Indian B-School Teacher: ‘Pin Drop Silence’ & Its After-Effect On My MBA Classroom

My father told me a few years ago: “As you will grow older, you will remember your childhood vividly.” In my early 30s, it is already happening to me. I have distinct memories of my childhood, most of which make me the person I am! I was born into an extremely loving and caring middle-class Punjabi family.

But this story is about my school. Until a few years ago, I never realized that my school could have been a different place; I was conditioned to believe that there is only one kind of school, which is the best kind.

I was the topper of my class when it came to scoring marks. But I never liked my school. Looking back, I hated it. When people reminisce about their childhood at parties, singing, “woh kagaz ki kashti woh barish ka pani,” I don’t have even an iota of nostalgia. I remember my friends fondly — the silver (in fact golden) lining of the cloud, but I don’t want to go back to those times. My weirdest memory is about praying at night so that I would not face humiliation or an unpleasant situation at school.

Probably, I was a hypersensitive child. But research says 20% of the population is hypersensitive — almost 1.5 billion people.


Here is more background of my story. My school had very high, red-brick walls. Once inside, I could not see anything in the outside world. I was not allowed to leave the premises under any circumstances, even at my parents’ request. Apparently, this was the number one rule of disciplining children and “being serious.”

The school started at 7 in the morning; I used to be lost at that time. I recently realized that I might have been dealing with hypothyroidism (diagnosed years later), which made my mornings extremely difficult. But I was unaware; we didn’t go for frequent medical check-ups back in the 1990s. So, I stuck to feeling inefficient, lazy, and guilty in the mornings.

The school dress was very uncomfortable: a white shirt, a tie, and a skirt heavy as iron. In the summers of Punjab, it suffocated. If one did not button up to the chin or the tie was a bit loose, there would be severe reprimanding, including shaming. Nails had to be cut, earrings were not allowed, and a hairband was compulsory even if it didn’t serve a purpose for my short hair. These may seem, to some, genuine expectations in a disciplined environment, but the fear of consequences was nauseating.

The morning assembly was torture. The students had to stand still; looking around, yawning, or exchanging glances was not allowed. Not a single child looked happy in that gathering. Everyone sang prayers praising God, only one God everybody was expected to trust, and no one questioned. Also, only one festival was celebrated. Asking questions was not the culture.

Ritika Mahajan, center, with some of her MBA students — and a very different classroom atmosphere. “Nothing,” she writes, “can match the joy of happy faces in a classroom.”


Playing sports was strongly discouraged. In the tenth standard, which seemed to be a significant milestone, only an hour was allocated to games. Usually, this time was utilized by students for copying notes, using the washroom or catching up with friends. Science or math teachers sometimes scheduled an extra class during that hour.

In the classrooms, there were fixed patterns. English was the most important language, and speaking the vernacular language was prohibited. Without a doubt, most of us started doing well in English and I am indebted for it. But the answers expected were similar. Even essays, letters, and interpretations of drama or poetry were to be reproduced in the “correct way.” Imagination and creativity were limited to seldom organized drawing competitions. My bag was hefty, and bag packing was serious business. I would spend the day in fear if I forgot a specific notebook.

Coming late was unacceptable, and using the washrooms during an ongoing class was discouraged. No reasons were given. Probably, one could have missed an important lesson, or it was a breach of discipline. But I never saw the rulebook. All the rules were unwritten — part of the system.

In the class, we were expected to sit without moving at all. Talking among classmates was a crime. Many teachers used a phrase I never heard after school — pin-drop silence. Pin-drop silence is when the class is so quiet that one can listen to the sound of the pin falling.


As destiny would have it, I am now a teacher in a management school and the irony is that pin-drop silence still haunts me. Breaking the rules from my school days still makes me uncomfortable. Classroom noise makes me anxious, and students going to the washroom makes me question the engagement. In my personal observation, I found that many other teachers feel the same way. As a coping mechanism, I have tried dropping a pin in complete silence many times. Surprisingly, I have never heard any sound. So this is why I have decided to break the rules and be set free.

In my MBA classrooms, it takes me courage to create an environment where we sit comfortably, walk in and out of the room at our personal will, drink water and use the washroom whenever we want, and learn to question what we know, and develop our own perspectives. I always carry my cup of tea to the class and hope that others bring their cups too. I feel learning is more effective in my slightly noisy classroom, and students sipping tea do not make my teaching ineffective. We question, learn and think in our own ways – together.

With my baggage, it took me years to understand that pin-drop silence is a myth and that some barriers, sometimes, can be broken. Kindness, empathy, and love could be the game-changers in education. Nothing, nothing at all, can match the joy of happy faces in a classroom. Sad children make bitter adults — adults who end up writing about their experiences, looking for closure. And this, as Rachel from Friends says, “is what they call closure.”

Ritika is an assistant professor in the area of General Management and Strategy at the Department of Management Studies, Malaviya National Institute of Technology-Jaipur, India. She has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee. More details on her website here.  


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