Bitter Sweet Mathematics a.k.a I Just Had To

Remya loves Math. She was that annoying kid in your class who solved every paper, every guide book, finished the entire textbook and still wanted more. I envy her a little. It might be because I wish I was that super smart Math loving kid my Dad wishes I was. But, it might also be because I miss having someone to impress in school. My Math teachers were always that person.

One particular woman stands out a little more than the rest – Nafees ma’am.

I know all of my friends from school are going to smile when they read this one. They all have been on this side of the desk, with me, as we pissed ourselves with nervousness every time she asked us a formula. If you got it wrong, you wrote it 11 (or its multiple’s) times. Of course, you remember her. I wish I had the eloquence of Roald Dahl when I write about her now. But, I am not him and even the British nanny in my head could not summon the coolness that his words did. But, I will attempt to do so anyway.

As I sat in the Science section G in the new school on the first day of 11th grade (it was a lot of firsts), I looked up to see – a huge pair of nostrils on a tall, imposing woman. I am not even lying, I could not take my eyes off her every time she flared her nostrils at me. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t even one of the frustrated lot of the teachers we have in every institution. She was just the sort of person who could make you sweat in her presence without having to say anything. Tall, broad-shouldered and stone-eyed, she strode across the front of the class talking Math to us. The best part is, we actually understood. But being teenagers, your brain automatically decides to accommodate Robert Pattinson’s eye colour over trigonometric formulas. Trust me, I have paid for that one. 33 times. She bullied us left, right and centre. Every class of hers came with its background music and panic attack victims. As it turned out, Section G was to be her homeroom in the final year of school and she was merely prepping them for the most kick ass time which I did experience, but not as a part of their class.

I shifted to the Commerce Section the next term. I heard only positive things about her in this section. And it shocked me, to say the least. How could the same silent raging tower of Power in one class be a chilled out, jovial teacher AND still manage to instill the same amount of respect and fear of God in people? HOW?! In her class on my first day in Commerce, she walked up to my desk and asked me why I shifted. I told her about my aspirations to be a journalist and all she did was pat my back and say, “Tell me if you need any help, alright?” with a smile and walk away.

She was a school teacher by day and a tuition teacher by evening. She called us at 7 am on WEEKENDS and then made us feel better by giving out some juice. She taught, we understood. It was as easy as that. If we did not, she made sure we did. She was one of those quotable teachers who was fun to mimic and there was a little gang of us who excelled at it. She never let us settle for less. You can score in Math, so you fucking do it. Even the 90 percentile kids felt the need to excel and I was only a twig on the tree of The Average Scorers in the 60 percentile.

After the year ended and we parted ways with school (Thank Heavens), we found out that she was diagnosed with cancer. Our school was the sort that was rife with rumours so I never knew the right story or was not well connected enough to verify the sequence of events. But, when I returned a year later to collect a certificate, she was there – weak, but there. She looked at me, proudly and patted my back just as she did on that first day in the Commerce class and offered me a seat next to her.

That was, sadly, the last I saw of her.

In November 2011, on (ironically) the day of Eid, my Facebook homepage was flooded with condolences and I had to fight hard to hold back a tear or two. I received many calls from friends who expressed their shock/grief/disbelief. It just did not make sense for someone who we knew so well to not be there anymore. When you’re 18, it’s the most you can make of Death, really.

Later that year, I enrolled for a Math class where I encountered some of the concepts she had worked so hard to drill into my puny anti-Math brain. NBD, but I aced it. Haha. I owe her somewhere for it.

Remya came in yesterday and we started talking about Math. She loves Math. I just loved my Math teachers. Or at least the ones who made it look easy.

God Bless her soul.

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