I WAS ONLY 5 years old when I entered school in Hyderabad, India, under the tutelage of Mrs. L. B. Reverse, an Australian teacher. My parents lived in the village, but I was sent to live with my grandmother, who lived only five houses away from the school. It was an experience that changed my life.
"Mujeeb, you're a big boy now, and you will be going to school with other children your age. You will learn wonderful new things about India and the whole world," coaxed my grandmother.
I did not really believe her. I was very shy and frightened to meet all the new children. Since I came from a small village, I only knew members of my own family and nearby neighbors, several miles away. My grandmother tried to bribe me. "Mujeeb," she said, "when you come home from school, I will give you a nice surprise."
Thinking it over, I decided, "Well, maybe, I could go for one day, anyway." My grandmother, who was a landlady, took me to a big store and bought me a whole new outfit so I would look like a city kid. I really did not like these clothes because I felt so stiff and uncomfortable wearing them. Even the shoes pinched my toes.
With the thought of a surprise awaiting me after school, I was pushed through the door of the classroom. Mrs. L.B. Reverse smiled such a wide grin, as if she were the happiest person in the world. I choked back a tear and tried to be brave, but inside I was petrified at seeing all those other children all at once.
Then the kids started singing the alphabet. However, I only pretended to know what they were jabbering, since no one at home ever told me how to say the ABCs. The teacher never caught on to the fact that I was ignorant of the letters. She seemed so very happy just to be there.
As the day wore on, I became more and more ill at ease in my starched shirts and stiff corduroy pants that whistled when I walked. One shoe even squeaked. All this added up to one thought: "Mujeeb, you've got to run away from this place!"
My plan was to run as fast as I could home to Grandmother. At recess time, I sprinted out of that torture chamber, ran the five houses to Grandma's and --ed under her bed. She kept boxes there, and I hid between them, so no one could find me, or so I thought.
After an hour, Mrs. L.B. Reverse made it her business to get me back to her classroom. She knew Grandmother's house, and she started shouting for me from the gate. Meanwhile, my grandmother heard Mrs. L. B. Reverse yelling for me, and she soon found me in my hidding place.
Mrs. L.B. Reverse dragged me bodily from under the bed. She said, "Mujeeb, all the other children miss you and want you to come back; you can play with them." Mrs. L.B. Reverse assured Grandmother that it would be wrong to give in to my childish tears, because I would not come back the next day or the next day after that. Then my grandmother reminded me of the surprise, which she said I would not get unless I went back to school. Drying my tears, my grandmother handed me over to Mrs. L.B. Reverse, and thus began my formal education.
I did go back, and after school that day, I was rewarded with a long piece of strawberry licorice, my favorite candy. To this day, I believe that I would never have achieved scholastic success if Grandmother had allowed me to stay at home that first day.
As an adult, I appreciate the irony of Mrs. L.B. Reverse's name. It was she who turned my life around.
Mujeeb Yar Khan graduates today from Villa Julie College.