Father's memoirs: Excerpts - II
The difficulties in the household did not affect my school life much. I was very involved in the curricular and extra curricular activities of the school. Our school faced all the disadvantages that an average government school in the Malabar area faced in those days. Very few native teachers. A majority of the teachers were from Travancore, a few from Telechery too. A lot of posts remained unfilled at any given point. Those who were already there got frequent transfers. In most of the classes, most of the subjects were taught by a combination of teachers. In my tenth class, three or four teachers shared the English syllabus. A natural corollary was that no one seemed to feel responsible to the class. Obviously, we, the students, suffered. For instance, no teacher told us about the model of the final exam paper. The Math paper had three parts: (a) arithmetic, (b) algebra, and (c) geometry. First part had questions for 50 marks, and the second and the third parts had questions worth 40 each. I found all the questions easy, and started answering from the first question itself. Time was up by the time I finished for 110 marks, and I got 90/100. One was supposed to try for 40+30+30=100. This wouldn't have happened if there was some idea about the model beforehand.
I passed with first class and first rank, but I felt bad as I lost 10 marks in the Math paper. Though I liked all the subjects, Maths was my most favourite subject.
I was sort of a mischievous student; used to take initiative in nicknaming teachers and in mimicking them. There was also a visible tinge of arrogance that I was the smartest in the school. A couple of times I had been advised about this. Once the advice was indirect and bordered on the cruel.
I was in the ninth or the tenth then. K. Balarama Panikkar's Raghurajacharitam was one of our texts. Rama is going to abandon Sita. He orders Lakshmana to throw Sita off in the forest. Sita, pregnant, misunderstands that she is being taken to the forest to get her wishes carried out. The poet says that Sita does not recognise that her husband has discarded the kalpadrubhava and has taken the asipatravrikshabhava. Here the teacher translated asipatravriksha as strychnine.
I got up and said: "asipatra is the name of a hell. Kalpadru is a tree in the heaven, and asipatravriksha refers to a tree in a hell."
He immediately understood that I was right. But he started trying to make fun of me whenever he got a chance, cooking up a chance otherwise. The next chapter contained the word pitakkal (literally "fathers").
"What does that mean? Tell me you all-knowing" -- he asked me.
Though I noticed the scorn, I answered correctly: "parents".
"What's pita then?"
"Shouldn't pitakkal mean 'fathers' in that case? How many fathers do you have?"
He knew very well that my father had died. I burst into tears. Even after this incident he used to address me 'all-knowing' contemptuously for quite some time. I too realised that correcting the teacher openly in a packed class wasn't exactly the right thing to do.