The students of Class 9 were restless. They had not had a geography teacher for one month, and were told that one was expected that day. Some of them had actually taken out their geography textbooks, and were glancing at them. Aditi was busy reading about volcanoes in a pocket encyclopaedia. She wished she could bring her tablet or smart phone to school, but it wasn’t allowed. The school authorities thought students would use them to chat or watch inappropriate stuff, but Aditi just wanted to read and learn. There was so much fascinating information in the books and encyclopaedias she had downloaded, so much to know, while the school texts were utterly boring. Others were talking and laughing, altogether creating quite a din. A girl and a boy were sitting together at the back, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes. Altaf, known to be artistic, was sketching them in his drawing book, but they seemed unconcerned. Priti, the fattest in the class was busy eating chips. There was no point asking her to share, she never would, and so despite envious glances, she was ignored. Priti seemed to bring along an inexhaustible supply of snacks every day.
A tall young man entered and surveyed the students. So this was his class! He was not just going to teach them geography, but he would be their class-teacher too. His eyes took in the studious ones sitting with their books, those having fun, the lovers at the back, the artist and the munching girl. He took a deep breath as his thoughts flew. That fat girl – she must have some psychological problems. Those two gazing into each other’s eyes – he had seen this happening in other schools, it always began in Class 9. Strange that the youngsters seemed so averse to the opposite sex in classes 7 and 8, and all of a sudden, hormones kicked in and something changed. He looked again at those sitting with books open – only one thin girl was actually reading in a focused way, and it wasn’t the textbook. His spirits lifted – here was at least one student he would be able to communicate with.
Very few had noticed his silent entry, but now there were nudges to each other, and one or two at the front of the class called out, ‘The teacher is here, the teacher is here.’ The noise subsided; most of them sat down, and looked at him expectantly.
‘Hello’, said Mohan, addressing the class, trying to break the ice. ‘My name is Mohan and I want you to call me that. No ‘Teacher’ and no ‘Sir’. The students shifted uneasily. They had never called a teacher by their first name before. No one said anything. ‘As you know, I’m going to teach you geography’, he continued. ‘But close your books. We’ll start with some practical work.’
Everyone looked brighter. This sounded interesting. But what could the practical work be? Avdesh’s hand went up. ‘Yes?’ said Mohan. ‘Mr Mohan, will we be drawing maps?’, he asked. ‘No ‘Mr’, I want us to be equals. Just call me Mohan, and yes we are going to work with a map, but of a different kind. We are going to map ourselves. And then we will analyze that map.’
Roshen Dalal is the author of the best-selling two-volume Puffin History of India, The Puffin History of the World [also in two volumes] as well as of other books. She has taught at Rishi Valley School, and has a PhD in History. She can be reached at email@example.com.