The second week at institute is an awkward week, I’ve realized. It’s that time when you’re neither a beginner, nor a pro, you’re neither here nor there and small things can throw you off balance, that week.
And as luck would have it, 2 things happened to me that week that did throw me completely off balance.
The first was during inequity day, when a kid named Arshad walked up to me with a question he had.
Inequity day was a day at institute, when the staff and fellows were divided into 3 income groups – low, high and middle, in the exact proportion that they are divided in the country. And for that one day, you had to live the life of a person in that income group.
So as part of the low-income group, for that day, I couldn’t use a laptop or my phone, I had to take bath in half a bucket of cold water and sleep on the floor at night. I got only 2 roti’s to eat, and I and many other fellows who were part of the low income, went to summer school to teach, barefoot that day.
And sometimes, if I thought it was getting too much, I just had to look around and find Venil or Dipti for inspiration, both of whom had decided to do this activity completely blindfolded throughout the day, just to see how much they could push themselves.
And all was going well until Harpreet walked up to me with a kid who said he had a question for me.
‘Bhaiiya, why are you not blindfolded? Are you scared of being blindfolded?
I was taken aback, but I told him that I wasn’t scared or anything, and that it was just that I had to take class that day, and it wouldn’t exactly be feasible to take Math blindfolded, especially considering I couldn’t manage to control my class, with both my eyes open anyway.
‘But that didi is taking class blindfolded’, pointing to Dipti. ‘Why aren’t you?
And that was a question I was hoping he wouldn’t ask me. Because frankly, I didn’t know what to say, because if Dipti was doing it blindfolded, there is no reason as to why I shouldn’t be able to do it blindfolded either.
But I couldn’t let a 10 year old kid score a point over me, so I threw the question right back at him. ‘Why don’t YOU try to come to school blindfolded? What is stopping you? Would you like to be blindfolded for a whole day?
Pat came the reply. ‘Yes. I’ll be blindfolded the day you will come blindfolded.
And impulsively, I immediately retorted saying, ‘Fine. I’ll come to school blindfolded tomorrow, if you will come to school blindfolded too.’
The next day, I came to school with a dupatta in hand in the off chance that Arshad had actually been serious about the challenge.
I peeped into his class, and there he was, sitting on the 4th bench, a black handkerchief around his eyes.
Surprised, and completely unprepared, I tied the dupatta around my eyes and proceeded to class.
I started class I had 20 kids in my class, by the time I was done, I had 4, 3 of whom were sleeping and Rudra was just plain amused.For the most part of it, as I realized later, I had written on the walls, as opposed to on the blackboard. There were times during the day when I felt suffocated, and felt stupid for taking up a challenge that some random 5th grade kid had thrown at me, and I had been on the verge of pulling the blindfold out, many times during the day, because frankly those 3 hours were arguably the most frustrating 3 hours of my life.
And when all of this was going on, in a class somewhere in school, another kid was doing the same activity, sitting blindfolded too.
Herold would tell me later that Arshad saw me blindfolded in the morning, and realizing that I had kept my word, had immediately tied a black handkerchief over his eyes and sat blindfolded. He did so through all the classes till recess without flinching or fidgeting, one time.
Even as a teacher, I had had kids poke me and hit me on the head and make fun of me, and I cannot imagine how much fun his peers in would’ve made of him. But not once did he complain. During recess, Herold walked up to him and said that it was great that he was sitting patiently in class, blindfolded and all, but that because visually impaired people are very attentive, he should probably try participate more in class.
During the next class which was writing, Arshad raised his hands more number of times than anyone else in class. The class after that was Math, which is even harder to follow blindfolded, but Arshad tried hard anyway, and only because Herold had told him that blind people were attentive.
At the end of that day in school, frustrated, I was about to remove my blindfold, completely unaware of all this, when Arshad walked up to me, helped me take my blindfold off, took his own blindfold off, hi5ved me, with a big smile on his face and ran away.
And I realized then that he sat through the whole day blindfolded too.
It was okay for me to have taken up the challenge, the burden of responsibility to keep my word, as a teacher was on me, and not on him simply because he a student. As a student, Arshad had no obligation to do what he did, he was in the 5th grade absolutely no one would’ve told him off or judged him, for removing his blindfold, if he got bored in the middle/mid way.
But to have integrity enough, to sit through the whole day in class, through all the poking, the fun and helplessness, only because you had asked someone else to do so, to me, struck me as just so mature and so powerful.
And I’d like to think of that day, as the day that Arshad taught me what integrity truly was.