Sunday, 5 January 2014

A tribute to Ms Doshi

1991. Second standard. Seven years old.
Our class teacher Ms Doshi set us an individual craft project to observe Independence day at school. Craft, the best period of the entire week.
Our task was to make the Indian National flag.
Ms Doshi had taught us: the Indian flag has three colours, orange, white and green. There is a blue wheel in the centre of the white strip that must be split into not more than 24 parts. After all, hadn’t we been taught to count?
One rule: no seeking help from parents.
Armed with my limited knowledge, I prepared myself for the task. The end result must have been quite pathetic because my otherwise do-you-homework-yourself mother offered help.
Ready with my flag in hand, I reached class. I looked around. Some of my classmates had made beautiful flags using pre-coloured enamel paper for the stripes instead of colouring them by hand. These had been stuck on beautiful sticks covered with colourful ribbon. Others however, had managed less spectacular specimens. Their flags were made of paper (obviously!) but so were the sticks that were supposed to hold them in place. So every time the flags were held up for others to see, it resulted in a comical flop of the flag and subject for much laughter.
I remember feeling relieved. My flag was simple yet held its own.
Ms. Doshi started by calling out each student, looking carefully at the flag and asking certain precise questions. When my name was called out, I went up trembling a bit. Showing your homework to your teacher and being marked for it is serious business indeed!
She scorched her gaze, right through her rimmed glassed, deep into my eyes, and asked me the fatal question – “Did you make your flag yourself?” Now that I think of it, it was much like Dumbledore asking a question to a Hogwarts student. 
Yes, I froze. So she repeated her question.
“Did you make this yourself?”
What can you do when your teacher's all-knowing, omnipresent eyes look through your soul searching for answers?
You answer the question.
And so it was that I replied, “I… I… coloured the flag and stuck it to the stick”.
“Who helped you?” she inquired.
“My mother” tumbled out the answer.
“And who divided the flag into three rows?”
“My mother, and she drew the wheel too”.
“Students – ” Ms Doshi silenced the class. 
“I have something to tell you”.
I admit, by now, I was shaking quite a bit. 
“Look at this flag. The stripes are well measured, the wheel has 24 spokes, it has been perfectly stuck to the stick. But this flag hasn’t been made alone. This student's mother helped her make it.” Convinced of public humiliation, my eyes made for the floor. By now, every one of my classmates had decided that I was the sole intriguing object in class.
She continued, “Some of you have made better flags, bigger flags but when I asked you, you all claimed to have made the flag alone. This student is the only one till now to have told me the truth. She has done wrong by disobeying me, but I'm very proud of her because she spoke the truth.”
I gaped at her, unarmed, grateful, relieved. Seeing that speaking the truth would not do them harm, a lot of other students after me, confessed to help being given to them.
When I think of that incident today, I’m filled with deep gratitude. I had disobeyed my teacher, opposed her authority. In India, such behaviour is not taken lightly. Had Ms Doshi scolded me that day or had I felt humiliated, I would’ve sought the easy way out the next time and lied. However, Ms Doshi had chosen to focus on my difficulty in overcoming temptation to lie and chose consciously to encourage that.
I do not remember the marks I got for that flag, but I do remember the flag. I do remember that incident, carved deep into my memory. I do remember Ms. Doshi’s kind words and I do remember the lesson I learned that day. Thank you Ms. Doshi for being the wonderful teacher you were to me.