Grow Your Hair Long: The Soft Side of a Hardliner

by Tazeem Akhter

Sometimes telling a tale about one’s growing up can also be a catharsis of sorts, but in this case it is more likely to evoke sniggers and giggles from the depths of the readers’ hearts.

As I look back to happier times, one vivid reminiscence shines brightest — like the silhouette of a lonely tree against a scarlet sunset…

Ding dong ding! It was Nanak Academy. I was in  class 4 or 5. Everyone went in terror of the principal–a hard-as-nails, shrieking, screaming virago–the exact antithesis of the concept of a soft-spoken, cool and calm head of an educational institution.

Referred to (dreadingly) as ‘Badi Ma’am’, she was feared not only by students, but by teachers as well. None had ever seen her laugh; nor a smile ever anywhere near her. Smiles and laughs were substituted by taunts and jibes in her case.

It was not only her dusky skin tone with patches of white, the ‘keratotic papules’ caused by calcium deficiency (and which, students claimed, were actually a result of her volatile and cranky nature) that set her apart from the rest.

However, in my capacity as class monitor, my interaction with her was cordial enough. We usually exchanged greetings–one sided: mine–when we happened to see each other.

It was break time on a red hot summer day. I headed towards the bathroom in desperation, squeezing myself through the narrow staircases (I was quite plump at that time), I emerged into the vast, open ground which I had to cross at peril to life and limb in the  blazing sunshine, through the continuous traffic of students in white shirts and grey pants, with red ties and belts flashing like danger signals.

I finally made it to the girls’ bathroom, but hardly had I stepped there, when all around me erupted a cacophony of ‘Oh’s and ‘ah’s from the senior gals, who, looking at my short hair, thought that a boy had invaded the girls’ bathroom.

“Hey boy! what are you doing here?” shouted one.

“Take him to Badi Ma’am” shouted the other.

All that I had to say in my defence fell on deaf ears. Defeated, I shut up and was dragged to the Principal’s office. The party burst in upon Badi Ma’am wolfing down biscuits with her tea.

“Ma’am, this boy was found in the girls’ bathroom”, said a senior sister hesitantly.

Dead silence for a few minutes: we could have heard a leaf drop. I could clearly hear the ticking of the clock on the wall.

And then,  ‘Badi Ma’am’, the terror of the five continents and the seven seas, burst into uncontrolled gusts of laughter. The seniors gazed at each other in astonishment. This was the first time anyone in school had seen her laugh.

She said between gulps of laughter: “‘He is a girl, not a boy”!

The seniors hung their heads and walked away to their classes. And the formidable ‘Badi Ma’am’ offered me water, and some advice with a beautiful, unexpected smile. Tousling my short hair, she  said, “Beta! Grow your hair long.”

This was the first time anyone in school had seen the soft side of a hardliner and I am proud it happened because of me.

Tazeem Akhter is a 17 year-old writing enthusiast from Village Kalai, District Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir. She also loves reading and photography.


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