Autobiography Of A Pencil
A pencil changed my life forever.
I was in eighth grade sharing a class with sixty other students. Sixty students and one teacher – that is the student-teacher ratio in an average Indian classroom. Mrs. Poornima Kumar, our English teacher, commanded utmost respect even among us unruly adolescents. Always impeccably dressed in her chiffon saris and matching beaded jewellery, Mrs. Kumar was someone I looked upto with admiration. Unlike other teachers, she seemed to know what she was talking about, and that, for a thirteen year old, can make all the difference.
As far as I can remember, I have always loved to read. My earliest memories are of borrowing the ‘English’ textbooks full of rich stories, poems and grammar lessons from older kids who came home after school to be taught by my mother . It was a fascinating world and I would wait for the school year to start just so I could get my hands on a new crop of textbooks. My earliest memories of writing, though, are attempts made for school homework: essays, compositions and run-of-the-mill attempts at creativity. All that changed one day, when Mrs. Kumar asked us to write ‘An autobiography of a pencil’.
For some strange reason, my take on the autobiography was more poetic than prose. Words seemed to rhyme without any effort and the humour crept in unnoticed. For me, it was just another assignment at the time and I handed it in just pleased to have completed it, not particularly proud of the work.
Mrs. Kumar reacted very differently, though. Maybe she was just being kind in an effort to encourage a student, maybe she really liked the work or perhaps she saw the possibilities in a teenager that no one else had yet seen.
Whatever her reasons, Mrs. Kumar loved the autobiography. I remember her reading it out to the class as an example of “a fine specimen of writing”.
Perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps it was just singled out for a brief moment, but that praise has remained with me until this day.
If that had been the end of it, life would have turned out very differently for me.
A few years later, I graduated from high school and moved into college, pursuing a degree in Psychology. My little brother was still in school though, and I took every opportunity to go back to the campus where I spent my childhood. Alumni were encouraged to attend school events like Annual Day and celebrations of national holidays like Independence Day. It gave me an opportunity to go back in time, meet my teachers, feel like I was safe and secure in my uniform again.
One such Saturday, I was walking through the familiar corridors looking for my brother’s classroom and I passed by Mrs. Kumar, still elegant, teaching her class. She looked up as I passed and I waved, not wanting to interrupt, pleased that she remembered me after all these years.
Suddenly, she got up, left the class, walked out into the corridor and invited me in. I hesitated, wondering what was in store. Mrs. Kumar led me into the class and introduced me to a bemused looking bunch of students. “This girl is one of the best writers this school has seen,” she said. “She wrote a wonderful autobiography of a pencil a few years ago. I hope some of you can learn to write like her.”
Just like that, years later, she still remembered a child’s writing. Even after all these years, I can picture myself being led into that classroom filled with gawking boys and girls wondering what was going on. I remember the glow on my face and the fireworks in my heart as I recounted to everybody I met later that Mrs. Kumar still remembered my work. It was fabulous to experience that wave of appreciation from a teacher I admired.
That Saturday changed the way I viewed myself forever.
I am sure I was not the only student whose school essays and assignments Mrs. Kumar remembered. It is likely that she made an effort to make each one of us feel special. However, I had never had anybody praise my writing before that. It encouraged me to write more, do better in an effort to prove to her that “Look! Your faith in me is justified. I am good, because you believe I am.”
Today, I am a freelance writer. I have worked with prestigious (and well paying) publications all over the world. I can dream of a career with words just because she gave me confidence and faith in the words I used.
If it was not for Mrs. Kumar, my pencils would just been another tool to use. They are now a symbol of little beginnings and the power of a teacher’s encouragement.
© Chryselle D’Silva Dias