It was a long time ago, in my school days, that I wrote a defiant letter to the principal of our school. I was in the eleventh or twelfth standard, and our school had just got a new principal. The school had been in a state of confusion after the retirement of our previous principal and students had learnt to enjoy the perfect freedom in those times of chaos, when Jayabal sir took charge. He was an idealist who sought to bring order to an institution that was in disarray and was disliked by many students for the same reason. We saw him as one who had come to take away our freedom and to ruin our life of fun.
Of the several new rules that were introduced (or enforced, in some cases), the particular one that is relevant to this incident required all students to speak to each other in English at all times within school premises. I cannot remember if it was okay to speak in Hindi, but Malayalam (which is the mother tongue of more than 95% of the students) was unacceptable. And it was in Malayalam that I was talking to a couple of my juniors when our principal appeared out of nowhere and was already close enough to hear our conversation. Finding us talking in Malayalam in contravention of the rule in place, he asked each of us to write 10 pages in English and turn it in by the next day.
We could write anything we wanted – any subject, any topic – as long as it was written in English. But, for several reasons, I was not happy to write anything. First of all, I was not happy about the rule being in place – much less pleased about being disciplined for violating it. I was annoyed at being corrected for something that I did not consider wrong, much more offended at being reprimanded in the presence of my juniors who held me in high regard (or, at least, so I thought!). As I returned home, the state of my mind was so turbulent that the roughest of seas would appear calm in comparison. I did not mention this incident to my parents, rather kept it sealed within myself. It spewed ash and smoke in the form of an irritable mood, as if from a volcano that was due for eruption, and I locked myself in my room upstairs. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but can vaguely recollect that I woke up early the next morning only to find that my anger and hurt had crystallized instead of being diluted by sleep.
Not sure if it occurred to me that I could refuse to write what I had been asked to. Perhaps it didn’t, or I might have considered and discounted that option either because I found such an act of open disobedience unpalatable (which in turn could be out of fear or due to conditioning), or because I did not find it defiant enough to satiate my ego. In any case, it is pointless to look for reason in what will soon be evident to be an emotional response. I decided to use the ten pages that I was allowed as a channel for my fuming thoughts, as a vessel to get my views across, as a card to score points against an opponent whom I could not hope to defeat.
Page followed another as I started writing about how my principal had got it all wrong, how the school was not a jail, how it should encourage creativity instead of stifling the freedom of students, how laws were merely the will of the strongest and obeying them out of fear was a sign of cowardice and not of righteousness, and so on. The contents of that letter are merely the rants of an agitated mind, howls of a wounded ego, and have only nostalgic significance for myself. Nevertheless, as a reference for the sake of completeness and to answer the curiosity of an interested reader, it is reproduced in full here in spite of the fact that I find its immaturity a little embarrassing.
The confusion of the previous night had transformed into a strong resolve. Conviction in what I had written and pride in having had the courage to write it made me feel better. I reached school, wanting to deliver my letter at the earliest opportunity, as if to relieve myself of a huge emotional burden. If my memory serves me well, my confederates had found something from their curriculum to write about, and got it reviewed and signed by the principal the next day morning before I had a chance to meet him with what I had written. I walked into his room after getting his permission and handed over the notebook opened at the page where the letter began. As he glanced through what I had written, the statement that “The school is no jail” at the beginning of a page caught his attention.
“Oh, so you are comparing the school to a jail here. I see that this is a letter written to me. Mind if I return this later after reading it fully?”, he asked.
“I’ll be glad if you do that”, said I.
(This conversation above may not match the actual one word by word, but seeks to preserve its import)
As I left his room, I was not sure what to feel. I was happy that he was going to read what I had taken the effort to write, but knew that he would not be pleased with what he was to find in those pages. Would he throw me out of the school or make the rest of my days miserable? I did not know. Nor do I care, I reassured myself even as a part of me was concerned about the outcome.
Whether I was summoned, or I went on my own calling later in the afternoon, I do not remember. But as I entered, he had my notebook in his hand as if he had just finished reading (or re-reading) it. I was waiting for him to say something, he only sat silently, looking into my eyes. Getting up from his chair, he moved closer as I continued to meet his gaze with what might have been a stare. Stretching his hand over my shoulder, placing it gently on my back he pulled me closely into a hug that took me by surprise. When he looked into my eyes again, there were tears in place of defiance. I know that boys and men do not cry, but tears of joy and gratitude are an exception as Naruto would tell Inari.
I cannot recollect his words, but I remember the kindness and affection with which he disarmed me and stripped me of anger and mistrust. He then told me how he wanted the best for his children, and how he only had our best interests in mind. It was like the person who stood before me was not the one I was angry at the previous night. Everything that he said rang true to me. I apologized to him for having been so rude in my letter, and he shot down the apology with a smile. In what was less than ten minutes, I started seeing in the one I considered my greatest enemy, a most precious well-wisher. From that moment on, till the time I left school, I was one of the students most loyal to his cause and most willing to support his efforts towards transforming the school.
I consider myself to be fortunate to have had a magnanimous teacher, for how else would the reward for insolence be so sweet? I learned on that day that through kindness and affection, even the most stubborn of our opponents can be won over; and hearts thus won are forever to remain.