An Education

It’s great to be back, to this blog, to Stanford, to the Bay Area. It’s appropriate to start with a disclosure.

This blog is not generated by Chat GPT3 (yet). Otherwise I would be more prolific and regular and maybe more readable, who knows! It’s not because of my ethics or integrity that I am taking this direction, it’s because I have myself barely found my voice. This practice is for me to introspect, analyse and enhance my experiences, and verbalise them ‘in my own voice’.

It will take effort to train the Foundation Model, and time and data. So, to go step by step, I will endeavour to generate enough fodder over the next few months to ‘progress’ to the next avatar – creating a digital clone of Amit, the blogger.

Meanwhile, as a warm up, let me start almost at the beginning, a good place to start. What follows is a recollection from school days. It is non-fictional, though some lapses of memory may have necessitated a little embellishment.

As I cast my mind back to middle school days, a warm feeling oozes into me from the memories. I smile as I reflect on those happy childhood days, a sort of impish delight. I was quite a prankster, a back-bencher often up to no good. But luckily I was doing well academically, so the teachers were fond of me and warmly disposed, rather unsuspecting of my devilish activities. I would be the core, often the ringleader of the group, which plotted and planned disruptive distractions in class.

One of these myriad mischiefs is particularly memorable and momentous to me. The scheme was simple and easy to execute – to rub coloured chalk on the teacher’s chair before he arrived. The chair was made of interlaced strips of cane, so the objective was to create a criss-cross imprint on the seat of the teacher’s trousers after he had sat on it for a while.

We planned to pull this prank on our Physics teacher, Mr Singh who was a burly but gentle and affable gent. We regarded him as a real good soul and I was one of his favorite students. He was harmless, but for some strange reason, maybe it was his big bottom, he seemed a perfect target for this practical joke.

The plan was executed one Monday morning, I remember the day vividly. We had a few minutes to set the stage before his arrival in class. To make it a shared task, three of us were to do it jointly. As soon as the previous teacher left, the chosen three rushed to the front of the class, picked up different coloured chalks and furiously rubbed them on the seat of the chair. There was of course a ‘look-out’ in place and when we heard a shout “He’s coming” , we scampered back to our seats at the rear of the classroom. The well used chalks were discarded, mine was flung out of the window. All incriminating evidence was destroyed! 

The class routinely began with a roll-call which Mr Singh used to take while seated. He had his idiosyncratic pronunciation of a few names, and with some, he would always have histrionics which entertained the class.  

“Shar-mish-tha Allu-wah-Liya”.  

“Dam-mika Guna-war-dhana”

That fateful morning, he completed this drill, shut his Notebook and announced “ This week we will do Newton’s Laws of Motion. Open your books on this Chapter”. He then stood up and turned to write on the blackboard. 

Now, we had been unsure of the results of our efforts. The pale-white cane of the chair had barely looked coloured even after we had rubbed it vigorously with chalk. However, what followed was astonishing. To say ‘the plan was a success’ was a gross understatement. 

As Mr Singh turned around, the class roared – in unison. The check pattern was remarkably and faithfully reproduced in kaleidoscopic fashion on his black trousers. The bellows of laughter wouldn’t stop. A couple of kids actually fell off their chair laughing. There was utter commotion in class.

Mr Singh was stunned and almost speechless. He had no idea what had just hit him. He tried to make sense of what was going on but remained in the dark, while the boys and girls continued to be in splits. Some of us were discreetly celebrating our success, while many others more overtly congratulated us. The melee was truly tumultuous and wouldn’t abate. To move the narrative swiftly along, we next spied Mr Singh exit the classroom. A few young ones scampered after him to prolong their mirth – and presumably to inspect the art on his ambulatory backside!

In the classroom, the students who were in front gathered the rest of us to illuminate us. It transpired that Mr Singh, before leaving, had a terse and clear missive, uttered sharply to no one in particular. Essentially it was – “whoever was responsible for whatever had happened had to come and confess to him directly, else he was not coming back to class – ever”. There was also some addendum –  “a very serious matter”, “don’t want to involve the Principal but….”. 

The ramifications were evident as were the next steps. We had had a great success, now the situation had to be redeemed.

After some swift soul-searching and what I recall as ‘mature confabulation’, it was decided that we would have to go and own-up for our naughtiness. “How bad could Mr Singh be?” was the rhetoric in the air. So off went the three of us towards the Staff Room. It was probably going to be the first visit of any of us inside that Room. It almost seemed a privilege and anticipation was in the air.

We entered and spotted our target in the right corner of the almost empty Staff Room. Mr Singh was sitting in a chair by the side of a table stacked with papers. One glance and I recognised them as our Answer submissions for the previous week’s Class Quiz. Presumably he was in the process of marking and  grading them. I smiled to myself at how easy I had found the Test. The three of us filed up in front of him, with me in the lead and therefore closest to him. He looked up at us, examined us and stood up very deliberately. There was an angry scowl on his face. But he spoke quite gently “So you are the culprits. Very smart boys, making fun of your guru! You know what you deserve – ‘Capital punishment’”. Now, none of us had a clue about what that meant, but it was evident that it was something harsh and ominous. It was several years later that I came across this phrase again. It then dawned upon me that he had implied “Corporal Punishment”, when he had threatened us with the death penalty. After all, he was a Science pedagogue, not an English tutor.

But I digress. The three of us stood in front of him. While our heads were bowed and hands behind our back, none of us was particularly contrite. It had been a hugely successful trick and I was thinking of the near-legendary status we would acquire in our peer group. I was lazily trying to keep a smirk off my face, so as not to make the giant get angry. 

To me, Mr Singh’s last comment had been delivered mildly. I decided to raise my face, look him in the eye and mumble “We are sorry, Sir”. I was about to follow it up with a smile, when I saw a flurry of movement and before I could react, he had swung his burly right hand across my face, a resounding slap. It was stinging and I almost fell over with the impact. I now had tears running down my cheeks and was in shock. But imagine the plight of my two friends. They now had the knowledge of what was in store for them, and both started sobbing loudly, with anticipatory pain and fear. 

To this day, I distinctly remember that flash moment – it was the most unexpected turn of events in my young life, a shock like no other. Mr Singh, a sweetheart, had become a terrifying monster. I could not reconcile the two.

I would like to say that I was reformed after that event, though I did continue my share of capers and tomfoolery. But that one incident did sensitise me to respect my teachers and not betray their good affection.

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