“O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
-Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
When Miss Iyer entered the class on the first day of her term, a general sense of unrest started among the boys. But none were more affected than little Duggu. He simply had never seen a prettier woman: in real life or on the silver screen. He fell in love with her instantly.
She had a slender figure. Her brows were sharp and arched. Her cheeks were tad pink that could have been natural or the effect of cosmetics. On the first day, she was wearing a pleated skirt, whose hem was slightly above her knees. The teaching staff was ignorant, if the shortness of the skirt violated the minimum required length per the school regulations——for rest of the teachers wore only saris. Duggu was in the 9th standard; not being in SSLC turned out to be a good thing, because such an emotional turmoil would have caused his grades to nose dive, which would have certainly influenced his future.
Miss Iyer had taken the replacement for Lakshmi teacher, who went on maternity leave. She used to conduct English classes, though her mastery over the foreign language was questionable. Lakshmi teacher had 5 saris: one for each working day. Duggu knew the intricate handiwork on each of them. He could tell the days of the week by seeing the sari——each sari had a fixed day. Duggu was Lakshmi teacher’s pet for asking questions; her absence certainly made his life easier.
Duggu’s initial efforts to match the days of the week with Miss Iyer’s skirts failed miserably. For she had many colorful skirts which she wore at whim; not having a pattern created anticipation and suspense among the last benchers that included Duggu. He started a racket among the boys on predicting the skirt color. This racket was never exposed; it made a few bucks for the little devil.
Miss Iyer was an outsider; her family was in the south. She rented an apartment near the temple. Many things changed after Miss Iyer joined our school. For one: Ragav sir, the history teacher, started his idle rounds outside our class during the English period. Till then, no one had given him any attention. In the past, he never took any interest in what he wore or what he ate. One time a visiting inspector had demanded tea, thinking him being a peon. This incident——which embarrassed the whole teaching staff——had no effect whatsoever on him. Like Iyer, he too was an outsider and rented a one-room apartment near the market place. But for Miss Iyer, he would have led a lonely predictable life.
A sudden change had come over him recently. He started wearing bright shirts that made him look like one of those colorful sex-dancing birds of Discovery channel. His ancient motorcycle——which many thought was of mud color——had bathed to reveal its jet black color. Earlier, like a defeated mongrel, it used to make a quiet entry to the school premises; nowadays, it roared like a lion, demanding respect, while announcing its arrival.
On the other hand, unknowingly, Miss Iyer made Duggu rich. The Guessing-the-skirt-color scam had flourished. The only person to be adversely affected by this gambling venture was Patel’s son. He bet heavily on losing colors. The heavy-better was from the rich Patel-family. He was the only student who took tuitions from Ragav-sir, in the evenings, after the class. And, the only student whose parents could afford a private luxury car to send their son to the school——the rest were opting for the school bus. Prior to Miss Iyer, during recess, the son was seen in the local ice-cream parlors or sweet shops entertaining his goon friends; but, all this stopped once the betting started, where the unpredictability of the skirt colors cost him dearly.
Duggu’s elder brother Gopu learned about the affair, when he realized that the picture book was missing. It was a fat, bulky book that housed pictures of many current and yester years’ cricketers. Though, Duggu was the rightful owner, many of the pictures were contributed by the elder brother. It had a few rare pictures of 1983 world cup——exotic shots of Kapil in the league match against
The book also had a priceless picture: Gopu along with Rahul Dravid. In the last
summer vacation, Gopu was at uncle’s house in Zimbabwe . There in a mall, accidentally he had met——The Wall. The legendary
player had kindly obliged for a quick picture with the young fan. This precious
picture was pasted on the first page of the picture book that was missing. Bangalore
“It’s my book,” said Duggu casually.
“I know. But where is it?”
Duggu went silent.
“Duggu you know more than half of the pictures are mine. Also, the Dravid picture——”
“I traded it,”
“What trade,” that didn’t make sense. “Traded for what?”
Duggu took a notebook from the bag. From the bindings, he uncovered a safely hidden picture and, quietly handed it to his brother.
“You traded our collection for this one picture; what’s so great…” then he saw the picture; he had to hold his breath. An impolite whistle—— often heard in the cinema halls just after the lights go down—— involuntarily left his lips. “It’s worth it,” he said. “I will trade millions of picture books for this picture.” This approval from the elder brother made Duggu glad.
“My English teacher.”
“Where did you get this?”
“It was on her application form.”
“It was stolen from principal’s office. Romesh stole it.”
“You traded the book with him?”
“This is a serious crime——”
The elder boy became restless. The whole idea fascinated him. “A million such thefts are worth this picture,” he concluded. “Such a beauty. I could fall in love with her instantly. But alas, kind Gopinath has to once again make this sacrifice for his kid-brother. I leave you two lovers in peace, though my heart——” He could not complete the sentence; the emotions choked him. “I wonder…” he smoothed the venerated picture; his finger followed the deep V cut, “I wonder what she is wearing underneath——” before he could complete the sentence something hard hit his temple, something hard and stone-like. The force made him stumble; he collapsed on the floor, unconscious. On hearing the thud, Mother and Grandpa rushed to the boys’ room.
“Oh my god!” Mother saw the elder boy on the floor. The younger one had a paperweight. “What happened?”
Grandfather got a water jug from the kitchen and sprinkled water on the limped boy. Meanwhile Duggu had vanished. Gopu opened the eyes slowly.
“Are you ok?” Mother asked.
“Where is he?” he stared to get up.
“Lie back please. Tell me what happened.”
“The fool has a crush on his English teacher. He could not take a casual comment——”
Mother let a sigh; she looked at Grandpa.
“One crush is allowed per life,” her father said.
“Appa...you are…where is Duggu? Find what is he up to?”
Grandpa went to fetch Duggu.
Gopu was transferred to the bed.
“Your brother is little emotional,” Mother said. “Can I ask you something?”
“No,” the boy had guessed what was coming.
“Please don’t hurt your brother.”
“You always take his side.”
“May be a little. He is younger and not strong like you.”
After her mother passed away, she was the only woman in the house. Different men of the house——Father, Husband, sons——sometimes got on her nerves. The merciless fights between the boys and the eventual pain to settle their arguments tired her. How she had wished for a daughter. How she had fasted and prayed for a girl during the time of Duggu.
Father noticed the dressed-up wound at the breakfast table.
“I fell,” said Gopu.
Mother mouthed a silent Thank You. Father had to rush for the office; so no further questions were asked.
“I have seen the proverbial picture,” said grandpa. “I will kill for such a woman,” said he. Grandma would have stopped him; she had passed away last year. Mother chose to ignore him. She watched the younger son silently. He was lost in his own world, privy to only one other person, if such an option was available,——Miss Iyer.
Meanwhile Duggu’s English scores soared. Suddenly he showed a passion for the English language and literature. Many a times, he was seen with The Catcher in the Rye. His was the second copy in the library. The only other copy was checked-out by Iyer. Duggu didn’t read the book, but had learned the story from Mother, who had read it during her college days, before she met her future husband.
Miss Iyer had noticed the little-lover with the book; but she had decided to ignore him. However, when he relentlessly followed her everywhere like a constant shadow, she stopped him one day. “What are you reading?” she asked, although she was well aware of the book.
The devotee handed the venerable book to the goddess. She fondly held the book; for, being her favorite book, she had read it a few times.
“You should read it,” he said.
“I have,” she replied.
“We have the same taste,” he said adoringly.
“So it seems.” Smart little devil, she thought. “You are a bit young for this book.”
“I love it,” he said.
She thought the word Love was stressed, or may be it was her imagination.
On the other hand, Ragav-sir’s shirts had turned brighter and brighter. His hair too endured many experiments. In the latest experiment, the front hair covered the right eye completely, making it dysfunctional. He left open the shirts’ top button to reveal the thick shining gold-plaited chain. Thus he looked like a man in the film poster than a social-studies teacher.
In the past, he had made desperate efforts to talk to Miss Iyer; she had responded with monosyllables. It was difficult to corner her, since Duggu followed Miss Iyer like a pest.
Eventually, one fine day, Ragav-sir found her alone at the bus-stop. He stopped the motorcycle at the edge of the gutter, precariously.
“I am going towards your home,” he offered a ride.
“I am not going home,” she replied.
“Which way you are going?”
“Opposite your way!”
At this point, a sudden laughter was heard. Duggu was hiding behind the wall. He could not control himself at the smart replies. The sudden awareness that he has an audience confused Ragav-sir, who lost the balance and, the metal-horse slipped flat in the gutter. Miss Iyer bit her lower lip coyly. The gutter was shallow; there was not much water running in it. The motorcycle was retrieved from the gutter effortlessly.
The next day a mysterious rose appeared on Miss Iyer’s table. It had a small yellow post-it note attached to it: “You did the right thing!” By now, Miss Iyer had corrected enough home work tasks; she recognized Duggu’s writing immediately.
In the Social-Studies class, Ragav-sir looked calm and composed. Yesterday’s event didn’t have any effect on him. This didn’t surprised Duggu. After all, the much shameful inspector-tea incident had no affect on him either. Gentle Ragav-sir was beyond such trivial inconveniences. He was known for impositions. Whenever a student failed to answer his questions, the offender was required to write the correct answer 100 times. This punishment had caused a high-alert among the boys. The imposition days were sad days; for in those days, after the school cricket games were not possible; since the play time was needed for writing the impositions.
Today was a great day. Sir had not asked any questions. But just five minutes before the bell, Ragav-sir started asking the capitals of the countries, randomly. Duggu lowered his head behind the boy on the front bench. The countries asked were simple:
Bangladesh, and . The
answers were easy. America
Then Duggu’s name was called. He reluctantly stood up.
“What’s the capital of
Duggu not only didn’t know the capital but also he had never heard of such a country.
“How sad,” said Ragav-sir, “you are the only one for imposition today. Find out the capital and write it 100 times.” Only then, Duggu realized that the yesterday’s event was not forgotten.
In the evening, Ragav-sir’s motorcycle, roared and stopped only after a few feet. The front tire was completely flat. Only a week ago he had serviced the damned thing. When contemplating the next move, he noticed a small yellow paper pasted on the mud-guard. There were only two words written on it:
These abracadabra type rhyming words confused Ragav-sir, who had never come
across such magical words. Addis Ababa
At that time he saw Kamlesh-sir, science teacher, coming towards him on his scooter. Kamlesh-sir conducted the yearly quiz competitions for the boys.
“Sir…Sir…,” Ragav-sir stopped the colleague.
“Do these words make any sense to you?” he showed the note.
Kamlesh-sir, removed the glasses from the upper pocket. He gave the keen look of a private-detective to the note in hand. “Adeees abba babba!” he said. Then the light-bulb glowed, brightly. “Why, this is
Capital of Addis Ababa !” Ethiopia
Hearing the words temper suddenly shot to the head. “Thank you sir,” he said, “Thank you very much,” his whole body started shivering.
Miss Iyer had taken a couple of days off. Even Duggu didn’t know her whereabouts. In her absence an emergency meeting was called by Rashmi teacher. There was general opposition to Iyer’s way of teaching methods and her unorthodox sense of dressing. A compliant was supposed to be lodged to the principal.
But a surprise was waiting for them. Ragav-sir took Miss Iyer’s side and fiercely fought the battle to save the victim. He cited the example of 9th class boys, whose grades had made a substantial improvement. One of Iyer’s students from 8th grade had won an interschool elocution competition. This was the sole achievement of the school in the past few years.
Peon Luka, who had gone to the meeting room with tea and biscuits for the teachers, was privy to some of these altercations. The peon had a soft corner for Miss Iyer because she never send him on coffee errands; where as Rashmi-teacher would demand coffee every time Luka was in her proximity; Luka could never make a coffee that would satisfy Rashmi-teacher. She would always find some shortcoming with the drink. Miss Iyer made her own coffee. Luka heard most of the arguments in his deliberately delayed tea serving. He reported his findings to Miss Iyer on her return; this inside information was offered freely to her. However, it was not free for Duggu, who had to pay for the classified information.
The next day, Miss Iyer was seen on the motorcycle. She was glued to Ragav-sir, her savior, in a precarious uncomfortable position, though there was ample space for one more person. The motorcycle made a couple of idle rounds in front of Rashmi-teacher’s house. Duggu was in the garden, picking flowers for the puja, when the motorcycle stopped at a distance from the gate. Only Ragav-sir approached the gate; Miss Iyer preferred to stay back.
The two rivals, for Miss Iyer’s affection, stared each other murderously, like the stray cats on the wall. Ragav-sir smirked at the looser. “Who’s laughing now?” he said.
Duggu was not listening. He was looking at Miss Iyer who stood next to the motorcycle. A breeze had started. In one hand she tried to manage her skirt, in the other she was brushing off her long unruly hair. Ragav- sir had gifted her a pair of sunglasses, which she was wearing at the time, hence, Duggu could not confirm if she was looking at him or somewhere at a distant point beyond him. In that moment she looked like a goddess out of this world. Though he didn’t realize at that time, this picture of Miss Iyer standing next to the motorcycle, desperately trying to hold the skirt and managing the unruly hair would haunt him for years to come. Ragav-sir was saying something: “Why don’t you stop-by at the library today, exactly at 5pm? I have a surprise for you.” He backed away, not waiting for Duggu’s reply.
In moments the motorcycle darted away, vanished beyond the horizon. That day, the new lovers were seen in many places in the near by Mangalore city. Duggu would get the updates from various resources for months. Some were facts, some not.
Only a day back, they were literally strangers. But today they were in love, inseparable till death. Crazy love.
Duggu reached the library on time. Being Saturday, the school premise was empty. But the library door was not locked. He quietly made an entry. There were racks and racks of books. A noise started at the far end, near the Classic section. Duggu had gone to that section only once, to fetch The Catcher in the
Miss Iyer was against the wall; her eyes were closed in ecstasy. Ragav-sir was on her passionately kissing her neck. Her one hand firmly clutched the window railing; the other tightly secured his back. The hand holding the railing was shivering in uncontrollable pleasure. Her lower lips, bitten, were at the verge of bursting.
Duggu had seen enough; while making a turn his hand accidentally hit a stack of books. They hit the ground with a loud noise. Duggu didn’t stay back to collect the books. The lovers parted in a hurry.
“Duggu,” Miss Iyer’s desperate plea was ignored. He darted out.
Sometime after the dinner the phone rang. “Duggu call for you,” Mother announced. Duggu waited for Mother to disappear into the kitchen.
“Hello,” he said.
“How are you?” It was Ragav-sir. “I will come to the point right away. I hope you haven’t told anyone about today’s incident; I don’t care myself. But Iyer will lose her job, if wrong people hear about it. You know, she is only a temporary staff. You won’t do that to your favorite teacher. Would you? Anyway, it’s your call.” When Duggu didn’t respond, a loud laugh was heard from the other side. “
! I didn’t know that. Thank you.” The line got
The next day Miss Iyer found a small pink note on her desk in the staff room. It had a single line: “YOUR SEACREAT IS SAFE WITH ME!!! –D.” A small red colored heart circled the letter D.
In the class Miss Iyer was calm and composed. If she was disturbed, it was not visible. But Duggu was not to be fooled this time; he was bitten once by this calmness in the social-studies class, not so long ago. How smoothly grown ups fake their feelings, wondered Duggu.
As usual, she started asking the spelling of a few long words. She asked Rajesh the class topper: “How do you spell secret?”
“S-E-C-R-E-T” said the boy, effortlessly.
“Are your sure it is not, S-E-A-C-R-E-A-T?”
The boy said something. Duggu threw a sharp glance at Miss Iyer. She ignored him and continued her questions.
The last benchers were asked to spell Shakespeare. A variety and creative spellings were put forward. Then came Duggu’s turn.
“S-E-X-p-e-e-r,” he said stressing the first 3 letters.
The class started a loud cheer. Bench thumping and chaos ensued. She clutched his arm tightly; her nails made an impression; he didn’t flinch. She knew it was a deliberate answer, suggesting peer sex!
“Meet me after the class,” she said.
Hers was the last class of the day. After the class, Duggu went to the staff room. “Wait outside, I will call you,” she seemed busy with paperwork. Duggu was made to wait for an hour; He didn’t go inside to remind her. She didn’t look like any anxious to meet him. By this time everybody had left. Eventually, she called him inside.
She handed the pink slip to Duggu. He saw the slip. The word SEACREAT was circled in red correction pen. The three exclamation marks were circled too. Besides that she had written in neat hand writing: redundant, one exclamation mark is enough.
“If you don’t use the language properly the message loses its essence. It becomes a thing for ridicule.”
The fact that she concentrated on his writing skills than thanking him for keeping the secret pained him.
“He’s not a good man,” said Duggu.
“I didn’t ask you,” she snapped. Her voice quivered a little. “I don’t want your opinion of others. And, I don’t like your secret notes. You are my student and I am your teacher. We don’t have any other relation. I don’t need to explain my actions to you.”
He held his breath, terrified. He had never seen her angry or upset. An involuntary droplet, escaped from the left eye, stole down the cheek.
She realized she was rude. “Come here,” she said. When he hesitated, she pulled him close, and kissed tightly on his lips. With the same dexterity she stopped his forwarding hand. “Don’t get any ideas,” she said, “I am just being kind to you.”
The next day Duggu was hospitalized. He had not slept the whole night. In the morning he had a temperature.
“I told you not to eat ice-creams,” said Mother.
“This doesn’t look like ice-cream fever,” said Grandpa.
Duggu gave him a murderous look.
Someone knocked the door somewhere in the evening. Duggu was alone on the bed. The knock broke his nap. It was Patel’s son. He placed a small envelope on the patient’s chest. Duggu opened the envelope. Inside there was a single picture of a happy family. The man was clearly Ragav-sir. Duggu didn’t recognize the woman and the child. It was an old picture.
“Ragav-sir with wife and son,” said the visitor. “He’s already married.”
“Where did you find this?” It was a shocking discovery.
“In his apartment. During tuition he went out for a smoke. I was casually exploring his books——”
“Why do you think the woman is his wife?”
“Check the kid. Doesn’t it has a resemblance to Father? He’s a family in his native place. Don’t ask irrelevant questions. Just give it to Iyer. I bet she won’t ask any proof.”
“Thanks,” said Duggu.
“The picture is not free. It has a price.”
A thin smile came on Patel’s son’s face: “Whatever I lost in betting.”
Miss Iyyer found the picture on her desk the next day. After that she was absent from school. She came after a week. Some of the gossips had already started. Luka had voluntarily taken coffee for her, which she accepted. On seeing Luka, Rashmi teacher asked for a refill. Next day Miss Iyer met Duggu in the canteen. Her eyes were red and hair disheveled. Duggu noticed that she was wearing the same clothes, which she wore the previous day. “You were right after all,” she said, “He is not a good man.” She didn’t wait for the reply. Duggu didn’t stop her.
When Duggu saw Gopu outside his class, he sensed something was wrong. His brother won’t come unless it’s an emergency.
“I think she is leaving,” Gopu said. “I saw her at the station.”
Duggu was about to sprint to the station, when Gopu stopped him.
“I have an auto standing at the gate,” said Gopu.
At the station, before the auto could stop, Duggu jumped out and ran inside. He saw her sitting on the bench. She had a large travel bag next to her. She saw Duggu approaching in blurry eyes.
Inbound train’s whistle was heard at a distance.
“Will you wait for me?”
“You are just a boy,” she said.
“Please. Will you?”
She sensed the innocence; but she was not in the right mood, things were terribly wrong in her life. A dose of reality won’t harm the boy, she thought.
“No,” she said.
“I am done with this rotten place and stupid people here. Just go home!” she shouted.
That broke his heart. She was indifferent to him. If she chooses to hurt him, he too will do that to her.
The train arrived at the platform. A commotion of passengers and coolies ensued. But she heard his next words very clearly.
“You are just a prostitute,” he said.
She neared him as if in a dream and, slapped him with such a force, she had to hold the near by post for balance. Her hand started paining.
“You are a mean little brute,” she said, “You don’t know how to talk to a woman. I wish I won’t see you again in the rest of my life, ever!”
She dragged the heavy travel bag with much inconvenience. Duggu saw her with blurred eyes. She never turned back. A honk was heard. The departing train left a void in him.
Epilogue: Many years later
Gopu married a few years back; he has twin girls. The raising number of women in the household has finally made Mother happy.
In the later years, Patel’s son didn’t gamble. From his youth time ventures, he realized gambling was not his forte. He joined the family business. He runs a rice mill.
Ragav-sir had taken a transfer, long back, shortly after Iyer’s departure.
As Miss Iyer wished, she and Duggu never met. Their paths never crossed. No one knows her whereabouts.
Years ago Grandpa had fondly called the grandson Guddu; but, the grandson mispronounced it to Duggu. The name stuck to him. A few years ago, on a summer morning, Grandpa quietly departed this world in his sleep. His words——‘one crush is allowed per life’——have kind of sealed Duggu’s fate. Duggu never had a second crush. Though, a few women came in his life, they were always compared to Miss Iyyer and, found ordinary.
Often, the picture of Miss Iyer standing against the motorcycle, brushing the hair in one hand, while managing her skirt in another, comes to his mind. He knows he would take this memory to the grave.
Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more.
For many days, after completing this story, I could not write at all. I feared I won’t be able to write like this one.
During my school days, in the quiz competitions, the capital of
was asked more than once. My team-mate answered all the time correctly. Years later
he also edited this story. Ethiopia
I also had a lecturer who was known for impositions. We were to write 1000 times every incorrect answer. I have reduced it to 100 times in the story, to make it believable.
I have a friend whose son’s name is Duggu. The kid was pet-named Guddu, which he mispronounces to Duggu.
The sentence, “Don’t get any ideas, I am just being kind to you.”, came to me first. Later, I wove the story around it.
The Catcher in the
is my top 10 all time favorite book. Rye
Who’s Miss Iyyer? Many have asked. Well…I’ll leave that to you.