Friday, April 26, 2013

Junius Maltby

“If I had that much money, I’d retire. Do you think I would come here and bother teaching all of you?”

I am not sure we understood that. Teachers weren’t supposed to say such things – atleast not good ones, at any rate not to twelve year olds.

But she did, in a balmy post-lunch English class to all of us in that eighth standard. She was one of the best teachers who could stir your curiosity without pandering, who could exude erudition while still being approachable.She was probably in her forties and had a generally unhurried manner, which, were it a story, one would be encouraged to infer a worldview. 

While she introduced us to stories, poems, plays and generally yanked our language into shape – she was at her very best when she indulged in rarest of rare raconteur sessions.

And unlike many other teachers who  always recounted an true story for a certain effect on the students or others who intentionally set something up from which to plunge into the lesson, she was unpredictable. Sometimes what she was recalling was self-contained, sometimes it would set the mood for the story or poem we were going to read. Occasionally she would clarify that she totally made that up, just to elicit certain reactions and debates in the class. Sometimes she wouldn’t bother clarifying – making those of us who felt too old to believe in implausible tales any longer, discuss it to resolution, among ourselves.

And it is one such session she narrated events of a summer holiday in a plush estate/mansion. And after having engrossed us all, plunged us into discussion and lessons, she clarified that it was made up and she obviously did not have a mansion or a grandfather who did.

“If I had that much money, I’d retire. Do you think I would come here and bother teaching all of you?”

There was nervous laugh.

The truth is, I was personally quite thrilled. I was – or atleast, considered myself – way ahead of the curve in subscribing to a tempering of optimism - if not cynicism- which we would eventually grow up to need. So it was an affirmation of sorts to feel weirdly glad about.

But I thought it was hard  to my comrades, with creaky grammar and questionable spelling, to be given a dim view of life. They needed optimism and people to look up to. These children needed to be told they’ll have jobs they will like. That they will feel good day in and day out. That teaching is quasi-motherhood, noble and impossible to want out of. “When I grow up, I’d never say ‘actually, kids, everything’s broken’. I’ll dance the dance. It is unseemly not to “  I told myself – perhaps not verbatim.

Of course, by the end of the class, she retracted that line too. In her signature, brushing-aside manner.

I assume a clutch of the class was thankful she undid that, or I am being dramatic – in addition to haughtily narrating how I was beside all this. But at least I have a reason why I feel emboldened about the latter.

A few years later– I guess after reading some assignment I wrote, which managed to impress her- she called me to the staff room.

She rummaged into her draw and produced a collection of short stories – one of the several eclectic anthologies, that I suppose come out in the hope of being prescribed by universities as required reading.
“I think you will like the second story a lot: Junius Maltby. By John Steinbeck” she said.

Of course I didn’t return the book back to her. I saw it, with her signature, when rummaging through my shelves last week.

I did like the story. Sometimes I feel I like it more than I should.

But what made it memorable is the fact that, it was the first time someone - who was not my parent- seriously thought I had a literary discernment of any sort.

Perhaps what I liked best was what I thought the recommendation was all about, after I read the story.
It was a story she liked and felt I was the kid in class who could appreciate that. Or so I like to think.

 Here it is, in pdf.


  1. Brilliant! Brilliant! I think your teacher probably did not know then that you were going to "dance the dance"; you probably did not know it yourself back then. So she was trying to protect her class full of Robbie Maltby from Mrs. Munroe that is you :) I'm curious to find out about your assignment that triggered your teacher.

    Aside, very jealous of your nurturing school environment as well as your discerning mind to cherish them!

    1. Haha, what a take! :-)
      I was trying hard to recall the piece I wrote, I couldn't.

      I'd love to schoolbrag more. It became quite regimented and 'regular' by our time. Our seniors would tell stories of the glory-days of the past :-)

  2. Brilliant story that. Been ages since I read something that was so deeply affecting. The story felt so alien at the beginning, but when it ended couldn't help but think everyone of us are Junius at some level. Could completely relate to it, especially at this very moment. Spent the last 45 minutes sipping on a beer and reading something extraordinary. It will only be a matter of minutes before I return to the real world, as soon as the baby decides she is done with her nap.

    Read about your schooling anecdotes few times at the hub. Having been put through mediocre schools and substandard teachers, I refuse to believe such great schools/teachers exist :-)

    1. Very glad you liked it. Affecting is the word. As I said, sometimes I feel like it too much for my own good. Whenever I am to have conversations about ambitions, motivations, priorities in a manner that honestly expositions my personality - it becomes impossible to not sound like a bum - when actually what I mean is so much more subtle and rich - like Maltby's world.

      School - I did appreciate it much always. But nowadays - with a avuncular/parental bent of mind - I appreciate it a whole lot more. So I guess it will keep appearing hereabouts often :-)