It was close to midnight, and I was close to exhaustion, when I walked out of Ercan International Airport, the primary civilian airport of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, (a long name for a small country!) into an icy winter night, after a gruelling journey from my home town of Madurai, via Chennai, with a change at New Delhi, and a stop at Istanbul.
But the moment the European, Mediterranean, chill air, reached my alveoli, I got thoroughly rejuvenated, my fatigue abandoning me unceremoniously. I was thrilled to have set foot in the golden land of Europe, a confluence of the mysteries of the middle ages, the sophistication of the modern, and the bounties of Nature!
Being the only Indian to be selected that year, to teach English Literature in this prestigious European University in Lefke, I had no dearth of self-confidence. But I must admit, I was nervous about how I would be received by the students- a brown man teaching a medley of white, pink, yellow and black boys and girls, from Bulgaria, Romania, Africa, and countries of the former USSR., not to mention mainland Turkey, the only country to have recognized the independence of this part of Cyprus!
When I introduced myself, the next morning, to my class of forty, with, “I’m Muhammad, from India; I’ll be dealing with Drama and Poetry, this term for you”! a tall, well- built girl, walked up to me, and, extending her hand, said, “I am Haneefe, from Ankara; I’m the leader of the class”. I could feel in that hand-shake, a warmth and a welcome, that could last a life time!
It was a unique relationship, with an utter lack of inhibition, that grew between me and my students! In the months that followed, together we transformed ourselves into ‘the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’; our class room became an Elizabethan theatre, pit, gallery, green room, yard, stage and all! The teacher’s platform became the court room, for the trial of Antonio; the hedges and bushes in the campus turned into Birnam Wood, that marched towards Dunsinane Hill, to vanquish Macbeth!
We walked to the beautiful hills nearby, where the boys and girls became Oberon, Titania, and her fairies, flitting in the forest of Athens! We even heard the song of the solitary reaper wafting across the meadows! We ran to the sea shore just in time to see the ancient mariner sail off in his skeleton ship, the dead albatross hanging around his neck!
Outside, the green grass was turning yellow and brown; ripe oranges fell no more from the heavy branches! And as I entered my class room one day, I was greeted by a strange silence. Haneefe stood up to say, “We heard that you are not coming back for the next term, Mr. Muhammad?” Secretly, I had not wanted the class to know; I did not wish to break their hearts, but they seemed to have found out! The whole class went into an uproar. Alex, a boy from Bulgaria, announced, “We are not letting you go, unless we get a convincing reason”
I felt a lump building up in my throat, as I spoke, “It’s my mother’s illness”. Instantly, all the forty fell silent like one!
I didn’t expect that all of them would drive with me all the way from Lefke to Ercan to see me off. As I waved to the tearful lot, the security officer, checking my passport cheerfully said, “ You are going to India! How lucky! India is full of people, I love that”!
“I love that too”, I smiled, as I boarded my aircraft.
Gulnar Raheem Khan is a retired bank officer. She has been writing from her student days. She has a Master’s degree in English Literature. She was the student- editor of her college magazine, as well as the secretary of her college union. Many of her letters have appeared in the Hindu, The Indian Express, and the Arab News. Her articles and poems have been published in her office journals, and in several anthologies. She posts her poems and short stories in her Facebook page regularly.