(New Delhi) “I am someone who has grown up being discriminated against for my skin colour and weight. It is typically related to the fact that you are a girl; nobody asks men these questions. The criteria when judging a man is that he should be doing well for himself in his career. But for a girl, it is not enough. You have to be a lot of other things as well.
It started with the family because a number of my relatives used to say, “Oh, you are so cute and you have beautiful features but you are dark” or “How can you be so nice looking and yet be dark.” As if someone dark-skinned can’t be nice looking. At a younger age even your friends can also be insensitive. I have heard things like “Your mother and sister don’t even look like you; are you sure you are related to them?” or “How can they be so nice looking and how can you be so ugly”.
I was in a co-ed boarding school right from the beginning. You know how teenage boys are. They can get very mean. I was left out of a lot of activities because I was not nice looking. I have grown up with the idea that you have to be nice looking, otherwise people are going to be rude and mean to you.
I think that’s an insecurity that hardly ever goes away. So whenever something on a personal front goes wrong, then you start questioning everything all over again. Being at a “marriageable age”, when certain things don’t work out, then you keep thinking if this is why it has not worked out. You start doing all the permutations and combinations in your head. It all adds up and snowballs in your head.
The same people really compliment me and say all kinds of things to flatter me but it doesn’t matter now. The whole point is that we shouldn’t judge someone by their colour or weight; it doesn’t define them as a person.”
(Patna) “I retired as a teacher in 2010. I worked for 34 years, during which I taught Political Science to high school students. Initially, there were only four students – two in Arts and two in Science. When I retired, high school was a much bigger place.
Both my parents were doctors. They were also freedom fighters in the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose. I had studied in an orthodox convent school, which was like finishing schools. One time after I had gotten married, a school principal from one of the reputed convent schools in Patna mentioned to me that I would be a good teacher. I told her that my family was conservative, so I wouldn’t be allowed to work. She told me “don’t waste yourself, go and talk to your family”. I spoke to my husband and he said that there was no harm in trying and if I liked the job then I could continue teaching. Since he was so supportive, I went to teach in that school the very next day, and I stayed on for the next 34 years.
Teaching and learning methods should be simplified to such an extent that each and every student can understand. I told my students not to cram and emphasized learning and understanding in the most basic form. Every child is gifted, and phrases like “weak students” should not be used. Some students are good at academics and some in sports or singing. Some of the girls used to tell me that they are not good at anything. Then I assigned them the responsibility to save electricity in the classroom and ensured that the class applauded their efforts. In addition, if the class representatives needed to take any matter before the Principal, these girls would go along with them and voice their opinions. Once their confidence was built up, they picked up on their studies as well. I wanted my students to be confident, and to have a holistic personality.
When I joined the school along with a few others, it was with a genuine interest in teaching. We were all driven to work hard. When the teachers met in the staff room or outside, our main area of conversation was what we could do for our students. Occasionally, when somebody joked to break the monotony, we used to break into laughter. But we mainly discussed issues and challenges that were related to education. We didn’t waste our time. We were in a less materialistic age.
Even now, I am happy to help my students. I make myself available at any time if they want to prepare for job interviews or even if they are feeling low and just want to chat. When somebody is moving abroad for further studies or for work, I put them in touch with my students already living in that city. I am so lucky that whenever I ask my students for any help, they never refuse. My school is still a special place where students and teachers have a special rapport.”