Behave Yourself!

Sonali Bhatia

Brinda recognised the running footsteps. Instantly, her frown turned into a smile. She crumpled the memo she had been reading, and quickly flicked it into the wastebasket.

“I’m first in the library, Miss!”
“That’s great, Samir. You can help me before the others come in.”

Behave-Yourself-1 She set the child to work. With her guidance, he placed chart paper and sketch pens on each table. Then, they went from shelf to shelf and Brinda handed him some books to place next to each sheet of chart paper.

As Samir put the last book down, the rest of his classmates trooped into the library.

“Hey! We’re playing a game!”
“No! We’re doing reference work!”
“We’re going to draw something!”
“It’s a project!”

Brinda chuckled. She loved it when her students got enthusiastic about her ideas in the library. The disposed-of-memo was forgotten. It didn’t matter to her that the management thought she was using more chart paper than necessary. She was sure they would understand when she explained how much the students’ enthusiasm in reading had increased since she had started these little projects with them in the library. Why, even Samir, the known troublemaker of Standard IV, was all agog, waiting to hear what the arrangements were for.

“Okay, Standard IV-C, listen carefully.”

The class settled down to listen to Brinda’s explanation.

“The books are for reference. I’ve given each group three books on some interesting topic – dinosaurs, space, cricket, things like that.

“Now – the reference books are at your level. What you need to do is to take some information from these books and make it simple, for the students of Class I to understand. Then, you will make a pop-up book about the topic, for the Junior Library. They need interesting books there.

“If you make your pop-up book well, the Junior Librarian will put a school stamp on it and enter it in her register. It will be a library book – just like the printed books on the shelves – with your names as editors, illustrators, and publishers!”

There was an outbreak of cheering from the students. Brinda smiled again as she showed them examples of pop-up books and handed out photocopies of instructions about making one of their own.

“You’ll need to plan your work very carefully,” she warned. “Decide on the text, the pictures and how they are going to pop out, page by page. Make sketches in your rough book before you start using the chart paper. Don’t be in a hurry, I’ll give you enough library periods for this work.”

The topics were decided by a draw of lots, and groups were soon hard at work, discussing which bits of information would interest the younger students and how to present these.

All too soon, the bell rang. “Tea break! Pack up!” Brinda yelled.

“Two minutes, Miss!” IV-C chorused. “We’ll eat our snacks fast, a little later.”

By the time the class cleared out of the library, Brinda had just enough time to nip into the staff room for her own tea. The attendant had already arrived to clear away the kettle and cups and waited impatiently as Brinda poured herself a little and gulped it down.

“Sorry,” Brinda murmured, as she handed the cup over. The attendant grimaced in response.

“My class delayed you in the library?” It was Usha, the class teacher of IV-C. “They’re really interested in all your activities. I can’t imagine them putting off tea break for anything else! And you should get a medal or an award or something for catching Samir’s interest!”

“Thanks! I …” Just then, Brinda caught sight of her name on the message board:
“Ms. Brinda, Librarian. Please meet Mrs. Acharya when you are free.”

That was summons from the principal, about the amount of chart paper being used in the library, she supposed. She shrugged at Usha, who had followed her gaze and seen the message on the board. Usha shrugged back.

“I have this period free. I might as well get it over with.”

Trudging across the basketball court to the principal’s room, Brinda went over all her projects in her mind, the responses of various students and her explanations about chart paper.

Except that the summons wasn’t about chart paper.

“You must be more considerate about your colleagues, Brinda,” Mrs. Acharya admonished. “The cheering and shouting from the library disturbs the classes on either side. Can’t you keep the children quiet?”

“They cheer because they are interested, Ma’am,” Brinda tried to defend herself.

“Yes, but you can’t be so selfish about it. Keep them interested but don’t let them make noise. There have been complaints about Samir, too.”

“Samir?” How could there possibly be complaints about Samir in the library?

Behave-Yourself-2 “Samir. Apparently he comes to the library out of line and you encourage him. Mrs. Bopaiah’s class is just opposite the library. She says all the students see him and it sets a bad example for them. Really Brinda, what’s happening to you? Can’t you be a better disciplinarian?”

“But he responds so well in the library because he likes to come early and help me before the others come in. He doesn’t disturb anyone in the library after that, Ma’am. It’s the best way to control him. Today, in the staff room, Usha …”

“Now, now, Brinda, it isn’t right on your part to carry tales about what happens in the staff room. Anyway, just keep all this in mind. Performance appraisals are round the corner and I have to give the Board members a true picture of each person who works here.”

“Behave yourself or else,” Brinda translated, mentally. Aloud, she whispered, “Yes, Ma’am,” and backed out of the room.

On her way back to the library, she stopped off at Accounts to pick up a few stationery requisition forms.

“For what?” Sanjana sounded surprised.

“For stationery,” Brinda was astonished at Sanjana’s surprise. “I keep needing things for library projects.”

“But – but – you’ve already exceeded your quota, Brinda. And even the rest of the year’s library budget is being used for decorations.”

“Decorations? I haven’t ordered any decorations.”

“Not you. The PTA meetings are going to be held in the library this year. So Ma’am wants multi-coloured twinkling lights, like at weddings, and a fancy toran for the door. The budgets are going for that. No more books or stationery or anything else for the library this year …”

“But nobody’s getting married in the library. Besides, even if they were, the children could hand-make beautiful decorations. No need to bring twinkling lights or torans.”

“Yeah, right. Tell that to Ma’am, won’t you? That chart paper is more important than twinkling lights.”

Brinda was so indignant she almost retraced her steps to return to the principal’s room and say just that – that chart paper was more important than twinkling lights. Then she remembered – behave yourself or else.

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, she did a bit of both on her way back to the library.

Behave yourself or else.
*********
“Miss! Samir tore my page! I need another chart paper!”
Brinda closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths before she replied. “Sorry, Vidur. I have no more chart paper. Just mend it neatly with a sheet from your rough book.”
“But that will look horrible. Then it won’t be selected for the Junior Library. Tell that stupid Samir not to tear other people’s pages.”
There was a ‘thud’ and Vidur found himself on the floor with Samir on top of him.
“Don’t call me stupid! I’m not stupid! You are stupid!”

“Samir! Samir!” Brinda ran over and pulled him off Vidur. “You can’t knock people over and hit them like that.” She turned to Vidur, who was being helped to his feet by the other students. “Are you hurt?”

Fortunately, Vidur wasn’t hurt, but she sent him to the school nurse just in case. He left the library, accompanied by his best friend Shaukat.

Before Brinda could speak again, Samir blurted, “He can’t call me stupid. I am not stupid.” Brinda discerned the tears welling up in his eyes and recognized his defiance to be a thin mask for deeply hurt feelings.
“You’re not stupid, Samir,” she hastened to reassure him.
“Then why don’t you let me come first and help you like before?”

“You have to come to the library in a line, like the others, Samir,” Brinda struggled to keep her voice steady. She knew how much those precious minutes being ‘first’ had meant to the boy, how special he had felt doing those little tasks before his classmates arrived.

There had been three library periods since Mrs. Acharya’s verdict, and, each time, Brinda had had to send Samir back instead of welcoming his early arrival. It was a job to make him believe that she really meant it when she said ‘come in the line with the others.’

The first time Brinda had sent him back, Samir had returned with his classmates and proceeded to spend the entire library period sulking. The second time, he had not joined the line at all, but gone and hidden in the boys’ washroom. The class monitor, Wayne, had to search him out and drag him back. Now, Samir had torn Vidur’s chart paper.

Vidur. Here he was with Shaukat, back from the nurse’s room.

“What’s that you are carrying?” Brinda asked.

“Bopaiah Ma’am was in Nurse Ma’am’s room when I was telling Nurse Ma’am that Samir tore my chart paper and hit me. Bopaiah Ma’am was very kind. She got two chart papers from Sanjana Ma’am and gave them to us. She also took my father’s phone number from Principal Ma’am. She’s going to inform my father that I got hurt in the library but I am okay now.”

Brinda’s head reeled at the implications of this, and before she could form a coherent thought, Shaukat had started making an announcement.

“Bopaiah Ma’am said one chart paper is for our group, and one is for any other group that we choose. Who wants a chart paper?”

Behave-Yourself-3 Immediately, there was an uproar in the library with everyone clamouring for that extra sheet of chart paper. By the time Vidur and Shaukat settled on the recipient, a message had arrived from Std.VII next door, saying the mathematics teacher wished there would be less noise coming from the library.

“Tell her I said sorry,” Brinda sighed in response. She added to herself, “They’ll behave themselves and I will behave myself or else.”
*********
Behave herself she did, at the inevitable meeting with Vidur’s parents, also attended by Mrs. Acharya, and for some reason, Mrs. Bopaiah.

“We’ve told her repeatedly to keep that boy Samir in check in the library,” Mrs. Acharya cooed, with a sugary sweet smile at the couple. “But what to do, she’s only a librarian. Poor thing, she has no idea of discipline. That’s why I asked Mrs. Bopaiah to be with us at this meeting. She is one of our most experienced teachers and knows all about classroom management. She knows of some good evening courses on the subject and the school is going to pay for Brinda to attend these. So on Brinda’s behalf, I apologise for what happened to Vidur in the library. Luckily, Vidur wasn’t much hurt.”

Mrs. Acharya turned to Mrs. Bopaiah, still wearing a honeyed smile. “Please take Vidur’s parents to the canteen, as a treat from the school.”

As the three pairs of footsteps receded, Brinda emerged from a shocked stupor to hear Mrs. Acharya now cooing at her.

“Don’t be worried, my dear. We aren’t actually going to send you for any evening courses. We don’t have the budget for it. That was just to tell the parents something, you know. After all, they are our customers. We have to keep them happy. See how Mrs. Bopaiah immediately followed what I said, and kept them happy by taking them to the canteen. You must learn from her. Anyway, now, dear, go back to your little library, it must be lonely without you!”

Still in a bit of a daze, Brinda somehow found her way back to the library and sank into her chair.
*********
“Three cheers for IV-C! Three cheers for Brinda Aunty! Hip hip hurray!”

The thought of the special assembly gave Brinda a warm, fuzzy feeling for several weeks afterwards. Mrs. Acharya loved all the pop-up books made by IV-C, and organized a gathering of the students and teachers of Std. I to IV, for a ceremonial handing over by the student editors and illustrators, to the Junior Librarian.

Excited students, Samir among them, took the mike. They spoke about how various groups went about creating the books. Mrs. Acharya praised Brinda for the effort she had put in behind the scenes. Then, the avid readers of Std. I accepted the books from the editors of IV-C, and the Junior Librarian put the school seal on each book.

Then came the cheers which echoed pleasantly in Brinda’s heart, helping her through the ups and downs of being a school librarian.

Sonali Bhatia is a freelance writer and educator. She conducts workshops for students, parents and teachers, on various literary related topics. Her events based on Roald Dahl, Ruskin Bond and Harry Potter have proved to be very popular with all age groups. She can be reached at sonaliarun@gmail.com.