Lessons (short story)


A short story in two parts.


A class is in progress, the teacher is scribbling on the blackboard, and the students concentrating on her writings and trying to absorb the matter.

— So, if we draw a triangle like this, and denote the base by ‘b’ and perpendicular by ‘p’, and this angle by ‘theta’, then the ratio of ‘p’ to ‘b’ would be equal to tangent of theta, and denoted by tan(theta) –
— Excuse me, madam! – one student raised his hand and called out.
— Yes, Rahul. You want to ask something?
— Madam, what are we doing here?
— What is this? Trigonometry, of course! What happened, have you been sleeping or what? Yesterday we learnt about sine and cosine, and today we are reading about tangent. You should be attentive in the class. – the teacher was visibly annoyed.
— No madam, not that. I want to ask why are we studying all this? What is the use of learning all these ratios and all?
— Now, can anyone of you please explain the application and use of trigonometry to this dumb-head? -The teacher addressed the class while on the verge of losing her patience.
A ‘good’ boy, who was perhaps the topper in the class, at least in the subject, raised his hand.
— Yes, Vivek, go ahead.
— Madam, these relationships can be used if someone wants to measure the height of very tall objects and structures like a building or a tree. These are also helpful in measuring otherwise inaccessible geographical features like mountains. – the good boy explained in a confident voice and with a straight face.
— Very good. Sit down. And you, understood? – she turned to Rahul and asked sternly.
— Yes madam, I know that. But I am asking why would anyone want to do that? I mean, the mountain or the tree is there. Why would a person need to measure its height? – asked Rahul, still not convinced.
— Shut up, and sit down!


— You must not give up so easily. The whole family is dependent on you. If you break down, who would support them?
— But why? Why had it to happen to us?
— One never knows, my friend. Such things happen all of a sudden, we are never prepared.
— He took such an extreme step! Not for a moment thought of us, his sister, his mother whom he loved so much, of me?
— It only shows how great his sorrow must have been. Must be unbearable. Even his love for you all could not stop him.
— But why didn’t he call us up? At least he could have let us know.
— He must have. Could be that he hesitated a bit, thought that you would understand his trouble from his voice. Or may be he waited for you to ask. Maybe you could not understand or sense it. I do not blame you. But it could be that. Signs of such troubles are seldom visible on the surface.
— Maybe. Maybe I have been rude to him or perhaps indifferent. Maybe he felt barrier between us. But he has friends, and his sister with whom he used to gossip all day and night, his cousins who are all grown up and could have helped. Then his old teachers, and new present ones too. He could have approached anyone. If not me, fine. But anybody –
— That is the saddest part. In spite of all this crowd, he could not find a single person he could relate to. Just imagine. He is afterall just a child.
— Even then, some other alternative. Anything other than this horrible thing to do. He could have explored, thought of some other way out, anything other than just going ahead and ending everything like this.
— Now, now, you are thinking and speaking like a 50 years old man; do not forget that he is…was…just 21. He was still a child for us, just a child. He could not have thought like you. Yes, you are right. There must have been several other better alternatives than this terrible solution. But how could he know? He didn’t even know how to think. Or what to think. And where to look for solutions. He did not know, he was never taught…


Footnote: Part-I of this narrative is based on a scene from a Doordarshan serial; however, their focus was different from this work. I do not remember the name of that serial or the title of the episode; only that it concerned itself with the country’s education policy and needed reforms. Ms. Himani Shivpuri acted in it. Part-II is fictional; nevertheless, the readers could relate it to any incident they might have read, heard, or witnessed.

photo credit: Madagascar, young children via photopin (license)

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