By Jackie Thakkar Mar. 15, 2018
All through school, Kumar sir and his PT “exercises” combined all the beauty of flight attendants making safety announcements with all the grace of Sunny Deol dancing to “Yaara O Yaara”. To this day, my Pavlovian reaction to the sound of a whistle is breaking into march past.
“What were you most traumatised by during your school years? Was it the incessant bullying for a speech defect or for being overweight? The fact that you just couldn’t make it to the cool gang, no matter how many beyblades or Hot Wheels cars you owned? Or were you, like me, indelibly marked by the travesty that is the “PT period”?
Our PT sessions were carefully orchestrated by Kumar sir, a 40-something, pot-bellied pioneer of physical training. Like most PT teachers his age, the only cardio he was used to was running his mouth and going out of breath after blowing into his whistle thrice. His skill-set included getting hundreds of students to begrudgingly stretch, clench, march, and shimmy at his beck and call. All this in the lean months between the annual march-past drill on Republic Day and lezim practice for Independence Day.
At its core, Kumar sir’s PT class unified our batch of 200-odd students in a weekly ritual of physical agony and emotional misery. It was the combined manifestation of each student’s personal hell. Some dreaded meeting the bullies from other divisions, while others feared being fat-shamed in their skin-tight PT uniforms. Everyone bemoaned the thought of gruelling physical activity in the searing sun.
As the seventh-period bell rang, each class of 40 kids would be herded out of their comfy classrooms and marched onto the dusty playground. The smart ones brought “excuse notes” from their parents. Making the rest of us wish we too had a fractured limb or some other injury that enabled us to skip PT in favour of trading tazos and playing WWE trump cards.
On the playground, after he was done meticulously arranging us in height-wise order, Kumar sir would unleash his carefully orchestrated Satan’s symphony. This included unpleasant drum-and-gong beating and out-of-sync whistling. The chorus included Kumar sir himself yodelling instructions like “Lep. Lep. Lep Right Lep” and “Shaabazz! Wishraam.” Coughing periodically, thanks to the dust storm our feet created. So glorious was this cloud of dust, that the matinee show crowd at nearby Chandan theatre would often hoist themselves up on our school walls to watch this sandy spectacle. Never underestimate the vellaness of the aam aadmi.
Adding to this circus of misery, were Kumar sir’s PT “exercises”, which combined all the beauty of flight attendants making safety announcements with all the grace of Sunny Deol dancing to “Yaara O Yaara”. The arm’s distance we were asked to maintain from the person in front of us certainly helped in protecting our personal space. But no such efforts were made towards protecting our dignity. Muddied T-shirts, torn shorts, and skin tones that had turned two shades darker since last semester had a blind eye turned to them by this dictator of despair. Then again, part of me always felt sorry for Kumar sir. His was the kind of bitterness that you somehow knew stemmed from a place of helpless frustration with life.
Kumar sir was living, breathing proof that you didn’t choose the PT sir life. The PT sir life chose you.
Kumar sir was living, breathing proof that you didn’t choose the PT sir life. The PT sir life chose you. He most certainly didn’t picture being a middle-aged burnout, screaming “wall se utro, useless!” at Chandan Cinema moviegoers. Nor did he imagine that one day he’d be painfully bellowing “saavdhaan” into a mic despite being hit in the groin with a drumstick just a few minutes prior. Nope. Kumar sir had other plans.
A former captain of a district-level team that played a sport other than cricket, the peak of Kumar sir’s existence came when he captained his team to the final of a generic “international tournament” in Nepal. Teaching PT wasn’t his first choice but his “metric-pass” education combined with a young family to support meant that his dusty fate was sealed (dustiny, maybe?)
Even cringeworthy puns like these seem tame when compared to the rumours surrounding Kumar sir. Tales focused on his legendary gaffes were aplenty. He was supposed to have made linguistic blunders like, “Give me a blue pen of any colour”, “Open the windows, let the atmosphere come in” and “I have two daughters, both are girls” that everyone conveniently overheard from someone else. Salacious shenanigans like flirting with women staffers were also frequently insinuated.
Trust mean-spirited schoolchildren to peddle nasty gossip – and have a whisper network that would put the Chapati Mystery to shame. I still haven’t figured out how every school has the exact same version of this story attributed to PT sirs.
A more personal memory I have is of Kumar sir bringing our football team a crate of pineapple-flavoured Aarey Energee after a depressing loss. And sitting there with us in defeat, opening up about his own loss in Nepal.
He encouraged us to crack jokes and told us about the importance of being jovial in defeat. “Haar mein hi toh comedy hai”, he said.
By the time I was in 10th grade, I’d realised that making up Kumar sir gaffes were little more than our school’s second most-popular past-time. Second only to filling out slam books and playing F.L.A.M.E.S. Perhaps, the rumours around Kumar sir were merely a by-product of our hatred for the PT period. Where elephants go to die and why everyone hates PT are eternal mysteries that will never get solved, I suppose.
After two decades of academic life that instilled the importance of winning at every turn, I’ve only recently begun looking back at Kumar sir in a different light. The man’s philosophy toward life still stays with me. In my deepest pits of despair, I choose to remember the most important exercise Kumar sir taught me: “Haar mein hi toh comedy hai.”