Red roses, love notes and an occasional kiss and hug. Gifts of handmade cards, paintings and sketches, candies and toffees. Very often, to add a traditional touch, fragrant jasmine flowers to embellish my black curls. No they were not from my boyfriend (who is now my husband). They were all from the children I taught. It was literally like celebrating Valentine’s Day every day! Given with a lavish dose of love and affection, it was really difficult to say “no” to the eager kids who would peep into the office room early in the morning, waiting for their favourite teachers.
I was one of the earliest to reach school. An extreme obsession about punctuality that sometimes infringed upon insanity. As I walked down the way to school many children, babies to teens would join me and soon we would be a chattering mob marching through the school gates. Children would run up to me and give me flowers they enthusiastically plucked that morning. Roses (from their parents’ flower laden carts), Bottle brushes (a flower true to its name), Jasmine, Hibiscus, Marigold and what not! Some insisted that I wear it on my head immediately. The slightest hesitation on my part would have serious repercussions. No, not sulking and crying. The flower would be snatched and forcefully thrust into my locks. I had no right to protest. Just for this time of the day, they were the teachers and I, a meek student. I did not even want to picture myself with roses, jasmines, leaves happily perched on my head.
So after all the pampering, I headed to my class looking (and smelling) like a puja room or wedding hall if you like it. But the kids thought I was beautiful. The more flowers I had, the better I looked. Throughout the day- during break time or a free hour, children would check the back of my head to see if I had dared to take away the flowers given with tonnes of love. At these times I often remembered my mother, aunts and grandmother and the struggle they had to go through to make us cousins (the girls’ gang) wear some flowers on our heads during festive occasions. I hated the fragrance of jasmines or rather its stench. Over the course of the day they turned brown and presented a pathetic sight. Yuck! How I hated flowers in my hair. How proud I felt when my mother let out an exasperated “do whatever you want” when I refused to accept flowers. And now these kids had absolute control over me. They had the “childlike innocence” advantage.
Some days I would take them off my hair and put it in my bag. Imagine walking around in jeans with a floral helmet! I didn’t have the heart to throw them. I would often wonder what to do with them. At the end of the academic year, I had a box full of dried flowers. A potpourri of the children’s feelings for me. Something I can keep revisiting when life seems boring or difficult. Opening the box unleashes the scent of sweet memories in which I can drift along, feeling loved. I don’t need Valentine’s Day.