Miss Hamilton: Miss Hitler cum Miss Flower

Sushila Mahajan By Sushila Mahajan, 28th Jun 2016 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Narrative

How Miss Hamilton taught us the art of life; how she laid emphasis on the personal and social aspects of education and how so concerned she was about us. She wore the mask of a strict teacher just for our welfare.

Miss Hamilton: Miss Hitler cum Miss Flower

Om Amriteshwaryai Namah
“Teachers live forever in the memories & hearts of their students.”

Miss Hamilton : Miss Hitler cum Miss Flower

Miss Hitler

Normally a strict teacher is very unpopular with students, so was Miss Hamilton, our new Head Mistress. Her sight, even from a distance, made us flee in fear. I remember how once while playing in the gap period, on seeing her coming towards us, we rushed into a bougainvillea grove, unmindful of lizards or other insects over there. Her nickname, Miss Hitler, coined by us, lingered with her for long.

We first met her in VII standard. After a long summer break, on the first day, just before the first period, all of us were chirping like early morning birds but suddenly all went still and silent- Miss Hitler had appeared on the scene. Such was her impact.

Her Offbeat Ideas
Our traditional greeting “Good Morning, Teacher”, did not suit her modern taste. She exhorted us to call all teachers by their names. In early 60s, such an injunction hit us like a thunderbolt. Stunned, we almost fell back into our chairs with a thud. A kind of commotion was bound to follow.

An angry look flashed towards us. “Sorry Teacher…” mumbled some students. “Sorry for what …?” she shot back. No answer. She repeated the question. Still no response. All were too confused to speak. Her next question, “Which standard are you?” was simpler. In a chorus, we said, “VII standard. Tea…” (old habits die hard) rest of the word froze within.
“Oh, really? I thought you to be the first standard.” We were happy to think that she had come to our class by mistake. But soon her sarcasm sank into our heads; not only was our happiness nipped in the bud but our heads also bent down when again, sarcastically, she asked us if we could tell her why she thought that way.

Perhaps she knew that stony silence will shroud us, so without wasting time, she stated precisely and emphatically how we were neither alert nor cultured: we had taken our seats so carelessly and loudly, also we had not even said thanks on being told to sit down. We were sorry for our lapse though none of us had the guts to tell her how her fear had soaked up even our common courtesy.

To our horror, she informed us that she would ‘guide’ us in our study of English language. Our fate was sealed. Half the period was consumed by her reprimands, in the second half, she made us introduce ourselves. Thank God, we remembered our names though some of us fumbled even for that. May God protect us from such a horrible teacher!

Wonderful Teacher
To our great surprise, she turned out to be a wonderful teacher. In her class time flew. All doubts disappeared. Boring grammar became so interesting. All of us were not only wide awake in her class but were active participants. She made us play with words and for that dictionary became our dear helper. Taking us to the school library, she opened for us the door to a wonderful world. We liked her so much as an English teacher that many wanted to follow in her footsteps. Fond of bright students, patient with weak children, she was actually a terror for lazy ones only. Of course, she was strict and expected us to be disciplined.

A Disciplinarian
Sometimes her love for discipline bordered on an obsession. Once on the recently painted red colored outside wall of our class room, somebody wrote letter H in white chalk. Naturally that stood out. That was quite a small thing but for Miss Hamilton that was a sacrilege. Furious, she barged in our classroom while our class teacher, Miss Iris Washington was taking our attendance, and thundered, “Who has defiled the wall outside?”

Blissfully unaware of the ‘sacrilege’, we proclaimed our ignorance and innocence as well. But she won’t accept that. Believing the offender to be from our class, she wanted him/her to surrender, and left with instruction to Miss Iris Washington to keep us standing till the culprit confesses. Shifting our weight from one leg to the other, we bore the punishment till the last period but one.

The whole episode was almost like a battle of wills- ours to stick to our innocence and hers to find the guilty from amidst us. When in the last period, on our behalf, Miss Washington appealed to her to forgive us on an assurance from us not to repeat such an offence in future, a bold student protested that since they were not offenders, forgiveness and assurance were invalid.
Hearing this Miss Hamilton at once hammered a question, “Whose classroom is this?”
“Ours” that student said.
“If so, then who is responsible for its cleanliness?” she asked.
Since he kept quiet, Miss Hamilton answered for him, “You see, it is yours, so you are responsible for it. Do you agree with me or not?”
“We agree, but how are we responsible for something done in our absence?”One of the students asked, to avoid such a situation in future.
“Please….Never shun your duties. Learn to be responsible for people, place and things around you.”

Like gooseberry- initially unpleasant but eventually pleasant, such lessons were hard to learn, no doubt, though much later we realized, how good they were. She planted in us a sense our responsibility to society.

A Cultivator & Tapper
She saw her students like seeds with potential sleeping within them. She tried to tap that latent energy by making the seed go through a painful process. Many times she appeared to be relentless, but that she had to be for the good of her students.

Nothing escaped her observation. In the VIII standard we had to appear for Board Examination. By the second week of January, girl students had to submit to the Home Science teacher, some samples of stitched clothes along with an album of various stitches of embroidery, for the Board practical examination of Home Science. But for four of us, all the students had given the work on time. Somehow, Miss Hamilton came to know about defaulters. Swinging into action, she made us sit in front of her office for two days. Strangely enough, the work which had seemed to be too much to finish, could be completed within the time given by her. Though then we really wondered, how we could do so much work in so less a time, later it struck us how Miss Hamilton had made us tap our hidden energy by focusing our mind on the work in hand. That was a lesson for life. Thanks to her.

Miss Hamilton at home
The more we interacted with her, the more aware we grew of our initial prejudice against her. Like coconut, she was hard from outside only, inside she was soft and sweet. This hidden self of hers surfaced in the last leg of our stay in the school.
While completing our home science work, we never thought of the classes we were missing but she did, hence told our respective teachers to give us extra time to cover up the loss. For English, I was supposed to meet her at her house-not very far from mine.

Next evening, along with my sister, I went to see her at her home. She introduced us to her mother who was all smiles but all of a sudden, burst into a peal of laughter when I greeted her, “Good night, Madam”. Taken aback by such an outburst, as I turned to Miss Hamilton, I found her looking very embarrassed. I knew not what I had done to create such varying impressions on mother and daughter but I felt very uncomfortable.
She could see this. To put me at ease, in the sweetest possible way she told me how on meeting somebody, one should say good evening even if it is night and good night while taking leave, even if it is evening. Actually at home we never spoke English, hence were not familiar with such nuances of the language.

‘Miss Hamilton at home’ was so different from ‘Miss Hamilton in the school’. Sweet and polite, she advised us not to venture out of the house after dark. Not only this, she sent her maid, Hannah to escort us home.

Initially meant to be just for a day or two, the coaching continued till my board examination in March, though her mother replaced her as my tutor. During this period, I had amazing experience of her compassion, care and consideration.

Miss Flower
Time to leave the school was drawing near. A farewell had been arranged for us. Actually, this lifted the veil of her strictness and gave us a glimpse of her soft and sweet self. Hugging each one of us, she wished us to do well in the forthcoming examination as well as in those of life. She further said, “Life is not always a bed of roses. In difficult times, whimper not, be brave and patient. In prosperous times, forget not less prosperous people. May you be a light unto yourself and may spread the light of love and happiness all around you! Forgive me please, for being so strict …God ..bless you…all!”

Her words trailed off, for her voice was choked with emotions. We also felt a lump in our throats. Our aching hearts whispered to us, “ You know, … she is sweet and fragrant like a flower…. Go and tell her what you feel.” But we could not utter a word.
Our eyes were full of tears, so were hers.

Our tears said much more than our words could have.

Sushila Mahajan


Memoir, Teacher, Tribute, Value

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author avatar Sushila Mahajan
Mata Amritanandmayi Devotee
focus on human values imbibed through experiences in life, specially from school and people around.

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