Dictation — Scenes from Another Life
There are some incidents that are frozen in memory for no rhyme or reason whatsoever. They could have taken place many years ago, almost as if they were from another life, and yet, I remember them so clearly, they could have happened just yesterday.
One such day I remember is 5 September 1997. Teachers’ Day back in my dear schoolhouse, high up in the hills. We had dictation in grade 1 that day. Priya miss walked in, and asked us to open our notebooks. As she read out words, we were to write them down, ensuring that the spellings were right.
My mother, a teacher trained in teaching children with learning difficulties, had prepared me for this the previous night. Molu, she said, remember the difference between v and w. V, she emphasized, her teeth almost biting her lower lip. On the other hand W, like wonder, will leave your mouth shaped a bit like an O.
‘Village’ said Priya miss.
My mind paused. Was it ‘V’ biting the lip, or ‘W’? W-i-l-l-a-g-e?
W-i-l-l-a-g-e. I whispered it out loud. My friend Monica, sitting next to me, was also wondering the same thing. As she heard me, I saw her write down w-i-l-l-a-g-e. And then I remembered it was V with the teeth touching the lower lip, and not W with the mouth opening in wonder. I wrote v-i-l-l-a-g-e and was rewarded with a ten on ten and a golden star. Monica got 9 on 10 and she was mad at me.
We rushed out for recess after the lesson. I sat on the swing, and as I swung to and fro, I saw a cow strolling around, right outside the playground. She had a bell around her neck, chiming merrily, its notes echoing in the hills. ‘You know, today Mother Teresa died’, I said, repeating something I heard between snatches of conversation between my parents that morning. Monica pushed me off the swing, eager to get even. I climbed the jungle gym, and hanging upside down, I watched the clouds float away. In that moment, it seemed as if everything was perfect. The morning sunshine drenched my face with light; it was not so bright that I had to squint. It was just right. ‘Liar’ Monica said. ‘Mother promise, Mother Teresa died today. She was born in Yugoslavia, you know’ I said, although I had no clue as to where Yugoslavia was. I continued to hang upside down, while Monica ran back to check with Sister Sheeba and find out for herself whether I was lying or not.