Her favourite fountain pen made a satisfying scratch as she titled her “t” in flourish.

      She casually turned the paper around.

     She stared in dismay!! One question remained unanswered…panicked, she tried to scribble something…. the examiner snatched away the paper..Nooooooooo…

       Sai opened her eyes.

The same old dream…she thought, as she stretched her arms. Little Adwait lay beside her, wrapped in his blanket, sucking away at his thumb,smiling in sleep…

     Sai sighed! She would have to work on the thumb sucking; or he would have poor dentition…

    She glanced out of the bedroom window. The August rains had coloured her courtyard in myriad shades of pinks, blues and lavenders.It had been two years, since she moved here. The tranquil beauty of the small town enchanted her every time. She leaned out, breathing in the petrichor; enjoying her two seconds of peace before her day started.

     Driving along the Mumbai-Goa Highway, she was en route to her clinic,old songs playing in her car. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Sai had moved to Kudal, a small town near Goa, two years ago, owing to her husband’s transfer. Initially jittery about staying away from her parents, she soon started enjoying staying in the lap of nature. In time,she got accustomed to the clean air and the roads with no traffic jams. She definitely did not miss her local train travel and was happy, she could give more time to Adwait.

    “On time!” she patted herself as she parked her car at the designated spot.

     Her mobile buzzed, breaking her reverie.

      Whatsapp message…

     “Selected for lectureship in Community Dentistry at Nair Hospital, Mumbai. So excited!”

 

      “Oh wow, congrats Sarah, well done!!” Sai pinged her best friend, feeling a small but a certain pang of loss. Too busy to dwell on that thought however, she hurried inside, eager to start her work.

       The entire day passed in a blur,with the patients and their teething tales. Practice was booming. Generally, Sai enjoyed her daily procedures and chatting with her patients. Today however, her spirits were marred by old unfulfilled desires. She had done a two year externship at City Dental College in the hopes for that teachers post.

    Sai had always nursed a secret ambition of becoming a teacher. However, a tenured faculty post was highly sought after and difficult to come by.

“Sai, teaching is the profession that creates all the other professions!“ her baba always said. She wholeheartedly agreed. The joy of imparting knowledge and shaping young minds was something she had always longed for.

She had published her research in the journals, she had obtained the required recommendations. She repeatedly applied for teaching posts but to no avail.

Sai had even volunteered to conduct free lectures for the dental students for a while. But the Dean’s response was lukewarm at the best.

Why do you want to teach? Private practice yields tons more money…..

It is not the money, teaching is my soul food…

Get your head out of clouds Sai….

Sai finally gave up.

“Maybe, I should have been more assertive when I applied for that post at that time…”

“Crasssshhhhhh” Her wool gathering was interrupted as her assistant dropped her freshly  autoclaved set of retractors on the floor.”

 “Nayana, why are you so lost today?”her tone was sharper than she intended.

 “Sorry madam,” Nayana morosely picked at the mess.”

  “What happened?”

    “Its Shalini!!“

  Brows raised, Sai asked, “What about her? She is a bright child. Eighty-five percent  in tenth standard, you should be so proud. Doesn’t she want to appear for UPSC exams?”

 “Madam, she has stopped going to college since last week. We enrolled her at Xavier’s College, Goa at her insistence. They have a very good Arts and Literature faculty.She says she does not follow the English they teach there. Last week, a few college students made fun of her accent and the class laughed. Since then, she has retreated into a shell. I am really worried about this turn of events.”

  Sai mulled over the conversation. Shalini had completed her tenth board in marathi medium. Her English was poor. Sadly, English was still used as a yardstick to judge a person’s calibre, ergo students like Shalini suffered. Her own house boasted of a small library of books for the same reason.She regularly read to Adwait to boost his grammar and pronunciation skills.

   “Bring her here tomorrow at 4pm, I  will talk to her.”

    Nayana gratefully nodded as she left the clinic.

*************************************************************************************

 

  “Aiiii….” Adwait pranced along her clinic with a typical  excitement of a four-year-old….

 “See my new story book, C-I-N-D-E-R-E-L-L-A….read this to me please….Shalini Tai ali….”

  He made her sit beside him on the sofa.

 “Tai he bagh, my new book. Tu bas, Ai will read us both a story now.”

    Adwait was a perfect ice breaker. Sai patiently read the story to her audience of two, over cookies and milk. Initially uncomfortable and stiff, Shalini relaxed in a few minutes.

  “Now Shalini…why don’t you explain the end to Adwait as I go and see to a patient!”

    Shalini  translated the story in bits and pieces. Her sole listener clapped in glee. Sai smiled as she witnessed the entire scene hiding behind a door.

     “Not bad Shalini, you definitely understood the premise. Why are you so nervous then? I am sure with time and effort, you will manage to ace the pronunciations and grammar nuances as well. Why refuse going to college for such a petty thing?”

      “They call me Vernacular!” Shalini broke down, almost in tears. “They jeer everytime I answer in class.”

       Sai’s heart went out to the young girl. Yes, college could be cruel. But running away was never an answer. “Here is an idea. I can definitely help you improve your English, but on one condition. You have to go back to college. I will teach you a few basic sentences in English which will help you get by initially. Every weekend when you visit home, we can spend two hours working on your English. Is that fine with you?”

         Shalini thought for a minute and finally nodded.

 And thus, Sai got her first pupil.

*************************************************************************************

Two weeks later…

“Didi, I have heard you teach English.  I am appearing for SSC this year and I am not sure if I will pass, can I…..”

“Sure Ameya”

“Ermmm, Can I get Avi too ? He is my best friend…..”

By the month end, Sai had a sizeable batch of fourteen teenagers to teach.

*********************************************

“Suppandi clean house for dust.”  

“No Avi, Suppandi dusted the house.” She patiently explained for the fifth time.

“And Shalini, you need to put a comma here….like this.”

*********************************************

 

“Today’s words- Affect and Effect. Give me sentences for both”……..

“BLU not BLEU…Yes, English is a funny language….

**********************************************

 Sometimes, they read a story…anything from Nancy Drew to Reader’s Digest. One of them would summarise the story and others corrected him.

  The initial few weeks were disastrous, and Sai wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew…

“No,No Shalini, Nancy drove her car….past tense, didn’t we read this yesterday…” Both Sai and Shalini were pulling at their hair in frustration…..

 

But steadily, things got better. She persevered and so did the kids. They conversed with each other  in broken English until they showed signs of improvement. Within six months, almost all the kids could construct small sentences correctly.

     Sai beamed with pride at her best pupil Shalini today. She had flawlessly summarised “The Little Women” by May Alcott before the group.(kid’s edition)

      “Didi, there is a literary festival in my college. I am participating in the extempore section. Please visit to cheer me up.” Shalini quipped as she gathered her things.

“Definitely…. all the best Shalini!!”

*************************************************************************************

           Sai sat in the audience almost as nervous as the participants for the extempore. As Shalini held the mike, jeers were heard from behind the crowd.

           Shalini took a deep breath, ” My Topic – Empathy…”

           Pin drop silence followed as she swept the audience off their feet with her interpretation of empathy and her take home message.         

*************************************************************************************

The Prize Distribution

       Shalini accepted her prize and addressed the crowd.

      “My seniors have christened me Vernacular!” She gave a hollow laugh.

“It takes a big heart to shape little minds. My own story reads like a Cinderella…the first book I ever read with Sai didi. Cinderella thought, she belonged to the cinders (ashes), till the fairy godmother convinced her otherwise. Didi, you are my fairy godmother. You made me feel confident about myself. You wove your magic wand over my broken English and broken spirit. You gave me my happily ever after. Students like me learn because teachers like you exist. Thank You.”

   Thunderous applause ensued. Sai looked on teary eyed. Her dream suddenly flashed before her….. “It seems I ticked off and answered all questions in the exam paper at last”, Sai thought as she smiled to herself.

 

Glossary :

Aii : Mother

Baba : Father

Didi : Big sister

“Tai he bagh, my new book. Tu bas” : Sister, check out my new book. You sit right here.

***

Aspirations Muse: Artoon Sai Surve-Rane
Picture Courtesy: Alexis Brown

The above story is an entry into #Aspirations an Artale Greenhorns-2, Feathers Club Exclusive writing event entry.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/artale-greenhorns-2/

Check out Pallavi’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/pallavi-sawant-uttekar/

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Written by Pallavi Sawant Uttekar

Pallavi Sawant is a passionate reader, fabulous cook, Full time doctor, part time mother and night time writer.