By Amit Tandon May. 04, 2017
KS taught me in high school, playing Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle. Over time, though, we became intimate. I now wonder about the moral and legal boundaries of that experience.
From kindergarten to, say grade 5, I was engaged in this wilfully strong perseverance towards marrying my class teacher. I made every effort to make my dreams come true. I would ascribe meaning to the smileys on every assignment, spend hours thinking of jokes that only she would get. It was a beautiful, innocent love until the hormones struck.
The erosion of innocence begins with the sprouting of pimples. It is the age of unreason when you go straight from “Deepika se shaadi karunga” to “Deepika ko karunga”. Suddenly, all everyone was obsessed with was how much one could stroke their “machine gun” in a day. Like the young Sikh boy in the old Maruti ad, I would always answer: “Papa ki karaan, petrol khatam hi nai honda!”
Nothing was more arousing to me than a teacher’s bra strap showing while she wrote equations on the board. I wished she would stay that way for the rest of the lecture, only so I could perfectly capture the image in my head and put it to great use back home at night. The Camera Obscura or the pinhole camera, followed pretty much the same logic: Expose the subject for long hours and what you got in return was a hazy image that somewhat conveyed the contours of the subject. The drop of sweat travelling down originating on the left earlobe and running down her waist onto the blue saree became my moment of “Tharak Obscura”. Honestly, anyone who didn’t do the same in Grade 8-9 was missing out on being the Shakuntala Devi of masturbation.
The seas quietened with the arrival of my first girlfriend, with whom I stumbled upon the “art of kissing” or “smooshing” as some of us knew of it then. I never knew that the lips were meant to be parted and one had to let the tongues wrestle grossly. But we got there. Both of us had friends who would keep guard outside in the corridor when passions were raging in the PT period.
All was proceeding fine in the teenage life of this Noida boy when Class X came along. And with it came KS. KS wasn’t what you’d call “conventionally beautiful”: She was clumsy, walked like she had a train to catch, and dressed like the train almost ran her over. But from what I can remember, under the teacherly exterior, she smiled a toothy unabashed smile and didn’t lack spontaneity like most other “mummified” teachers did.
KS somehow became the Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle and we shared a few laughs. And as Bollywood will testify, one laugh is all that it takes to get the ball of trouble rolling.
We became really good friends. I would often walk her to her next lecture and she would carry missives from my class to my girlfriend’s and pass them on to her secretly. She became my trusted secret-keeper, the receptacle of chronicles from the life of angsty teenage boy who would tell her everything that went on in his head – from insecurities at home to thoughts of cheating on my present girlfriend. We started speaking for hours on the telephone after school and it became a ritual of sorts; this therapeutic sharing. She’d tell me how her overtly Bengali mother would shame her for the way she looked, how there’d been a slew of men who’d rejected her, and how she’d never had a boyfriend. We had our own jokes which could be communicated through the raising of an eyebrow in the morning assembly.
The equation suddenly changed when KS walked in on my girlfriend and me one day. My girlfriend had her back to KS so she didn’t know a thing, but KS looked me right in the eye. In that hot, breathless classroom where KS, my girlfriend, and I had been together, something shifted between us – inaugurating the possibility of something more intimate.
I’d like you to believe that time stopped but it didn’t. We made eye contact but everything else was devoid of emotion.
Pre-boards came up that winter, and the class was divided into groups of five and circulated every half hour from one teacher to the other. For our turn at history, we sat across a table with KS who spoke of the rise of Fascism. Another kind of history was being made under the table. I slipped my hand into hers and held it fast. At first, she stumbled, but she continued talking about Mein Kampf. My hand moved from her hand to her thigh and into uncharted territories while my mind rang with the words “Hello Houston? Houston?” But there was no contact from Houston.
KS and I continued our phone chats but never spoke about our physical dalliance. About a week later, I found her in class alone. She said that what we were up to was wrong and it had to stop. I nodded and asked if she wanted “one last hug”? Awkwardly, we held each other in an embrace that lasted six seconds and before parting, I leaned in to kiss her.
She gave in for half a second, then retracted; suddenly brimming with tears in her eyes as she pushed me away and stormed out of the class. This was the highest point of drama I had ever achieved in my teenage life.
KS absented herself for the next couple of weeks. And then news came in, Bollywood-style, that she was going to get married on the day of our last board exam and that all of us were invited. I did the whole “getting drunk before her wedding” thing but my heart wasn’t in it. As I stood there, woozily observing KS in the midst of a series of rituals, she looked up at me.
I’d like you to believe that time stopped but it didn’t. We made eye contact but everything else was devoid of emotion. She smiled her toothy grin and I laughed and walked out of the venue.
I grew out of KS by the time my boards were over. What was left of us was only the aftertaste of a sensory experience. I grew up enough to wonder if that experience had been morally, ethically, or legally wrong. Had KS “taken advantage” of me, even though she’d never made the first move? I was the one driving the “relationship”, but then again, was it possible for an adolescent to make informed decisions, sift the right from the wrong, at that age? By not stopping me earlier, had KS made a sin of omission?
There is a thin line separating the black and the white. But the elusive charm of these bewildering experiences is that memory never settles comfortably into those black or white compartments. Yes, it was consensual but I was a minor. My consent didn’t count. And yes, she was the teacher, a person granted with the responsibility of my intellectual and moral growth. And yes, it would have been viciously evil if our genders were reversed. But all of these yesses, still didn’t make it a no.
Now that years have passed, I have been granted a smidgen of clarity – and the ability to divorce the whole thing from the clutches of right and wrong. I see consent, but I also see an overstepped moral barrier. I see the initial rush of love, but I also see a reckless lust that blew over us that February.
At this stage, I am no longer conflicted by the white and black. I’ve settled into the grey.