On Teachers' Day, for the best teacher I had, and I had several really good ones....
Would Practically Perfect Do?
I was seven. I had missed six weeks of the previous term because of measles followed by jaundice. I had still topped in class. I was excited.
“Amma, I got my report card today. I stood first.”, I shouted, as I jumped off the school bus and ran up the drive.
My mother took the blue booklet I thrust into her hands. I looked at her with anticipation as she scanned the report card, waiting for the hug I knew would follow.
Instead she looked up and asked – “Where did those five marks go in arithmetic?”
I hardly knew what to say. “Amma, I topped in class,” I told her. “And I got the highest marks in arithmetic”, I added, thinking she hadn’t noticed that.
“I don’t care how the others did”, she clarified. “I want to know why you lost five marks. Why can’t you be more careful and not make so many careless mistakes?”
Growing up with a teacher for a mother was not easy. She always strove for perfection. And I? I was just a kid, and a distractable one at that. I could never concentrate the way my mother would have wanted me to, and I rarely did as well as I should have been able to do.
By the time I reached my teens, I stopped trying. Topping the class was no longer something I aspired towards, and if I got full marks in any subject, it was more an accident than anything else.
It was not that I did not care about learning – I was passionate about that – it was just that I grew indifferent towards the formal system of evaluation. As I reasoned it out to myself, as long as I knew what I was learning, and understood it well, it did not matter how I performed in the examinations. While my classmates were cramming guidebooks that taught them how to write “perfect” answers, I was busy solving esoteric mathematical problems which anyone could tell you would never be asked in examinations.
If my mother was upset by my sliding grades, she did not express it openly. Perhaps she put it down to rebellion, and thought that if she ignored it, it would go away and I would once again become the topper she knew I could be if I tried. Or perhaps she had resigned herself to the fact while her organized mind craved perfection in her only child, the fact that her daughter still voraciously sought knowledge was good enough.
Years passed. I was never academically brilliant, but was reasonably satisfied with my performance. My mother never, in my hearing, mentioned my studies or grades.
A week back, I came across a bumper sticker.
“I may not be better than you, but I am better than I was last week.”
I nodded my head when I saw it. That was exactly what I believed in – to know a little more, to be a little better, to have grown a little at the end of the week than I had at the beginning.
Unwittingly, my thoughts turned to my mother, and her obsession with my grades. In her quest for perfection, would she ever understand my desire to just strive to be a little better than I was the previous week?
After all these years, I finally realised that what my mother sought was no different from what I did myself. She was never happy with anything short of perfection, because she knew I was capable of something close to it. All those years of what I thought were disgruntled silence were perhaps years when she was not unhappy with the fact that I sought knowledge for its own sake.
I wanted to rush to my mother and thank her for teaching me to constantly strive to be better then I was. Instead, I wrote this. For her.