From waste to wow!

Sujata Pani

Words are extremely powerful; they can make or mar the morale of the receiver. One, therefore, has to be very cautious while communicating. A word uttered glibly, a casual expression can lead to far-reaching and dire consequences.

I narrate below an incident that a student shared with me a few years ago. It left me dumbstruck and has made me even more proud of him.

Ricky was a frail, quiet and unassuming boy in class III. He was slow in writing, but quick to grasp. For some of his teachers, getting Ricky to complete his work was a herculean task and for others dealing with him was a test in patience.

One day, the EVS teacher introduced the concept of ‘waste’ in the class. She told them that ‘waste is dumped in the dustbin,’ and proceeded to write out the answers to the lesson on the blackboard. While all the students were working fast to copy down the answers, Ricky, as usual, was slow. As the teacher was supervising her students’ class work, she picked up Ricky’s notebook and said in jest, “You are a waste, Ricky!” The rest of the day passed uneventfully. As the bell rang signalling the end of the day, two of Ricky’s classmates walked out with him. Ricky was a little distraught from his teacher’s comment and was walking quietly when his classmates spotted a dustbin in the residential complex and became excited. The two boys lifted their frail friend and hurled him into the dustbin. “Teacher has taught us today that the place of waste is in the bin and you are a ‘waste’!” Ricky lay face down for a couple of hours in the dustbin till his frantic parents retrieved him after the boys guided them.

Time heals. Experience empowers and enlightens. A couple of weeks ago, I heard a knock on my door and opened it to find a tall and handsome young man smiling at me. “Good evening ma’am, remember Ricky, your brave little soldier of class XII?” My joy knew no bounds as I ushered him in. “You know ma’am, my language teacher in college is very happy. Impressed by my ability to articulate and speak flawlessly, he has asked my batch mates to emulate me. He says – “Wow, Ricky, you are amazing””. I could see the spark in his twinkling eyes. He was a confident young man now. His earnest ways have placed him in everybody’s good books in college. As he was about to leave, I wondered – the journey has been arduous and audacious – this journey of my brave little soldier from ‘waste’ to ‘wow’!

The teacher in me was really touched. This child has inspired me. I have reached out to my colleagues in all the departments in school and told my students as well to practise humanity in their speech.

The writer has been working the field of education for 23 years now. She is currently the Head of Department, English at Delhi Public School, Damanjodi. She can be reached at

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