. Wright, the Geography teacher.

Sadly though, Joseph couldn’t escape the humiliation of Mr. Wright. Coming from a humble background like me, he too was not fluent in the language.

Everything may remain the same, but one day an amazing thing happened. It seemed like it ought to happen. A person came to visit Joseph in the school. Later we came to know that she was his aunt who lived in the States and was also his godmother. She too was a teacher in the states and came to have a local experience in any of the Indian popular schools. So, she decided on Joseph’s school. She was granted permission at once by the headmistress; rather she has accompanied her to Mr. Wright's class and told him that she was going to work along with him, as his subjects and students are of the same grades.

I don’t know, how, and why, but to me, she waved her wand and changed things, though, I am hesitant to call her a witch. Interestingly everything reformed after her arrival. Her way of working was quite different. She used to do all her tasks by herself, even cleaning her office. She was bringing all her things and bags by herself, even when she was told to ask for help. She was staying in the school guesthouse and we saw her, on more than one occasion, busy talking with the gardeners and janitors in their language. Amazingly, one day she was seen taking tea with all of “the lower staff”.

Her arrival was like a miracle to students like me and Joseph. Mr. Wright was nowhere to be seen. He always walked with a typical posture and intimidating style. Now, he used back alleys and back stairs to avoid students seeing him on his way to the office or classrooms. The mood of the school changed. Within three months period, it seemed like life came back to the school. Every student was feeling cherished. Players started to appear in the ground, the hefty environment created by “study” in the school was lifted. I couldn’t imagine how one person can make a difference. A difference is so quick and so big that it is palpable immediately.

She stayed there for an entire year but changed the whole school forever. Her teaching methods and way of making her students learn were no doubt second to none, but what she taught to our educators in the school was out of this world. It was priceless. They even didn’t know what was missing and how to correct it!

On her last day at the school, she gave a short but remarkable speech, “It’s not the status, position, or mere concrete knowledge that makes you great in the world, rather it’s your attitude and the way you interact with other people and leaves a mark on them and this will make you a great person. Try to achieve that and success will come following you.”.

Our headmistress, in her follow-up speech, open-heartedly welcomed her approach towards students and accepted the mistakes of handling the delicate next generation needs. She promised to make these changes permanent and thanked her on behalf of all teachers and students for the greatest achievement of hers in our school.

She came here to learn and instead taught our educators and leaders of school how to influence the next generation. She generated skills, passion, and made an impact that will not only be palpated for the generation to enter this school but has changed the way this “famous” school worked, which will directly sway the mode of teaching and teachers.

Surprisingly, Joseph started to improve a lot and had surprised everyone at the end of the year by topping the class.

Amazingly, Mr. Wright resigned from the school. One day he left without even seeing any of the teacher or the student. There was no farewell for him too, like they did for Joseph’s aunt.

Whenever I am alone, I do try to remember him and think about him leaving without saying goodbye because he didn’t dare to see us in the eye, whom he called losers are flourishing and gaining what they have not gained before.


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