She came to me to ask for an extension for the submission of the assignment on the date which was already an extended one.
“Sit down, Jasmine”, I said, pointing to the seat in front of mine at my table in the staff room. I made a mental note of the fact that she chose a time when she knew I’d be alone in the Department.
“You know I can’t extend it anymore. It was already done – and I made it clear that this was the final deadline. And I noticed you were nodding your head vigourously in approval”.
Jasmine was a good student to have in the class. Always sat in the first row, was most attentive, laughed at all the jokes, asked questions (which sometimes were obviously for the sake of asking). I always looked for her as I entered the classroom. In fact, if I didn’t find her in her usual seat, I’d even feel a little lost.
But she rarely did well in her tests. I have had to give her repeat tests to push her through. The problem was language. She came from Marathi medium and hence did not have a sense of the English language while writing. But she spoke without hesitation, mistakes and all.
I was the deliberate choice as a teacher for that class, ‘cos I knew little Hindi and less Marathi. Malayalam wouldn’t work. So the students would mandatorily be exposed to spoken English by a conservative speaker of English.
“Ma’m I had some problem. I couldn’t sit down to write it the past few days”.
I looked at her ‘cos I was always wary of being a confidante of students whose autobiographies, I was warned, could sent your head reeling at an incredibly fast spin.
“Ma’am. I had to get this done”, she said pointing to her hair. I’m very tardy, I must confess, at noticing cosmetic changes which are not glaring like, say, a shaven head, or cropping of long hair or shocking pink or scarlet lipstick.
I looked at her hair and noticed that she had streaks of three subtle colours on her hair. Streaking the hair was just becoming common then (this was in 1998).
“Does it take a long time to get that done?”
“Yes, Ma’m”, Jasmine said animatedly. This parlour is near my house. I always go there so that even if I am late, I can just take a rick home. If I do it here in Santa Cruz, I’ll have to take the train. The rush would be heavy”.
So much of planning, I thought.
“Where do you live?”
“When did you do this to your hair?”
“You don’t like it Ma’am?”
“Oh, you look good”
I did it yesterday-took nearly an hour and a half. By the time I reached home, I was tired, and went to sleep. Had to start early ‘cos I had the 8 o clock lecture today”.
“But the project was given a month back. The date extension was given a week back”.
“I’ know ma’am”, said the crestfallen Jasmine.
“What were you doing for a whole month?”
“Ma’am. Next time I’ll submit on time. Just this once, please.”
“Sorry Jasmine. Your reason is not good enough”.
“Ma’aaam. How can you say that? See Aiswarya Rai. It’s all the job of the makeup artist”, she declared. “I’ve seen her when she came for a shooting here. She is so ordinary. And my skin is a light as hers!”
You could have knocked me down with a feather!
“Are you trying to be an Aishwarya Rai?”
“It’s not impossible, you know.”
And then I looked at Jasmine. She’s right. It’s not impossible if she added 5 more inches to her height, subtracted 10 kilos from her weight, did a face job around her cheeks to lengthen her cute moon shaped face.
I kept my thoughts to myself and let her talk. It was a revelation to me, that this chirpy girl who sat in the front bench was actually obsessed to the point of distraction about turning herself into a classic beauty. I smiled to myself when she rattled off the names of a few makeup artists who changed ugly ducklings into the glam girls of Bollywood.
“You planning to enter movies?”
“No ma’am. Everybody says I’ll get only small roles which are usually bad roles.”
Things were getting complicated.
“Jasmine, believe me when I tell you are an extremely beautiful girl, but in a different way. About Aishwarys Rai, it’s her business to be glamorous. Your business is to be something else. That’s why you are here to do a specialized course. You beauty lies in being yourself. You know no matter how much she tries, Aishwarya Rai cannot become you, or acquire your innocent charm and your type of special good looks”.
Her face brightened up.
It was advantage me.
“I’ll give you another extension, but that is between you and me. Submit the draft you have brought now, and give the final draft on Monday. This is the only time in my whole life as a teacher that I have made this concession. That’s because I know if you put your heart and soul into this, you’ll pass with flying colours”.
She jumped up and touched my feet which I quickly pulled away ‘cos I have the ugliest feet on earth. This habit the students in Mumbai have of touching the teachers’ feet at the drop of a hat was always a cause for worry for me. But then, I too should have told myself that it is not my business to be an Aishwarya Roy!
Jasmine submitted an excellent project, with no mistakes in the language. I didn’t want to ask her if it was her own work. I wanted to believe in her.
I left that institute before she qualified. But for nearly five years, she sent me a card on my birthday. Fours years after this episode, she sent me a letter with the birthday card to tell me she had picked up a job in a multinational pharmaceutical company. She wrote without mistakes (for which I don’t take the credit. I was her teacher only during the initial two semesters).
But I like to think that I did play a role in curing her of the Aishwarya Rai complex.