A short story by Monica Ingudam
After my completion of Masters in Manipuri “Meitei Lon” literature way back in 1974 I joined Thambal Marik Girl’s High School in Imphal, Manipur. I was a teacher for 6 years in this school and I had a great teaching experience after my studies. Today I want to tell you the story of someone who stayed in my heart after all these ages.
It is about a teacher, “Oja” (teacher) Binodini. She was teaching in Science subject in the same school and was younger than me. With time, I developed a good rapport with her and we became closer sharing about our day to day joys and sorrows of life. Even though she was in science stream, her creativity level impressed me when I read her poems. I felt very special as she had gifted her precious books only to me amongst all the other teaching staff. With my high interest in literature, I read through her collections of poems as soon as I got the books. Pages turned and reading through her words of sadness and of broken heart, I wanted to know more about her. She was unmarried then, very simple and reserved in her spoken words . At that time she came to school riding her bicycle with her hair tied as one long plaid with ribbons at the end. Her favorite ribbon seem to be white and green. She wore a few pair of clothes repeatedly making me think that she doesn’t have many.
I had this special bonding with her and her way of life piqued my interest. I got to know more about her from one of my other colleague. She was an unfortunate young woman. Her father got remarried because her mother couldn’t bear a son. Yes, a son had the weightage even in a place like Manipur where women are portrayed to be kept at a high level. Her mother came back to her maternal home and Binodini tagged along with her mother at a young age of only 6 years. Her mother got remarried to another man and left her all alone at the age of 10 years.
Her poor but kind “Ene” (maternal aunt) who was into handloom weaving adopted her and brought her up. Ene didn’t have a husband or children, and she took care of Binodini and raised her as her very own. Binodini was very good in her studies and did what she can to be educated. She couldn’t buy her own books for her studies and she would borrow the text book from friends/library and copy the entire content of each books into a notebook neatly written in her cursive handwriting. She knew the condition of her “Ene” and did her level best to help out with household chores and even with the handloom weaving work. Ene was specialized in “Phi houba” (the initial set up of the threads for handloom weaving). She was shy and grew up by keeping to herself with no friends around.
When she passed first class in B.Sc. all the community of Kwakeithel was so proud and under the elder’s love and recommendation, she was appointed to be the teacher in a private School, Thambal Marik Girl’s High School. Of course she didn’t have the money to bribe and get a government job but she was very happy to get a job. Yes bribing didn’t start just today, it was already there then. During that time, first class in Science, specially by a woman was rare and many highly regarded her for her intelligence.
Her sincerity and reserved nature was taken for granted and the administrators of the School made her work overloaded and one day I saw her almost breaking down and she gave her resignation letter in the heat of emotions. The principal happened to mention it to me that Oja Binodini resigned and we consulted as to how to resolve the issue. I spoke to Binodini and calmed her down. She shared that her work is overloaded and wasn’t fair in comparison with other teachers of the school. After having understood the main reason of her resignation, I convinced her the importance of financial independence and empowerment of woman coming from a career and that we need to face any hurdles with patience and make a well balance decision thinking of the future. The Principal, Oja Binodini and myself had a meeting together and after much discussions, it was agreed that she withdraw the resignation and continue working as a teacher. The matter didn’t go beyond the three of us and the resignation process was nipped off.
Things went peacefully that same year until the final exam except for the usual gossips and politics amongst the teaching staff. The other teachers made faces and ridiculed Binodini’s style of dressing special using the ribbon on her hair. Oja Binodini started confiding in small things and I would try to lighten it by laughing it out and I think she liked that.
During the final exam, Nandini, the daughter of the Vice Principal failed in Science. Oja Binodini had marked Nandini’s paper and she scored only 8 out of 100. The Class teacher Oja Shama asked Oja Binodini of any possibility of increasing the marks and passing Nandini in the fear of facing the Vice Principal’s wrath. Oja Binodini said a straight “No”. After a couple of days she asked Oja Shama the final listing of marks in the report card of Nandini and found that Nandini scored 48 out of 100 in Science. Oja Shama had added a 4 in front of 8 making it 48. Binodini couldn’t take this insult and couldn’t take such muddied atmosphere, and that too in the institution of education where she believes that truth and honesty should be valued and kept high. She saw the report card, packed her few things, placed her books in the front basket of her black Hercules bicycle and rode off. I watched her from my classroom as she rode away with her long plaited hair, with her loose hair flowing and the end of the plaited hair, tied with white ribbon, fell near the seat of her bicycle. I wondered why she left early that day. I thought maybe she had some emergency at home.
Later I was filled in of the incident. Oja Shama cried and shared with me and few other teachers “Oja, I didn’t know that Oja Binodini would take it so seriously and leave. I was so scared of the Vice Principal with his shouting and yelling and thought it was best to pass his daughter.”
Oja Binodini never came back the next day and I found that she resigned and left. Officially, no one knew what lead to her resignation. The result was out and Nadini was promoted to the next class. After some weeks, on hearing that Oja Binodini was seriously ill and seven of the teachers including me decided to go together and visit her. We contributed INR 10 each and bought a small bottle of Horlicks and one packet of biscuits. We walked to Kwakeithel, entered her bamboo house with thatched roof and saw Ene on the porch working on the threads for the loom. Seeing us Ene said that Binodini is not meeting anyone but she will go inside and ask her. Ene came out and said uncomfortably that Binodini is ready to meet only me but not the rest of the teachers. With an awkward look amongst us, the other teacher signaled for me to proceed and I took the plastic bag with Horlick and biscuit and went to her room. She was sitting on her bed wearing a green “Aloo eromba” phanek and I asked “Ebemma, how are you feeling? when are you coming back to school?”
She shook her head and said “Oja, I am not coming back”
She looked so deep in her thoughts. Such heavy and dark thoughts for a young and bright woman like her. Seeing her condition, I had more feelings but no more words to express. I mumbled “Ebemma, get well soon” and slowly walked out.
Nadini continued with her schooling uninterrupted. Oja Shama continued being a teacher. The Vice Principle continued to be grumpy and unappreciative of anything. My life went by but I did think of Oja Binodini time and again. I felt her pain in being betrayed by the situation, by the people. Our society and system is not ready for her honesty, dedication, straight forward but sensitive nature. I don’t know what has become of her. Oja Shama cries with guilt for what she has done. But whose fault was it? Only Oja Binodini was affected by the whole situation. Should she have exposed the whole situation? That would have led expulsion of Oja Shama. Or should she have stayed quite and played along? But she chose not to sell her soul and her belief. She gave up her job, a job that meant a lot to her and Ene.
Collection of short stories written by Monica Ingudam. These stories are fiction based on Life’s this and that focusing on Manipur and the people of Manipur. Based on a story told by Ema, my mother.