His habit of eating eraser in class was a cry for help. It had taken Deborah months of work with the school counsellor to trace it back and resolve somewhat. Her heart sank at the thought of the nine year old out in the cold again; the school session was ending and he was graduating to a new and an unfamiliar teacher. She knew from experience that no amount of inter-class briefing could transfer the affectionate trust a teacher builds over time with a student.
An avid horsewoman, Debbie began her day with an invigorating ride astride ‘Touchwood’ her favourite horse in the school stables. And it was on these windy gallops that her students came to mind, challenging her to think of ways to help them best. She stood in the stirrups now, reining the horse in as the chestnut took the tree stump smoothly. The Ooty downs were poignant in their sleety silhouette at daybreak, her usual riding hour in the countryside. “Yash Gautam needed to open his heart to trust again; he needed a fresh line of communication” she followed the little child in her train of thought, guiding her horse over slippery slopes.
The Ooty Hunt Club was out at this hour, a moist earth having swallowed the sound of some eighty pairs of hooves. Debbie steered away from the Master of the Hunt, her gloved hands chafing at the straining reins and eyes stinging with images and the strong wind. There was Yash wringing his hands during assessment debriefs, “Papa talks to me only if I get A2 and above.” She lowered herself gently back into the saddle, rueful at the memory of him bouncing back from free play in the school grounds, “I am happy alone. Nobody likes me! I don’t like the games my friends play.”
Deborah had been proactive during the recent parent session. Her exchange with Yash’s parents nagged at her memory now. “I can’t help with his school work, no way. There is no time. And we cannot afford a maid. Yash sweeps, swabs, helps with the baby and massages my legs when I am tired,” his mother had disclosed in a soft voice. There had also been a mention of the father who equated parenting with a ‘no TV and three hour daily study’ rule.
Yash clearly needed help far beyond her own capacity as a busy teacher and coordinator. Who could heal and teach Yash respect, forgiveness, confidence, fair play? The child needed unconditional acceptance and the opportunity to lead. Debi slowed down as the stables came into view. Touchwood’s appreciative neigh at the thought perhaps of the customary carrot and jaggery treat brought a smile to the teacher’s pensive face. She patted the horse’s neck gently before dismounting with a strong toss of her dark hair at the stables driveway. She led her horse into the stall, gazing into his unafraid brown eyes and marvelling at his proud carriage. Her mind was made up!
Bright and early on the Investiture Day, it was an impatient wait for the Gautams. Barely giving them time to settle into their chairs, she resolutely pushed the Indemnity Bond made mandatory by the Horse Riding Club towards the father along with Yash’s scholar badge, “Sign this! I just found your son a lifelong role model and a teacher!”