So, how do I look?
You think, it’s too loud, don’t you?
You think, the lipstick should have been a lot less bright, no?
You think, maybe the thick kajal was entirely unnecessary, correct?
And the cleavage? You think I shouldn’t be trying so hard, yes?
I am attracting a lot of attention, am I not?
I know. It’s all very loud. It’s all very delicious. Maybe too much of a good thing and all that.
But I have a story, you know. True story.
Well, as much as a writer can write a true story, really.
You know, I completely lost interest in Mathematics once that strange skinny teacher started taking classes for us in the 7th standard.
Okay 7th grade since you won’t understand Indian class systems. Pun wholly unintended.
So she was this skinny one with a rat’s tail of a plait.
Now I realise, she was maybe self-conscious and lacked confidence or something like that and that’s why she was the way she was.
I was eleven or twelve, I just thought she was a bitch.
She didn’t teach anything.
She came up to the board, solved problems, made us copy it in our books with hardly any explanation and that was that.
We couldn’t even ask doubts.
She used to throw chalk, and once even a duster, at us.
I switched off, naturally.
We had her for three years.
Imagine that. Three years.
I managed to pass.
I have no idea how.
I even got fairly decent marks.
I don’t know how I managed that.
But Mathematics as a subject?
No, thank you.
And then, naturally, after 10th when we could choose our subjects, I chose science like a half-wit.
Because, apparently, that’s how intelligent I really am.
My reasons were fun though.
I wanted to prove my horoscope correct.
It said I would become a surgeon. Not a doctor. Which I suppose, I still can. But a surgeon.
For myself, all I ever wanted was to get married and have babies.
But after the 10th, and miraculously scoring a distinction, I discovered ambition and signed up for Science.
The thing with the State Board is that it lulls you into a sense of complacency.
You don’t question.
You don’t think.
You don’t look beyond what is there.
Except if you have a good English teacher.
Then you are thinking why the hell didn’t those two, poor-as-church-mouse-couple, not have the sense to do Christmas shopping together?
Did it have to be so tragic as all that in the Gift of the Magi?
And why is it tragic?
Hair does grow back, no?
Except mine is taking forever.
But that’s not the point.
So I took Science expecting Mathematics to be a trouble maker.
Turns out Chemistry and Physics involved a fair amount of calculation too.
And Trigonometry – like what the fuck is that all about – had also happened.
I passed the first year.
I made a secret pact with the devil and passed it.
But the second and most crucial year was coming up.
I had to do something.
So I went back to my high school Physics teacher a woman I respected immensely at the time.
Ma’am never dressed up, wore no make-up, not even kajal.
She wore simple saris, had short hair, and was always absolutely self-assured.
I told her I needed help.
I knew I wouldn’t make it in a tuition class filled with a 100 students all trying to get into IIT.
She was kind.
She assigned her husband to me.
He was a scientist. A short, spectacled old man.
Their oldest son was already in IIT and the younger one who was my age was definitely going there as well.
He had a room that was perpetually shut and the only way you knew he was in the house was by his chanting of formulas.
He really was the ideal student.
So, Sir, let’s just call him that, took pity on me.
Gave me a few problems to solve.
I scored a zero.
He said my Mathematical brain was stunted.
He said I was stuck in the dark ages.
At least in 5th standard.
He said, “We have to start from 5th standard Mathematics. 5th standard. Do you know?”
It was a good thing.
I was impressed he got the level at which I was so quickly.
I never really had figured out the whole (a+b) (a+b) = a2 + 2ab+b2 shit.
I mean, why? How?
And I had no idea why we were even thinking all those things about a right-angled triangle.
Just because Pythogoras had thought about it?
It didn’t make sense.
And what annoyed the crap out of me about Mathematics is how happy we were supposed to be to “Imagine a something something is something something”.
And then you only have to imagine that something.
You couldn’t really imagine orange nail polish bottles there.
So then ‘imagine’ clearly was the wrong word to use. No?
So naturally, our classes had to begin really early.
My father used to drop me off at 3 am.
Yes, no kidding.
Sir was the only person on the planet who realised I was very literal-minded about things.
He told me it’s the same as usage in English.
Something can only be just so because.
That made sense.
Sir and Ma’am were charming in their own Maharashtrian way.
She would give me a cup of tea and say, “Drink it. We’ve all finished so yours will go waste.”
And I would have to drink it.
Some days, there’d be no tea.
He’d say, “Milk was over. So we had hot water. Do you want hot water?”
I’d refuse and wonder how one could run out of milk.
And they weren’t poor at all.
But they usually gave me tea.
And Shrikhand on special days which I hated.
My teacher was unfortunately not a good cook at all.
They were the quintessential intellectual family.
They had conversations on science.
Their jokes would be about something Boolean in algebra. Stuff like that.
I could never understand them.
At tea, they would say these things and all three of them would laugh.
I would smile politely.
After, she would go off to her room where she taught her own set of high school students.
The son would shut himself in his room and his muttering would begin.
But mostly, there’d just be my cup of tea.
And Sir and I would sit at the table with a make-shift blackboard and we would start scaling up my understanding of Mathematics.
No one disturbed us.
Months went by. Or maybe days.
At 3 am you hardly know what’s what.
So I don’t honestly remember when he first started pressing my boobs.
I had begun to solve problems suitable to my age group and it was a glorious time.
I had begun to feel that I finally knew Mathematics, and as a subject, it began to shine.
And Calculus had begun. O you have to love Calculus, no? So exciting.
At first, I didn’t notice it at all.
The boob press, or the way he ran his face against mine in a congratulatory hug.
It seemed harmless enough.
But it wasn’t.
He had begun to teach me less and touch me more.
He would peer at my breasts in this uncomfortable way.
And sometimes when he sat next to me, and I had solved a problem, he would take my hand in his and keep it in his lap.
I couldn’t tell Ma’am.
What if she didn’t believe me?
I couldn’t tell my parents who were grateful that I finally had a teacher who was taking an interest in my studies.
Anyway, I thought I couldn’t tell them.
But I told my best friend.
And we bitched.
And we cursed.
But there wasn’t anything to be done.
There I was all of 17, and making up reports like this in my head:
Dr. B announced to the world, earlier today, that she too was a victim of abuse as a girl and that she was manhandled and molested by her own tuition master when she was 17. The accused being dead for a few years now is unavailable for comment. His family vehemently denies such accusations and are saying, “Dr. B is a mean and twisted bitch. Would you believe this woman who cannot do simple mathematics? Or would you believe us? We are scientists and IIT people.”
I continued with the 3 am classes.
We’d wind up around 7 am.
My father would pick me up, I’d bathe, dress, eat, and leave for college.
That was the routine.
I still had a good five months left to pass the Mathematics exam one last time and be done with that life.
I had no idea what to do.
What can one do at 3 am anyway?
You wake up, brush, clean up a bit, and go solve Mathematics.
But that one day, I had bought a new purple lipstick. I had to try it.
And I wasn’t going to wait till I went to college to try it on.
So I coated my lips in thick matte purple lipstick and smiled at my Sir as I sipped my tea.
I left a nice purple stain on my white ceramic cup that had a chipped lip.
He looked agitated.
He wasn’t in a good mood.
He didn’t touch me at all.
Even when I solved more problems correctly.
It was such a relief.
The next day, as the joy of the new lipstick wore off, I went to class my usual self.
Clad in a useless sweater to hide my boobs, mere Vaseline on my lips, eyes sleepy and dull.
And he was back at his antics. Boob press. Uncomfortable hugging. Everything.
So I wore lipstick again the day after.
This time I wore kajal too for good measure.
And a tight salwar kameez which showed cleavage when I sat down.
All unabashed and gorgeous.
Ma’am rolled her eyes when she opened the door to me.
And lo, and behold, no touching.
I had stumbled upon my Sir’s turn off.
The rest of the months were peaceful.
It was just strange to apply all that make-up in the morning but it was necessary.
I don’t blame him.
No, really, I don’t.
I am actually grateful to him.
He really helped me discover a subject.
He was a good teacher.
When he gave me a question paper to solve in the early days and I had scored a 9 on 100, he had cried. Really.
When I told him that I had managed to pass my Mathematics paper in the board exam, he had cried again.
He was just a man. Old, beyond middle age, probably a little desperate.
He was just a man.
He wasn’t perfect.
Only he was, when I turned up perfectly groomed.
So that’s how it goes.
I am terribly sorry about the title. But I simply couldn’t resist it. Also, I might just get published with a title like that, so here’s to hoping. Cheers, darlings. Leave a comment, please. Be good.