Trrring … Trrrring!!!
The telephone bell rings just as we have locked our place to leave for Kalai on Eid morning.
“Inauspicious!” I fume exasperatedly, jokingly alluding to the old superstition that it’s inauspicious to be checked just as one is leaving home. I fumble and linger, hoping the call would get disconnected and I wouldn’t have to unlock and open the doors again. But the phone keeps ringing determinedly.
“It’s Eid today; someone may have called to convey good wishes … better go and answer the phone,” suggests my father. Irritated, I unlock the doors hurriedly and pick up the phone.. Hmphh!
“Hello!” I say politely, holding my irritation in check.
“Helloo!” a voice echoes from the other end of the line.
“Hellllooo!!” I give vent to my irritation.
“Hello… Can I speak to Tazeem please?”
“Sure … may I know who it is?”.
“Hey Tazeem! It’s you! How are you? I just called to say ….” silence!
Who on Earth could it be?
“I’m fine,” I say, and then repeat “…to say?”
“To say… Happy Eid ... and please convey my regards to Mumma, Pappa and your brothers,” says the charming voice in a typical South-Indian accent.
Ahh … I know who I’m speaking to.
“Good Morning! How are you? Where are you? And thanks a lot for the call …” I rattle off cheerily in a single breath, my happiness and excitement spilling over.
“I am good … at Poonch,” he answers. “But you don’t remember your alma mater any more.”
“I’m truly sorry,” I say contritely. “I’ve been a little busy these days, but I will definitely be there in a day or two,” I assure him.
“Okay … so any celebrations today? And how are your studies going? And keep on writing dear … I just love your writing style and feel great when someone praises my students. I’m proud to be your teacher, and one day you have to make me feel proud of you … Got it?”
That ‘Got it’ transported me to class X, when he would say, “Akhter! Got it?” and I would simply nod my head .
He continues: “I am quite sure you will make it happen soon.” I bite back my words, too flattered by his pride and trust in me to be able to speak.
“I’ll try my best,” I say at last, with a smile. “I just need your prayers.”
“We are going down for Eid celebrations to Kalai, our native village … on the way to Surankote. If you are free, maybe we can pick you from school and we can celebrate together,” I say impulsively, overcome by the warmth of sweet memories.
“Some other time … some other time,” he promises. “Kokab and Sanam too are here at Poonch for Eid celebrations.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh yes! Haven’t you met them yet?”
“Tazeem di…. Tazeem di” my brother shouts from outside, before I can answer.
“Aa rhi hoon” (I’m coming)
Turning back to the phone I say apologetically: “We’re getting late … got to go to Kalai … will call you once I reach there. I know you won’t mind.”
“No problem Akhter,” he says and disconnects the call.
Re-locking the door swiftly, I rush to the car, and as we drive to Kalai I feel a poignant longing for the call I’d had to cut short.
It was Fr. Mathew Nelledath at the other end.
Fr. Mathew, my English Tutor, whose face I clearly remember and whose voice I will never forget, was one of the most important influences in shaping my growing years–not simply by telling me what to do, but also by encouraging me to do it my way. And when I went wrong–as I often did–he explained that a mistake is not a crime. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. And that is the BEST lesson he taught me, besides contributing towards enriching our school lives in innumerable ways.
Eighteen year old Tazeem Akhter is a resident of Kalai, Poonch, in Jamsmu and Kashmir. She is passionate about writing and photography.