Friday, January 08, 2010

The Aishwarya Rai Complex

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.


  1. Mallus do not touch the feet of elders. They are too lethargic to bend down. But they can throw hands up in the air and shout slogans.

    Malayalam has no words to say 'please' or 'thank you'. They have nothing equivalent to 'aayiye', 'chaliye', 'ukkaarungal' - with the expression of respectfulness.

    The Aryans were right to categorise them all as Shudras - those having Tamas guna. They are the true forces of darkness.

    Generations of exposure to radiation from their river banks have made them so - genetically.

  2. When you deal with below 10 children, you are often astonished by the stored brilliance in them; and their innocence. You feel sad that the society would not let them continue to be innocent, or nurture their brilliance.

  3. teacher, you reconfirm the facts 1)teachers have the most amazing stories 2) they can influence their student's life (both the parties not knowing)..a lasting impact.

    I consider my mom one of the best teachers one can have; many of my teachers whom I still keep in touch with, contributed to what I am today and am ever thankful to them.

    Thanks for sharing the story. here to teachers!
    are you still enjoying the freeze in NY? it is slightly colder here, north of the border.

  4. @Mr Stoic
    pretty strong language!
    @ the anonymous SHY
    THANKS. what u say every teacher must read. what a great responsibility!
    yes still freezing but in chicago.

  5. All of us recall special teachers ... people who not only taught us but inspired us in ways that changed our lives.
    William Arthur Ward once said, "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires"
    I believe that the greatest gifts we can give our children are the same kind of values these teachers demonstrate.Some of the best teachers I had was during my school days at a government school.I always remember their commitment and perseverance,because there were only two students in the class who could pass all subjects.The other one is our DGP now.

    As usual,superb narration and style.

    I studied at a malayalm medium school,and whatever English I learned was taught to me by Elizabethe teacher and Susan teacher. Once our tacher had gone to the staff room and asked me to note down the names of those who talked in the class during her absence. The Headmistress was doing her rounds and asked me,"who is your teacher? and I answered "Susan Koshy", and got a beating for the first time.Because I didnt say 'Susan Koshy teacher'.I remember that lesson always.
    Those were the days!

  6. super narration as usual!! I love your wit. Hope you had a lovely Christmas and a great New Years eve. Wishing you a wonderful year ahead.

  7. @Stoic,



    Irunnaalum .

    We do have the word forms, it is another matter that we don't use them in daily speech.

  8. My interest never swayed while reading the post. I particularly like the caption :) especially because of the word complex related to it :D

    How simply and yet deeply you define beauty. "Your beauty lies in being yourself." Loved the post! :)

  9. @ Anonymous:
    Talk that way and your guest would think you are laughing at him...

  10. Superbly written! My first time here.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. This world sure needs more teachers like you...

  13. Wow I would have never thought a student could pull off a becoming-Aishwarya stunt. You are different KT. No wonder you are everyone's favorite teacher. Its the toughest thing to find understanding teachers, when what they are supposed to understand "could sent your head reeling at an incredibly fast spin" :-)

  14. @ dr antony
    thanks for sharing. you always liven up my blogspace.

    @ sujatha

    @ anonymous & STOIC
    I agree with is our nature that we can use reverential terms only bathetically.

    @ unbounded spirit
    thank you. such responses are the bread and butter of bloggers:-)

    thanks. wecome. do keep visiting

    @ happy kitten
    mmm! wonder if my students would say that!

    @ cris
    who says i'm everyone's favourite teacher? hope my students and colleagues dont read your comment:-):-)

  15. Nice post pareltank :) The world is in dire need of more teachers who actually want to teach..

    @stoic - please do get the facts correct. It aint the problem of the language but of the majority who practise it.

    'please' - Can use 'Dayavayi'
    'thank you' - Nandi
    'aayiye' - Vannolu
    'chaliye' - Nadannolu
    'ukkaarungal' - Irinnolu/Irikku and many more

    These are not some prosaic words which are not in use. They are in use(probably also depending on which part of Kerala you're in).
    Atleast in my part of the coconut grove they are ;)

  16. Brilliant narrative ma'am!! Loved it! Dont have any wise-comments on it though! :P

  17. That was a wonderful read..! I really liked the narration and your thought process during the meeting.

    Wanted to reply to stoic, but shyam has already done it pretty well.!:)

  18. @egorulz.

    "please do get the facts correct."
    Please translate the above sentence into ordinary conversational Malayalam. Do so in Tamil and Hindi as well. Compare.

    Do we ever use "nandi" and "dayavaayi" in daily conversational Malayalam?

    What is the conversational Malayalam word that we use instead of 'Sir'? Hindi has 'saaheb' and Tamil has 'ayya'.

    Do we say 'good morning', 'hello' etc?

    Malayalam will die in a few more years under the NRI kids', private schools' and TV anchors' onslaught; anyway. Our discussion on the imaginary niceties of Malayalam conversation is perhaps, frivolous and of little use...

    ("saar, dayavaayi ee paper vechu thaamasippicchu enne vazhiyaadhaaram aakaathirunnaalum. dayavaayi ee kaikkooli vaangikkolu."
    "saar, ente makane dayavaayi urutti-kkollathrinnolu"
    "ediye, chaaya thannaalum. ninakku nandi")

  19. @stoic

    :) nice examples..

    It still reiterates what I said though that the language is not be faulted but its practitioners are. Most of us do not talk in polite malayalam, neither do I most of the time. So I will not get into the hypocritical adventure of trying to defend mallu etiquette. It was your statement

    "Malayalam has no words to say 'please' or 'thank you'. They have nothing equivalent to 'aayiye', 'chaliye', 'ukkaarungal' - with the expression of respectfulness."

    to which I did not agree.

    But the language is in its decline. Its literature once vibrant and exciting in all its magical realistic glory has now fallen from those heights. But even then, though it might be futile, Hope springs eternal :)

    P.S: saaheb is actually an arabic/urdu word. Not Hindi :)

    "dayavaayi ee kaikkooli vaangikkolu" would sound ridiculous in any language. "Please accept this bribe" "Kripaya Rishwath lijiye"

    And "Saaar dayavayi ente makane urutti kollaruthee" is a pretty probable dialogue

    :P :P


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