Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Principal’s Bachelor Pad

As we pulled up to the house’s gate after our first full day of teaching dressed in our most formal, least worn clothing, we noticed the plaque outside the building “Principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya (aka National Public School of Malappuram, Kerala, India).” Our morning interactions with the head school leader so far were cordial but formal and intimidating to say the least. Allowing two random Americans from a foreign educational system free rein to address your school community, teach your students classes, train your staff and generally roam, free rein in your school, requires a lot of trust on the part of school leadership. Our first morning at school, Principal Shri. V. Santosh or SV as he would later log into quizlet live during our professional development session as, seems to have indirectly insisted on a bit of a feeling out period, which included us spending a large part of the morning together, chatting off and on as staff, parents and new students shuffled in and out of his office. Being in the Principal’s Office as an adult is often uncomfortable as it is for students.  I can only image what it must have felt like to add two white foreign dignitaries who just addressed the school and welcomed with drums and celebration to the equation, sitting comfortably on the Principals fainting couch, not standing at attention like the others, trying their best not to stare but incredibly inquisitive about every interaction and exchange taking place.

But, for now, the school day had long ended and we were just breaching his outdoor gate as we were invited to celebrate our first day at school with a dinner at his private residence. Bending down, crouching near the front steps awkwardly removing our shoes the front door opened. Glaring at us from above with a big smile underneath his prominent mustache stood the same man, this time in his Doti, a traditional Keralan man skirt and an unimposing t-shirt. Once entering his home we were introduced to his mother who didn’t speak much in any language, but pantomimed her love and affection for us through her body language and through aggressive sticking cookies and other assorted snacks in the palms of our hands. SV’s position as a national school leader just as it requires most teachers to live a life in perpetual transition and relocate to the state and city the government requires your service. His wife’s career in Hyderabad didn’t allow her to join him in Kerala unlike our host’s wife who takes less lucrative private school jobs in the city he is assigned. Perhaps that’s why the name of the former KV Principal remains on the placard next to the gate. 

As it so happened, we didn’t end up eating a formal meal, let alone dinner, at SV’s self proclaimed bachelor pad as we initially presumed. SV maintained that if his wife was here, we would be treated to a feast. I secretly predict in some respects he preferred this instead. We proceeded to make do as bachelor's do, dining on assorted snacks, hanging out all night, chilling on the couch, me next to his mom oddly enough, bantering back and forth about politics and life in general. SV flipped between two local news stations, the Indian equivalent of CNN/MSNBC (Congress Party) and Fox News (BJP). Modi of the BJP was just re-elected as prime minister to a margin of defeat of the opposition initial viewed as impossible prior to election week in India. The political arena in the US and India are strikingly similar, but as it goes these days similarities carry suit throughout the rest of the world. As the Burning Question segment played out with its doom and gloom talk, little lizards ran back and forth on the wall adjacent to the flat screen tv, stalking and devouring any and all nearby insects. 

When we departed, SV took great pride in showing off his jackfruit collection which was produced solely from the plentiful jackfruit trees growing on his property. As he bounced from tree to tree tapping and probing the enormous spiky melons, I couldn’t help but imagine the teachers at the school many who I was told live in the surrounded houses, also provided free of charge, in-kind, by the national government, peaking over the residential walls and bare witness to the sight of their leader demonstrating jackfruit cultivation with such joy and whimsy.  Next day at school Principal Shri. V. was once again all business as if the previous night was some sort of surreal dream or fair-tale. Being a school leader whether it be in the US or India requires you to wear many hats and faces. I am just fortunate and greatly appreciate to have seen and experienced them all.

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