This is part 4 of the series “Immigrant: Expectations vs. Reality”.
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Last time, Mrs. Yawn, a part-time teacher for my 2nd-grade class rescued me. I was crying in the girl’s bathroom, and I felt more lost than ever because of my fellow classmates.
Meet Dave Nadkarni (again)
Mrs. Yawn had a great idea to help me feel more included. She wanted to make sure the kids in my class understood that I was just another kid. A boy who was new to school, and needed to make friends in order to be an emotionally healthy child.
To make this happen, she engaged EVERY student’s parents. She explained what happened to me (I think she saved my dignity by not telling them about the girl’s bathroom).
She asked every parent to create a large poster with some basic “About My Child” questions.
My Dad (Dad of the Century) put together a cardboard poster with my school photo and some basic information about me. It looked a little like this:
- Name: Gurudev Nadkarni
- Age: 7
- Brothers or Sisters: None
- Born: London, United Kingdom.
- Favorite Actor: Amitabh Bachan
- Favorite Movie: Silsila starring Amitabh Bachan
- Favorite Singer: Amitabh Bachan
- Favorite Song: Mere Angne Mein by Amitabh Bachan
- Favorite Food: Chicken Keema
- Favorite TV Show: Dallas
Miss Yawn had every student bring their poster to class the following week. My poster was on green cardboard, and had my Dad’s very distinct handwriting in red marker. I remember dragging this thing as best I could on my walk to school.
Yes, back then we used to walk to school alone, even at a young age.
As class began for the day, I was nervous. I hoped this re-introduction would lead me to “fit in” with my classmates. I really hope this wouldn’t backfire.
When it came my turn to present my poster, I went through each line of this thing. It started off great.
My name…although it said “Gurudev,” I proudly told the class, “You can call me Dave, it’s easier.” A couple of chuckles filled the room, paired with my uncomfortable laughter. I then told everyone that I have no brothers or sisters, and I was born in London.
This was the best feeling I could have all day, because after that, it was ALL downhill.
Put yourselves back into elementary school, and pretend you’ve never heard of India, Bollywood, or anything related. Now let me paraphrase my explanation of Amitabh as a 7-year-old:
Lots of blank looks in the class, even from the teacher (but let me reiterate, she did NOTHING wrong).
Then I explained my love for chicken keema, and the most random thing of all…I stanned hard for the show Dallas (because I loved the theme song and my parents watched it every week).
After my turn was over, I went back down to my desk, feeling defeated. No one clapped for me, or even understood what the hell I was doing.
As all the other kids went up to explain their posters, there were kids who loved burgers, Robin Williams, BraveStarr, E.T., and other “cool” American things.
I know Miss Yawn really had the best of intentions, but this project really sucked. I felt SO left out, especially now that I knew that none of these kids were like me at all.
Later that afternoon, I went home with a very salty attitude. I asked my Dad why he couldn’t have put pizza, Michael J. Fox, and other “American” answers on my poster. This could’ve been my BEST chance at being American, and the best thing I had was the show Dallas?
I’ll never forget the most poignant words from my Dad that I have ever heard:
Back then, I really didn’t understand those words because I was still SO angry. For the years that followed, I still didn’t understand, and I put that sentence away for a very long time.
His words were as important then as they are today.
Miss Yawn’s poster project didn’t really help the other kids understand me, but over time it helped me be myself. Without apologies.
The Black Eye
At this point, you might be wondering where my real teacher was during all of this. Miss Yawn stepped in during English and reading, but my home teacher was a man named Mr. Chantrill.
I had a hard time connecting with him. He seemed nice to the other kids, but to me…the guy was an asshole. I might have been biased because he did NOTHING for me when I went through that traumatic experience of crying in the girl’s bathroom. Miss Yawn was the real MVP.
It’s worth noting that during the first several months of elementary school, various educators tried their hardest to get me to “settle down.” I was pretty rowdy, and cried out for attention because I didn’t have too many friends.
The school district stepped in and had me tested for various learning disorders, but it turned out I was perfectly normal, but I was advanced in reading. They threw some books at me to try and get me to calm down, and I got really into Beverly Cleary books, particularly Henry Huggins.
I used to always get into some sort of trouble. I remember chasing kids around the classroom during quiet time, and throwing tantrums regularly. It was only natural for Mr. Chantrill to eventually flip his lid.
About halfway into the school year, Mr. Chantrill led all the 2nd graders into the large grassy area behind the school for a game of “Pom”. This is a variation of “Red Rover.”
One of the first actions of the game was for the first kid to yell out “POM!” so that the game could begin. I had that luxury. Unfortunately, I thought the game was called “Pomp” and I was ready to make a mockery of this game for attention.
When it was time to start the game, I yelled out “POOOOP!” because…well…I was 7 and poop jokes were timeless. I got a few laughs. YES. I got some laughs.
Mr. Chantrill came over to me, grabbed the ring collar of my t-shirt, and said “Don’t you dare say Poop.” I was a little scared, but I dusted off my proverbial shoulder, and didn’t think about the teacher grabbing me.
I knew I was starting to get some attention from the other kids, so when my turn came up, I said “POOP” again. At this point, I was the toast of the town. All the kids were starting to say POOP, and I was the leader of this circus.
Once again, Mr. Chantrill comes over, except this time, his entire face is red, and he’s FURIOUS. Like last time, he grabbed the ring of my t-shirt collar, but with extra force. The shirt was starting to choke me, and now I got mad.
Mr. Chantrill: DON’T YOU DARE SAY POOP AGAIN!
This seemingly strong teacher then dragged me back towards the classroom from the grass field. I’m kicking and screaming the entire way, and while we were in the hallway, I continue screaming POOP!
The rest of this is a little blurry, so I am going to re-tell this the best I can.
He once again grabbed me by the ring collar of my t-shirt, formed a fist, cocked his arm back…THUD.
His adult fist hit me square in the eye socket. I fell to the ground, and started crying.
Another teacher (Mr. McCallister) came running through the hall, and pushed Mr. Chantrill away and told him to leave. That other teacher then rushed me to Mrs. Kessig’s office and performed some sort of triage with an ice packet.
Both the principal and this teacher called my parents to take me home.
I stayed home from school for the next several days (thinking I was in trouble), but my Dad made sure to tell me I didn’t deserve getting hit. I went back to school the next week with a nasty black eye, and we had a substitute teacher.
School never really got much easier, but being the kid who survived a punch to the face from an adult came with my own urban legends about the “beating” I took from a teacher, because I was the “kid who actually got into a fight with the teacher.”
Years later, my Dad told me the rest of this story.
Mr. Chantrill was immediately dismissed, and the school district did everything they could to please my Dad.
Keep in mind, we were new to this country. We didn’t know that we could sue, and we certainly didn’t know that teachers had to keep their hands off kids. I mean…my parents were raised in India and Pakistan during the 1950’s. They had no idea what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
My dad spoke with several of our neighbors and they all talked my Dad into keeping the police out of this situation. Just think if this were today.
If my Dad had gone to the police, then took the picture of my black eye to social media. I’d have been all over the national news. Maybe I’d have avoided student loans in college.
While I never saw Mr. Chantrill ever again, this story left a scar on the inside. For so many years, I was afraid of teachers, and authority figures. I always had this thing in the back of my mind…I can get hit if I disobey.
As time went on, I’d test this theory…and I never experienced the violent hands of a teacher. Ever again.
Having said that, I was soon about to become the victim of a hate crime…in my own home…by one of our neighbors!
If you made it this far, THANK YOU for reading! This was part four of my Immigrant series. If you’d like a refresher, please re-visit my other stories.
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