Short Story: The Math Teacher
I was always afraid of the math teacher like most of my peers and seniors. They would generally avoid standing near or in front of him, even by mistake, as everybody knew about his fury.
Whenever he was angry, the math teacher would hold our hair and pull with all his force. We would be left reeling with extreme pain at the scalp. Then, he would rain his hard slaps on our soft cheeks and leave us stunned in the middle of the stars that would disappear after a while. Sometimes, he would land his stony hard fist on our juvenile backbone so hard that we would forget to breath for a minute or two due to extreme pain. He would even kick us like a football if he were extremely angry. He was not a human but an ugly ogre for us.
In those days, physical punishment to a student by a teacher was not a sensitive issue. The parents did not blame on teachers for their children’s injury or wound due to punishment. Therefore, our teachers had invented varioustechniques for physical punishment. Every teacher had his signature technique of punishment. Pricking at wrists and arms, beating mercilessly with cane, forcing a student to sit under the teacherchair in a cr
ouched position like a fowl for the whole period, and ordering to hang on the window iron bars and thrashing on calves and backwith slick bamboo stick were some of the most popular techniques. One or two teachers even massaged at our backs for a minute or two before landing their Thor’s hammer with ‘BOOM’ on our fragile back. The whole class would startle with the sound. The girls were usually lucky because they would be just massaged on their backs and left. Sometimes, the teachers would just pinch their cheeks or arms.
This particular teacher was notorious among the students for his unique style of punishment. He always carried a duster in his hand, and threw it at the students with all his manly force. It looked as if he was trying to kill a dove with a stone at the moment. Many a time, he had missed his target and hit the wrong student. However, he would not say ‘sorry’ to anyone. In fact, he didn’t need.
Some senior brothers used to tell us more horrific story about him. Before the great political change in 2046 B.S., he used to enter the classroom with a tokmaa (a wooden stick with a small horizontal stand on one tip so that the porters from the hills could take rest a while on the way without removing their load in a big bamboo basket from their back) in his hands along with a duster and some chalk-sticks. Whenever he got irritated with the noise in class, he would throw his tokmaatowards the corner where the students would be talking. Therefore, all the students of the corner would hustle to take shelter under the desks and benches as soon as they traced even a single line of anger in his face. ‘Fist of Fury’ was the nickname they had given to him.
In fact, he taught us not only mathematics but also English, Pre-Vocational Education, and Physical Education. Besides, he was always the coordinator of Sports events in our school. He was a ‘jack of all trades’ in the true sense. Perhaps, therefore, he had a high value for the school administration.
I was a student of class five that year. The final examination would be district level and most of us were scared of it. If failed in more than two subjects, we would have to repeat the class. There used to be two exams: saanojaanch(small exam) and thulojaanch(big exam). The small (or half-yearly) exam would be of 40 marks and the big (final) exam would be of 60 marks.
I was not good at mathematics. I was almost sure that I would fail in it in the half-yearly exam. Luckily, I got 15 out of 40 and just passed it (12 was the pass marks). Therefore, I thought of taking tuition in mathematics so that I could increase my marks in the annual exam.
My classmates made a group for taking tuition class with ‘The Fist of Fury’ because they hoped he would helpin the final exam. In those days, teachers used to love those students more who would take tuition with him. I also decided to join the group.
It had almost been a week since the class had started when ‘The Fist of Fury’ warned us all to bring the monthly fee by coming Sunday. It was a Friday. He said he would not allow them who would not bring the fee to take more classes.
I came home and informed my mom about his warning. My mom assured me that she would provide me the fee on Sunday morning. However, when the Sunday morning arrived, she said, “Tell your teacher that I will give you the money tomorrow.”
My whole body trembled when I remembered the face of the teacher.
“I am not going without money,” I said to mom sobbing, “I will go to tuition only tomorrow then.”
I was sure that the teacher would be angry with me for not obeying his order.
“Tell him what I said,” my mom said again, “Go to tuition now. I promise I will give you tomorrow.”
I had no option. I went to the tuition class because I did not want to miss that day’s lesson.
The class started, and everybody started doing assignment. Almost in the middle of the class, the teacher suddenly spoke, “Now everyone has to bring me the fee, or go out of the class!”
He said it so loudly that I got shaken from top to bottom. My heart almost jumped out of my mouth. Others rushed towards him with the fee money. There were some, including myself, who did not dare go near him.
Those who had handed him money came back happily to sit on their position on the mat. They continued their assignment. Those who had not brought money started picking up their books and stationery items to leave the class. I was the one who neither gave him the fee money nor picked up my books and copy. In fact, I was so afraid that I could not look at him directly.
“If he asks me, I will tell him what my mom has said.” I told to myself.
“Oye boy, Come here!”
His thundering voice shook me all over. I got up slowly, and spoke softly, “My mom has said she will give the fee tomorrow, sir.”
I still remembervividly that my voice was trembling when I said this to him.
“NO, a big NO,” he hollered furiously, “You GET OUT! RIGHT NOW! Don’t come back. I don’t need your money anymore.”
The monthly fee payers looked at me first, then at each other, and smiled. Then they looked at me pitifully. I had been suddenly a pitiful, meek, and vulnerable poor boy to them.
I picked up my book and copy, and left the place with teary eyes. I don’t remember how I reached home all along the way that day. I was feeling both sorry and pitiful at myself. I wanted to complain to my mom about his behaviour and cry in front of her, but she had already gone out to work at a neighbour’s field to earn my fee money.
The teacher’s misbehaviour hurt me to the core of my heart. I remembered the smiling faces of my peers when he was humiliating me. I promised to myself that I would never forgive the teacher and I would show him in the coming examination. However, I knew it was not so easy. But promise was promise!
I made a routine and started reading mathematics for full one hour every morning from the next day onwards. I would repeat and rerepeat the exercise the teacher taught in the classagain and again until I understood the steps to the solution. I utilized even the free time and Saturdays for the purpose. I would study the example solutions given in the textbook, and copy that step by step in my copy. Gradually, my understanding of the mathematics started improving and became wider every new day.
When the final exam result was in my hands, I had 52 marks in mathematics out of 60. I was very happy that day, and my friends were surprised at my achievement. Some of them thought I might have cheated in the exam, but no one knew about my zeal and zest throughout all those past months. Thus, I learnt a new lesson in my life: “If I work hard with full determination and plan, I will surely get any desired success.” This has been my life-mantra since then.
Nowadays, most of my students laugh when I tell them that they can learn mathematics themselves. Like other subjects, to excel in mathematics is possible without tuition class. You just need perseverance and hard work. We can learn anything with self-study and self-practice.
Many years later when I had passed SLC and started going to college in Kathmandu, I met an elderly man with a hospital green mask over his mouth on the night bus at the New Bus Park. I was looking for my reserved seat in the busto return to my village. The man looked at me, and said something which I could not understand since his voice was muffled behind his mask. I could not recognize him easily.
He did not uncover his mouth, but showed interest in me. Somebody in the bus told me that he was the ‘Fist of Fury’, the mathematics teacher, who had once expelled me from his tuition class just because I could not pay his fee on the day he had demanded, and he was returning home after a long treatment in Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital. I was totally stunned. He had become much lean and thin. He looked so pitifully sick and tired.
I greeted him instantly with ‘namaste’, and talked to him. He asked me some questions about me and my study. I answered them one by one. I don’t know whether he remembered the pastincident or not; if he did, whether he was remorseful to it, or not. Though I hated him all those years, he was the teacher who had opened my eyes and taught me that mathematics is not such a hard subject that cannot be excelled with self-study.
We talked all along the way cheerfully until we arrived home. At least, he was not such a ferocious teacher as I had thought him to be.
After a few months when I was in Kathmandu, I got the message of his decease. I prayed to God for the rest of his soul in peace.
(Parshu Shrestha (1981) lives in Itahari, teaches English, and writes stories.)