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The Golgappa Diaries... School and Wendy Hamshire

Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.

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THE GOLGAPPA DIARIES....MEETING WENDY IN THE TOILET

One day, my father picked me up and ran his strong fingers through my curly mop and said. “Time we got your little brain working in the right direction.” What was he talking about? I was already earning my keep at my grandmother’s farm...she had also said if I worked hard I would one day inherit the farm...she had also said that my brother was a oaf, who couldn’t add two plus two, hence a donkey could never run a farm, I wondered what my father meant by the word ‘direction’ and the one that I was supposed to take. As far as I was concerned, I had already found my calling. I was already earning my livelihood and was economically independent.

I was my grandmother’s eye-pie and I belonged to the farm. She very reluctantly, let go off me.

“She is just about two, we can wait another year or so,” she had wailed out.

“She is just a baby, why the hurry?” She tried to reason again and again.

“She is four years old,” my father said accusingly. As if being four was a crime.

“So what?” my grandmother had tried to bring fake tears into her eyes.

“She no longer is a baby...riding buffaloes and milking cows will not help her, she needs to go to a school,” My father had said.

“She is leading a primitive life here,” he growled trying to intimidate my grandmother.

“How can you say such things? We do have electricity and proper toilets,” my grandmother shouted back. They crossed swords-of-words, while I mulled in my mind about my future and how they would help to grow my brain in that place called school. A few days later I mentioned about going to school to my friends at the farm. Manju looked positively petrified. “I ran away from school, I couldn’t take the caning.” The rest had nothing much to say except some left it because the teacher was a devil or that they couldn’t understand anything of that place. I did not know what was a school? But I wanted to go to one. Little did I know what I was getting myself into? What terrible woes were to visit upon me?

School days...

My memories of school days are a play of waves that are highly volatile and unpredictable. I remember every intricate web of it in my heart. Snatched from the soft and loving cradle of my grandmother’s lap, I was suddenly thrown into an alien world; not at all easy for a small child...at least, it was not for me. I felt so tiny and helpless in that big world of blue and white. Blue was the colour of our uniform and white was that of the Nuns and the Sisters. As for me, I was seeing a nun for the first time in my life. Their stiff expressions and starched uniforms looked all so strange to me. I would often ask my friends, what was being a nun all about? Life in the village with Barnacles to ride upon and the leech infested river to swim in was home but here in this strange land called ‘school’, I was totally lost...if only I could bring Barnacles with me...then the nuns would get a free ride and that would have really smoothened out things for me.

I remember my first day at school. I wouldn’t let go of my father’s hand...a grey-eyed woman in white, took me aside and walked me into this big classroom full of children...sitting quietly in straight rows. The teacher had taken an instant liking to my helpless condition. She had brought her pinched-up lips close to mine, “I like good children children, I hope you understand that.” Well I did not...she was speaking in a strange tongue; hence I just gave a nod. Then she patted my curly head, I was feeling pretty insecure, just like a refugee in a strange land. I could feel my eyes filling up with tears, I felt vulnerable. My father stood outside the class for some time...and all that time, Miss Highsen Muller (my new class teacher) was like powdered sugar upon honey buns. School would be fun, I was just about thinking when unexpectedly; Miss Highsen Muller turned up her volume and screamed out, “Keep quiet!”

She had shaken everyone up and she scared the hell out of me, I felt real fear. I was so afraid that I let go a long and loud fart (fear makes us do many things). The girls sitting behind me had immediately reacted with hankies pressed to their nose. The one sitting next to glared at me over her pristine white handkerchief and made muffled sounds of great disapproval. During all this I remained silent and motionless, like a mouse in a trap. The girls sitting behind me were really brave; the smell was awful and brought tears to their eyes. “What did I tell you all about behaviour control?” Miss Highsen Muller looked straight at me.

One girl sitting ahead of me raised her hand. Then getting a nod from the teacher she stood up and said, “We should either be silent about it or control it.” That girl was Mohua. She was the sweetest girl that I have ever befriended.

“Good girl,” said Miss Highsen Muller, still looking at me accusingly. What was the teacher talking about? I have always let go whenever I pleased. Barnacles never even noticed and my grandmother would have just sniffed and looked away. ‘Anyway every school had rules and they were to be followed, I had no problem with that but passing gas was a part of the system and no human being was above the system,’ here I quote a short little man with moustache; he was called Ad-off or Adolf. I am not very sure...

“How was your first day at school?” everyone wanted to know when I reached back home. I acted tired and wiped away imaginary drops of sweat from my brows.

“You have worked hard on your first day,” my father sounded happy.

“They all speak in a foreign tongue,” I said sadly.

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“I could not understand most of what the teacher said,” I made a face.

“Though, I understood that the girls call her bumble bee or blackie and sometimes butt- faced,” I beamed with pride.

“The teacher is called all that?” My father raised his eyes heavenwards.

Who else is nice other than us?” asked my grandmother throwing a sarcastic glance towards my father.

“You shall be respectful towards your teacher.” Of course I am.

“I learnt the rules of the school.” I changed the topic.

Good.”

“She is already learning,” gushed my grandmother.

“What did you learn?” my father asked eagerly.

Beaming with pride I replied, “Certain rules like, always pass gas silently in the classroom, for others get disturbed by it.”

My brother has always been vociferous like the kookaburra and choosing this occasion to show off his knowledge, he discussed the different kinds of gas that was passed by human beings and animal alike. He crooked his arm and produced different kinds of sounds. All were listening to him attentively until he came to the point where he pursed his lips and produced a low whoosh sound. He explained that the silent one was called phoosika, like nuclear bombs they are silent yet deadly...and that our dad was specialized to produce these when he had a bit too much of black beans for dinner. My brother had just about said that, when my father moved with lightning speed. The slap was firm and landed with a sharp crack. I quickly moved to a safe spot behind the fridge. A thought had become firm in my mind that I had to learn how to do these phoosikas, which would keep me safe from Blackie’s grasp.

For my own safety, I had suggested that my father should stand outside my class every day. I had wanted him to come in uniform with his service revolver in his holster. That would surely keep Miss Highsen Muller in her place.

“You are just like your mother,” he had glared at me. Things went from bad to worse...when after a week there was no improvement in my status quo. I decided to do a more calm and calculated reckoning of my situation and hatch a plan to survive this ordeal. I soon made friends in higher places who informed me about everything that went on in that place...called classroom. I suddenly realised that I had reached the underbelly of hell.

“We have to study here for ten years before we are free,” said one of the girls whom everyone called Mabel Culpeper.

“What about her?” I pointed at Miss Highsen Muller who seemed to be sleeping at her desk with her eyes open.

“She is from Nigeria,” whispered the girl with bucktooth.

“She isn’t,” said another.

“She is black,” said the girl sitting in front of me. What was black? I had no idea then. Miss Highsen Muller often wore saris and tied her hair in a long oily plait, which often sported a few red-white flowers. She reeked of coconut oil and her buttocks seemed to have a mind of their own. They shook vigorously like jello whenever, she would make any kind of movements...or walk around the class, the girls would cringe and freeze. But novices and newbie’s like me who had no idea about the pros and cons of Blackie’s classroom, learnt the hard way. This one time on my third day in school, those huge buttocks of hers brushed heavily against my face. I cried out in fear and shame. While the girls giggled, Miss Highsen Muller looked at me and asked casually “what happened dear?” I sat gasping for breath while the girls threw me these long sympathetic looks in my direction.

The girls in the class were bigger, smarter and cunning. I could hardly write, leave alone understand the strange gibberish language that they were using. I was in serious trouble...I expressed my fears back home. My father brushed it aside saying, “I was learning the ways of the civilized world.” Civilized I may hesitantly say because for me the civilized world was a strange place and I was totally unprepared for it, everyday at school my school work depended on sign language and eye expressions. Often I would try to do lip reading like the deaf and the mute...for me thus it was survival in the jungle and escaping the claws of Blackie. I lived each day and survived each day...by tooth and nail...so close was my escape. Finding one small mistake she would she me the door.

One afternoon, in the teacher’s toilet...

“You are not supposed to be here,” someone hissed out from behind a closed cubicle. Then I heard a loud fart. I smiled and I thought to myself...wow that was neat. I waited patiently; the cubicle door opened and a fuzzy-blonde head brushed passed me.

“Why am I not supposed to be here?” I asked looking straight into her deep-blue eyes.

“Meant for the teachers, I am Wendy Hampshire hence I can pee in here.”

I had no idea that this was meant for the teachers...no wonder the place was so clean, drawing courage, “I too can,” I said boldly.

She looked sharply at me. “Why?” she asked.

“I am an Anglo,” I said confidant with the thought that I looked white enough. Her eyes pierced my soul.

“You are a bit too white for the half-breeds,” was I really a half-breed? What was that? (Now I know better)

I tried to butter her up a wee bit, “That sound you made in there, sounded like the reeds of a banjo.”

“That’s called a fart, silly!” she threw me a smile...I knew I had landed myself a friend for life.

I knew it as passing gas or wind, this ‘fart’ was a new word that Wendy had taught me, back home I was going to share this new found knowledge with my grandmother.

“I will teach you...how to fart?” Wendy took my hand in hers and we both walked out like paired penguins, while the Hindi teacher looked at us with surprise that changed into acceptance when it fell upon Wendy. I patted myself mentally; I had indeed landed a powerful friend.

The kindness that Wendy bestowed upon me, from then on changed my life in school. She taught me new ways...her ways. She taught me how to pee without sitting down on the toilet seat and fart like a siren, driving the girls in the class insane.

We were inseparable. “Why shouldn’t I sit down on the toilet seat? A half-lungi squat is painful,” my legs were shaking the first time I tried it out.

You want to get fungi scab...tetanus...diarrhoea...meningitis...or whooping cough?” I looked at her with wondrous eyes that resembled two big saucers. She knew such difficult and tongue twisting words...I was like that Indian who had seen a white man for the first time. To be honest Wendy was the first true white girl that I had laid my eyes on, though there was one other white person in our village...my grandmother used to say that old Budhia had a skin condition. Wendy’s eyes were steady unlike Budhia’s and she had fine blonde hair that was tied neatly into a pony. Thus a friendship was forged between the white guru and the village idiot. It lasted many, many years, until Wendy moved back to Australia. Wendy was like a rabid dog, snappy and bitter when crossed, girls in the class maintained a healthy distance from her shadow.

She took a liking to me and under her tutelage; I learnt the gibberish language they called English. Like a mother hen, she would patiently put me through the tongue-twisting words. It was she, who made me pay attention to the small details of life. For example...how to spot lice infested heads...and spot boogers stuck under the desks. “Be careful there is gum in that corner,” she would caution. Her eyes were sharp like telescopes.

“It’s a jungle out there, see and learn girl.”

Some days, she would just screech out, “Be careful! Check the seats!” After getting my skirt wet for the third time in a row, I learnt to avoid sitting behind the Bakarwal sisters. They had the tendency to pee in their sleep. Wendy often mentioned casually, that in her bush country, those two would have been lynched. What did it feel like to be lynched...nothing pleasant, I was sure. Wendy was just like me...a bush baby.

Miss Highsen Muller on certain rare occasions would wear frocks that were pretty short. She preferred bright and bold prints. I was pretty sure that she stitched them herself, for often I would spot these stray strands-of-thread, hanging from the hemlines. “Never tell that to her, she will chop your balls off.” Wendy cautioned. I swore I never would.

I do not have balls...do I?” I nervously asked Wendy.

“Of course you don’t silly.” I heaved a sigh of relief...balls and Barnacles suited each other. On teacher’s day, Miss Highsen Muller burst into the class carrying a large box. She was chirpy and looked bright in black and white stripes. Everyone appreciated her sense of style. I too expressed my appreciation very loudly. She was my only teacher and my concerns were genuine, ‘What would happen if a lion would see her?’ This thought was extremely disturbing. After all I owed this much to her. Mrs Muller was excited and chirped like a canary, as she opened the raffle box. Each one of us had bought a ticket for a rupee and we were just waiting to win. The nuns were kind and each girl got a gift. I got a doll but the tall Sikh girl of our class Bulli Singh cried on seeing her raffle. Her tears had somehow got me motivated to exchange my doll for her plastic tiffin box. A cheap doll made neither difference to my life nor a dent to my feelings but Wendy was fiercely hurt. She had this strong feeling that I had been robbed by Bulli Singh and her side kicks. The doll was back in my hand and not very soon after, Bulli Singh caught the next flight to London. It seemed that her father had sold off his lone truck to move there. I tried to push the headless doll into her hands but she gracefully refused and moved on to brighter shores while I remained in class-3 with Mrs Highsen Muller in the small little quaint township.

While Mrs Muller was busy giving us the raffle gifts and strutting around the class like an egg-laying hen to the beat of I rock you baby Christmas rock being played by the school band. I voiced my concern to some of the girls in the class, it worried them too. Soon this worry spread like jungle fire. The parrot of our class, Parul Saha was extremely helpful by nature and she like a Good Samaritan voiced the whole concerns to Miss Highsen Muller. No one was aware of the danger until we all heard her loud angry hiss. Once my grandmother had shot a rattlesnake on our farm and I remember the hissing and rattling. As she snorted out in anger and pranced around with a cane in hand, the whole class froze in fear. The whole lot of us got punished.

The girls discussed and in that rapid fire round, my name cropped up many times in the list of who’s had dunnit? As everyone looked at me; I glared at Parul Saha, she on the other hand tucked her teeth in and maintained a nun-like cameo.

“I will kill you...you are a loud mouthed stupid cow,” Wendy shouted at me. She hated being punished; her father having served in the Salvation Army; she knew her rights and informed Miss Highsen Muller about it. That was a big mistake...she got the specials...she had to write five hundred times, ‘I am sorry Miss Highsen Muller for calling you a big fat Zebra.

As for me I did grind my teeth to the bone...wish Barnacles was here his horns would have done the job for me, Mrs Highsen Muller would then realise what it felt like to be a big fat zebra chased by the big horns.

As for Parul Saha and her large teeth, that stuck out of her mouth at all occasions were to be avoided like flea in a mattress, for the next 9 school years(*# hastag important)...Wendy made me write these in my diary a thousand times.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 sudha madhuri dash

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