I have been taught by a number of very good teachers, but the only one who had a lasting impact on me was my High School Principal. Tall, slim and ramrod straight, she had a commanding presence. Though obviously younger than many of the teachers who reported to her, she had an aura of authority that belied her age.
A strict disciplinarian, she managed to impose her will on a school that was not particularly known for its adherance to discipline. Any attempt to flout authority was nipped in the bud, and she all attempts to tamper with the dress code were dealt with forcefully.
As a student who consistantly topped in class, I rarely had to face her wrath, and since I represented the school in various extra-curricular activities, I often was often the recipient of her praise.
But that was not why I remember her. I remember her for the speeches she made several time a year - to the class while handing out report cards at the end of each semester, to the student body at regular intervals, and to informal groups when the occasion warrented it.
My class was the most studious one in the school, and I remember her once imploring us not to become "miserable bookworms", because some of had petitioned her to allow them to miss the Physical Education class so they could prepare for a College Entrance Exam. After delivering the speech, her eyes had swept the class, and the only pair of eyes that her met her's were mine - I had known I didn't qualify for the denouncement. Her eyes had softened, and she'd said, "There is one exception in this class. There is one girl who participates in everything, and even represents the school in inter-school events. She does a lot of things well, but even the things she doesn't do well, she puts her heart and soul into. And surprisingly, she does better in her exams than most of you, even though you get out of anything not related to studies." I was walking on clouds for days after that.
But the most memorable speech she made was to our Graduating Class. She'd said, "there are three types of people in the world. The ones who blaze new trails and accomplish a lot in life. The ones who do what they feel should be done, and keep doing it despite falling down many times. And the vast majority who are neither the leaders, nor are constantly failing. I wish all of you could be in the first category, but only some of you will. But what I implore all of you is to not allow yourself to fall into the third category. Whether you succeed or fail, do what you feel has to be done- don't let yourself become a mindless follower."
Those words stayed with me, and often guided me when I had to take major decisions, specially professional ones.
Last year, I met Ma'am on Facebook, and exchanged a few messages with her. It felt strange to re-connect with someone who had played such an important part in my life, then disappeared from it completely. She was in a different city, but I hoped to meet her someday.
Yesterday, I, and two other classmates, met her. I had been really nervous before the meeting- just thinking of her made me feel like a schoolgirl again. But when she hugged us, we connected like two human beings who had shared a part of an important journey together. She was not the principal, and we the students. We were just four individuals meeting after a long time and getting to know each other.
When one of us mentioned that she was probably the same age then as we now are, she calculated and told us she had acutally been younger than we now are. "Sometimes, I think I was too young", she told us. "Had I been a little older I would have been able to handle people better."
Ma'am, the Formidable, having self doubts? It seemed almost impossible. Not only had her students looked upto her, most of the parents had been overwhelmed by the force of her personality. Hadn't she been perfection incarnate? How could she have done anything better?
But, thinking back, I realise that it was precisely because she was "too young" to manage a school that she made such an impression on everyone. Her idealism had not been tempered by experience. She brought passion to her position because she did not know better. She had her own ideas of how a young lady should be moulded and she set about doing it because she didn't know it was too difficult a task to take on.
Ma'am, the most splendid teacher anyone could ask for. It was wonderful finding out that she is just as wonderful as a friend.