Monday, April 25, 2011

My Music Teacher

When I was around nine, I had a music teacher. He would come to my house to teach me Indian classical music... singing and playing the harmonium. He did the same at many other houses in my campus. He was also the music teacher at our local primary school. He was regarded as the best music teacher in our area. The other students and I lived in a university campus, but he came from the village half an hour away from our campus, and so, was always regarded as an "outsider".

He was a good teacher in many ways. He used to boast that he could play all the musical instruments except the violin. He was well-trained and knowledgeable, and managed to impress even my dad, who has always been hard to impress.

But despite his musical prowess, what I remember when I think back to my years of learning music with him were the whispers that followed him. Murmurs that he was perhaps a little too fond of his young female students. Whispers that he had roving hands that didn't always just touch to teach a particular skill on the harmonium. And also mutterings that he had a temper that would flare up if a student did something wrong or said something out of place - a temper that could get out of hand.

No one knew where the murmurs began, and I'm not sure they ever reached my parents. The closest I came to hearing a first-hand account of his roving hands was from a friend who'd heard it from her friend who talked about too much "accidental" brushing of her breasts. No one ever called it molestation or even sexual harassment. But all the children knew about it and talked about it. We were all around the age of nine, we were just realising that his touching a student's breasts was wrong, though we weren't really sure why.

I don't know whether anyone told their parents about the whispers; I know that I didn't. There was always the hesitation of saying anything "bad" about a much-respected and very elderly music teacher. I remember thinking that even if I did tell my parents, they might not even believe me. After all, the first question would be "Who did you hear this from? Who said that he touched their breasts?" and I, of course, would have no answer. They were just rumours, unconfirmed and unverified, passing from one student to another. And the reports of his uncontrollable temper which had (as rumour said) led him to physically hit a student made all his students afraid of ever saying anything against him.

We didn't make a big deal of it then. I was mildly concerned when my parents hired him to teach me music, but I confidently stated that if he "tried" anything with me, I would go to my parents. And maybe I would have. But throughout the time he was my teacher, he never did anything overt that I could complain about. But I was always uncomfortable when he touched me in any way. I didn't see why he needed to touch my hand while teaching me, and while there was never anything blatant, there was always the sense of inappropriateness whenever he came physically close. But I did see first-hand that he definitely had a temper - it would flare up when I did something wrong, or dared to disagree with him. He never hit me, but I was always scared of his acid tongue and raised voice.

But to think back over it, maybe my parents had heard the rumours too. I remember being told (again and again) to never go anywhere alone with him. Either my mom or my dad would always remain in the room while I had my lessons with him, and if by chance neither of them were around, the live-in maid had instructions never to leave me alone with him. But still, week after week, for several years, he was allowed to come to my house to teach me music.

All the children knew about the reports, but no one ever said anything. If the parents (mine or others') knew about the rumours, they didn't do anything either. He was always hired and got good reviews from parents, he remained a respected member of the "outsiders" group in our campus, and as far as I know, was never told off by anyone for anything he did. And while I can't be sure that the rumours were true, no one really doubted them at the time. Yet, no one raised a voice, no one said anything. People moved away, the music teacher retired, and the rumours were forgotten.


Spaceman Spiff said...

I suppose there's a stigma attached to child abuse just as there is to rape in this country. All the parents and children probably kept quiet thinking that they shouldn't be the first to report anything. That happens. Everyone shies away from it. It's like the pink elephant in the room theory. Everyone knows it's there, but no one's willing to talk about it.
Nice post.. Definitely something to think about.

Sumedha said...

You're right... no one wants to talk about it. In this case, there was the added hesitation because no one was 100% sure something was wrong. That, too, stemmed from the fact that no one wanted to talk about it and discuss it, including the children the teacher may have abused. It was a cycle of silence, doubts and hesitation.