Anna Chandy used to teach at Anand Niketan school in Ahmedabad. She recounts one of her experiences gained while working with children in different schools.
She had an unusual name for a girl. Ninaad.
The three-and-a-half year old was the last to join my class. She reminded me of Geeta Bali, the actress of yesteryears, with her chubby cheeks and big round eyes. Only, unlike Geeta Bali, she howled continuously.
The school rules did not permit it or I would have sent her out for a walk. The fifteen-by-fifteen feet class room was like a cage for her.
It was mid-July when the howling and tantrums stopped and the bullying began. She would push, pinch and punch her classmates. However, the moment I intervened with a firm “No, you cannot hurt others,” she would back off.
Every time I tried talking to her she would diligently study my feet. As a result of which I began to take special care of my feet.
“She is being defiant,” said the husband, fresh from a management course.
“Children,” he explained, “refuse eye contact and look away or study their feet as an act of rebellion”.
So I let her rebel, though just the thought of her made my feet tingle.
There was hardly any conversation. It was always, “Good morning, Ninaad,” “See you tomorrow,” or “have a nice day Ninaad”.
By late July, everyone else in the class had settled down to a routine. Ninaad had taken to sitting in a corner and observing me. Whenever I tried making eye contact, she would avert her eyes.
It was a Wednesday afternoon. We had spent the morning watching a monkey show. Post-snacks was story time. The children and I sat on the floor in a circle. I had just begun my story when I felt two tiny arms slip around my shoulder. I turned around to find Ninaad. Her eyes were full of playfulness and when she smiled, I realised she had the loveliest dimples I had ever seen.
She touched my face, hair and then pressed her cheek against mine. I let her touch me. It was her way of feeling reassured — her way of accepting me.