May 8, 2016

The day I became JK

This happened 13 years ago. Jayakrishnan was an eighth grader in a school in the nice South Indian city called Trichy. During his seventh grade, he had a cat – a lovely, fluffy cute cat. He loved it. And his proclivity towards the cat caused him a fungal infection called “polyps” which led to tissue growth in the nose almost blocking his entire right nose. It seemed he was allergic to cat fur. His dad’s homeopathy doctor friend assured he could cure this. After 6 months, the tissue growth only seemed to grow more, effectively blocking his right nose and partially affecting his hearing. This meant, he struggled with his class lessons. He was at his academic low. His teachers had a condescending look for him every time the test papers were distributed. Friends, if any, were few. They called him “Jaya”. Of late, someone pointed out that “Jaya” is a feminine name. (It’s one of those thing with the Indian names; when combined with a male name – “Krishna” it becomes a male name in totality) He thought he was better off with the name his dad christened him initially – Vivek Rasdan, after a then Indian cricket player. “Jayakrishnan” was the name that his Astrologer-cum-Sanskrit scholar granddad christened him, based out of astrology and also half his name, which was Ramakrishnan. Some bullies caught upon the feminine part of his name. Scared, he tried to avoid schools on any possible occasion. On lonely days when he bunked schools, he used to solve crossword puzzles in the Young World paper which comes on Saturdays. He also maintained a dairy, where he noted down his observations, witty cartoons by Keshav in the Hindu, pictures of fast trains and the German landscape from the German News magazine which his dad had subscribed.  He particularly loved the cover stories on LTTE and other major national events which were illustrated creatively in the WEEK magazine. He used to wonder why India Today magazine always wrote articles supporting a major national party a.k.a BJP. He never spoke about these to anyone except to his dairy. His dairy was his only true friend. His dairy was the only one who would know what that boy was and what went through him. He was an introvert, at best. The only good thing that happened to him that year was that his parents decided to go with allopathic surgery to remove the fungal growth in his nose. And this put him on wheels of normalcy. Yet his introverted character remained the same.
He entered the eighth grade. He had chosen Hindi as a second language earlier when he was in sixth grade. But Hindi students were a minority. So were Catholic Christian students in his school. The school decided to put these two groups together in a same class for reasons best known to them. This was where he first saw Nancy Perira. She was a legend in that school. He had heard stories about her from his friends. She always gets the first rank; she has never known what a second rank is, in her entire life – that was her legend. She had a fierce competitive look in her eyes. And she was damn smart- the speed with which she talked made her seem extra smart. He looked at her with an awe and felt like a lowly being when she walked past him. Once, he was standing near the classroom door, unknowingly blocking her path. She said, “Hey, stupid, move away!” He felt bad for a moment, but gave her way immediately. He conceded to the adjective, the smartest girl in the school just gave him, because he thought it was his fault.
Arockyasamy, his social sciences teacher was his class teacher. Arockyasamy seemed different in his approach of teaching. He too had a legend – he normalized the social science marks of his students to 90%. The rest 10 marks would come from the Social Science notes that he asked his students to maintain. And legend has it that no one ever got those 10 marks; students who get 2.5 consider themselves lucky. This was because, the notes he asked his students to maintain was not book based. It was like, an entire chapter in Geography should be summarized in just 2 pages with any fact about the chapter NOT presented in the text book – all the extra details one can lay their hands upon. And he substituted Civics sections with GK sections and solicited newspaper articles for the Civics part. History chapters should be substituted with in-depth historic event analysis. Civics section carried 5 marks, History and Geography 5 together. He actually started teaching us at the end of first mid-term only. But he implemented his system no sooner. Nancy was even asking Arockyasamy on ways to get the full 10 marks.
The First mid-term exams were just conducted. Jayakrishnan got the 7th rank. This was the highest rank he could imagine getting in a long time. Of course, Nancy got the first. But before the ranks were computed, it was time for evaluation of the social science notes by Arockyasamy. Nancy got 2.5 on her coverage on Historic analysis. Arockyasamy called Jayakrishnan out. He said, “Good work. You’re the first person to get 7.5 marks in the Social Science notes”. He got the full 5 in GK section and 2.5 on Geography. The GK section he covered was on a crucial judgment the Supreme Court had passed on the Ayodhya issue. Many students had the newspaper clipping of that judgment pasted in the GK section. But Jaya drew a timeline across two pages, demarcating the important events that led to the current judgment. A separate section was delineated at two different corners listing the key parties involved in the conflict. The other two corners listing the rationale and basis of the conflict as submitted by the conflicting parties. As far as the Geography section was concerned, he pasted a single stamp of the country that was being dealt, that he got through a philatelic exchange with some his friends the previous year. He explained the cost of the stamp. And a small box on the local currency and how it compares with the rupee and the dollar and Yen. He then explained the person on the stamp, the first prime minister after independence. A small box shows political system followed by the country and the current leaders. And two other boxes on the climate, it’s geopolitical influence on its neighbors and how it influences its economy. He felt so happy that day. He looked though his notes the whole evening and the words, “V.Good.. 7.5/10” embellishing the page. He wondered why Nancy gave a hateful look at him when returned with his note to his bench.
After that, Jaya was the one to answer the GK questions and current affairs questions posed by Arockyasamy to his class. It felt nice for him. And he made no mistake the second time. He got the full 10 marks in Social Science notes section, breaking his own record. He improved his rank by securing the 3rd rank. But at the same time, he was being hated by Nancy like never before. Now, she knows him by name. But nevertheless, she found new situations just to call him “stupid”. He didn’t know how to react to that. Because every time, it was someway his fault. She was the ‘class monitor’. Persons who get the first rank get to become the monitor and she was the monitor by default, always. She wrote the name “Jaya” every other day on the board which lists the students who misbehaved during the absence of teachers. This ensured that Jayakrishnan got punished for a crime he grasped hard to understand when he committed. But it must have been his mistake; he never defended himself for any of that, because he was still scared to speak out to his teachers.
The school conducted an assembly every week. And every week, one class must host the assembly. And during each assembly, there’s a small speech on a topic. It was his class’ turn to host the assembly. The topic for speech was ‘The Crown and Glory of Life is character’. Arockyasamy, chose his favorite student, Jayakrishnan, to give the speech. Jayakrishnan was scared to death. He didn’t even dare to speak a complete sentence to his teachers. His dad penned his speech. Arockyasamy decided to conduct a mock trial in front of the class. Jayakrishnan never looked at any of the students while he spoke. He spoke looking down. And he couldn’t complete three sentences properly. Nancy was smiling at the sorry figure he cut for himself. He was sweating profusely. He gave a pleading look at his class teacher and cried, “I can’t.. I’m sorry”… He said, “It’s okay, we’ll do another session in two days”.
Two complete days of speaking with the mirror and his sister, he probably realized he could make it. The second time, he completed the speech with occasional stammering, but he barely looked at the audience.
Arockyasamy called him aside and gave a great piece of advice. “You’re doing well, but no one will listen to you if you don’t speak TO them. If you’re scared about looking at the audience, don’t really look at them. Just sway her head at all the audience constantly.” Jayakrishnan took the advice and during the third trial, he did exactly the same. It turned out well. But speaking before 60 students and before 2000 students is different. Jayakrishnan knew that.
On the day of speech, Jayakrishnan was standing behind the stage, wishing that the Master of Ceremonies would pace out their introductions; he literally prayed for each delayed second. Finally they called out, “Now Jayakrishnan from 8-A will deliver a speech on the topic, ‘The Crown and Glory of Life Is character”. Jayakrishnan waited for five seconds after he was called for. He realized that the entire school was ready to laugh at his folly. He wanted to run away from the place. At that time, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked back at the tall figure of Arockyasamy smiling at him. He said, “The school is waiting to hear your great speech”. This brought a wide smile on his face. He decided, come what may, he is not letting this man down. He tread the stage towards the mike for the first time in his life. His first word was over amplified; someone came running to push the mike a bit away from his mouth. IN this process, he forgot his customary salutations which should invariably begin with “Revered Principal,…” Instead, he started with a line, he never rehearsed to speak about.
“When I was given this topic, I didn’t even understand what it meant. In fact, it was my dad who wrote this speech”. The whole school burst into laughter. After the laughter subsided, he continued, “But I’m here just for one thing, or rather for one person – Mr.Arockyasamy, my class teacher and guide who believed in me to deliver this to this august audience. So here I am to speak about the topic, which I now feel is so meaningful”.
When the speech was over, the 4000 pairs of hands clapped – all the sound directed at one person that was overwhelming for him. Arockyasamy patted his back. He smiled back at him. Back in the class, Arockyasamy distributed the Half-yearly rank cards. When Jayakrishnan’s roll number came, he called out, “Mr.JK…” (Jayakrishnan wondered that this is the first time someone called him JK, but it certainly felt nice), “You get the first rank this time. And that was a good speech by the way, I forgot to mention..”, he smiled as he handed him the rank card.
The whole class clapped except for the one girl. But then, at that moment, he realized, it’s not always his fault. And that he’s not a stupid. That day Nancy didn’t write down his name on the board even though he was talking happily with all his friends in the ‘absence of the teacher’ which was categorized as misbehavior during many such earlier instances. Just then he realized that he is the monitor from the next day. Remember, persons who get the first rank get to become the monitor.
That was the day Jayakrishnan became JK. Till this day, he carried that name as a remembrance of his first mentor. He became the monitor. No names on the board ever as long as he was the monitor. From then on, he grabbed any and every opportunity to give a public speech. Won some state level speech competitions. Be it Independence Day or Republic day, JK is solicited to give his passionate patriotic speech. And of course, participated in many quiz competitions and won some. He replaced Nancy as the person who never knew what the second rank was. Nancy tried to insult me by accusing him in front of the class he got the first rank by using ‘bit’ in exams. He still couldn’t defend himself or shout back at her. But he didn’t feel sorry. He was able to smile back at her. But none of that was important than the fact that none of this would have happened if Arockyasamy never believed in him. One person changed a boy's life. And that person was able to changed his outlook. By just believing in the other person. 
JK is still secretly an introvert. But when occasion arises, he can be the best extrovert around. And when the bullies tried to call him "Jaya" the next time, he retorted back, "There's no space between Jaya and Krishnan, you ignorant fuck…"
Dedicated to all genuine teachers who are transforming young lives for the better…

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