For me the situation felt worse, for I seemed to get little sympathy from my usually genial parents. My father had worked with Englishmen and thought my terror overblown. My mother, without saying as much, credited it all to a fevered imagination. She said airily, “An inspector will inspect. No big deal.”
I knew they were both wrong, very wrong, but I couldn’t find a way to persuade them. So the fateful day came and I went morosely to school, wearing the school uniform of white shirt and khaki trousers. The headmaster had pressed his torso into a ridiculously tight gray jacket and nervously paced in front of his office.
We went to the school hall and waited an hour before the inspector turned up. He was a tall, bony man with a red face, made redder by the fierce summer sun, carrying a large leather case and sporting a comical felt hat. He took off the hat, revealing a mop of sweat-dappled brown hair, and, with a sign from the headmaster, led us in a prayer. We weren’t so familiar with English and, given his grammar school accent, we didn’t understand a word of what he said. He then left the hall, after the headmaster had told us that the inspector will later visit our classes. It sounded like an ominous threat.
In an unusual act of bonhomie the inspector said, “Good afternoon,” though with a funereal face, and Grasshopper said, “Sir!” That was an English word he spoke, because by that time the word had entered all Indian languages.
“What do you teach?” was the inspector’s first question.
“Yes,” said the Grasshopper. He probably thought the inspector was asking if he was teaching, though the answer sounded as silly as the question. To save the situation, the headmaster quickly said, “History.”
“And what are you teaching just now?” We waited with bated breath for Grasshopper’s response, but he continued with the only word he could handle, “Yes,” adding a “Sir” at the end to be polite.
A true bureaucrat, undeterred by the Grasshopper’s brevity, the Englishman popped his third question, “Aren’t you going to tell me what you are doing with these students?” This was far too complicated for Grasshopper, and he stuck to the only response he could think of, “Yes, sir.”
By now the august inspector was visibly flustered and annoyed.
A front-row spectator of the entire drama, I shivered with anger and embarrassment. The Headmaster who could have explained or intervened did not dare do so. Whatever the quality of his teaching, Grasshopper did not merit such humiliation simply because he did not speak English. As an inspector of schools, the arrogant Englishman should have known that most schools in India taught in local languages and not English.
As loudly as I could, I yelled, “Sir!” The inspector turned to me with great surprise, while the headmaster looked stricken with a cardiac problem.
“Sir,” I affirmed, in a voice tremulous with fury, “he is… a very good teacher.”
One good outcome was that, when the highly agitated headmaster reported the incident to my parents the next day, they told me they were sorry they hadn’t listened to me well when I had expressed my concern about the inspector’s visit.