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Schooldays like yesterday

A grown-up girl remembers her teachers and their ways, her classmates and their manners

Some four and a half decades ago I joined DCHS, a missionary school in Andheri in Mumbai. Didn’t realise it then that our station in life had changed and that one was relocating to one of the not-so-fancy suburbs, having always been a Bandra girl before that!

Don’t remember much of the interview or interaction as we politely term it today. Just remember asking my mom to look; the initials ‘DCHS’ on the back of a chair were the same as that of my previous school. Some coincidence that!

I think that was the only part that was the same — located in bigger grounds, right off the main road, the school campus was a sprawling one with big trees, the biggest being a tamarind tree right in front of the Principal’s office window. With a cemented platform around, it served as a meeting place for many a lunch break and last minute revision sessions! But most of what I associate the tree with is of course the innumerable times we were made to kneel down there — don’t remember the crimes that merited those punishments, though!

What times those were, I still can remember the sharp gravel that used to leave marks on our knees, the tempting tamarind dangling tantalisingly close, the curious looks that the juniors gave and the sneers from the seniors. Peers had no option but to be sympathetic, we still had to share notes and food, didn’t we? Fortunately, parents didn’t visit schools as often as they do today or we would have been in serious trouble as nearly all the students were from the nearby colonies where an incident like this would go down forever in the annals of ‘our’ history.

The friends I made in the first week or so stayed friends till the last day of school, two carried on to Junior College too — Kavita K., Arti J., Rita F., Sharon. Class IX meant a reshuffle and as an educator I now understand the devious minds working to break ‘groups’. So I was the bad apple that needed to be shunted out to the ‘D’ section while all the other good girls remained in ‘A’.

Nursing a bruised ego, I soon delighted in finding Kim S., who turned friend, philosopher and guide. A sister to three brothers, stoutly built, she didn’t seem to have a care in the world and we ran the most successful ’Balki’ classes for Math and Science during the hour-long lunch-break that was part of our nine-to-four school routine.

Earlier I used to take the 10-minute walk home for lunch as the hunger pangs quickened my step, then relish a hot meal and take the stroll back at a leisurely, happy pace. All this changed; I would carry lunch, which would be the most unappetising and as tacky stuff, as a parantha with an omelette — ugh! Soon my newfound students realised that a soggy parantha meant a terrifying ‘Miss’ in the tutorial and so I was bribed with all sorts of Goanese delicacies and the softest of paavs!

Going back to the first days at school, the first physical training (PT) period at school was a disaster — had no idea what ‘stand at ease’ meant! Red faced in my blue palazzo pants (no uniform had been bought till then and I was a true blue Bandra Girl wasn’t I?) I was saved from utter humiliation when the soft-spoken and only PT teacher the school possessed till the day I passed out from school, Ms, D took me under her wing. Lo and behold, off flew the years till Class X till when yours truly never stepped into the ground to do any kind of physical activity, leave alone play a game. Did try handball a few times — that’s just about it. Of course there was hell to pay for when I had to lead my House in the march past as the House Captain in Class X; I think Ms. D and I wished the earth would open up….

What a great leveler school can be when you are all treated alike. The white blouse and khaki pinafore made us all modern day Cinderellas. Of course there were exceptions, like when K would get a lot of sweet talk as her parents owned the cinema hall next door and movie tickets for Sholay were available only in ‘black’. There may have been one or two more but we never did come to know.

And oh, the innocence of that age! We were the first batch of the 10+2+3 pattern, little did we know or care. All that mattered was that the new Math seemed to flummox our teachers more than it did us! To me Algebra and Geometry were poetry in motion, chemical bonds and Newton’s laws, music. I had found my forte and mission in life — little did I realise it, though.

The new pattern entailed a lot of Unit Tests and unheard of ‘full marks’! I soared into the heavens of academic achievements and left everyone else way, way behind!

Coming back to innocence, I remember when I nearly could not attempt a Chemistry paper, because my class teacher, ex- actually, she was the in-charge teacher when I had been in Class VI three years earlier, Patricia A., was the invigilator and I remember being distracted by her lovely smooth calves (not that way, silly!). I remembered the long hair that would flourish and curl there earlier.

What had changed? Ah! She had got married! Is that what happens when one gets married — the hair on your legs disappears? I don’t know how I managed the test and controlled my curiosity till I got home, got my mom’s attention and posed the great question. And will never forgive her; god rest her soul for laughing till tears rolled down her cheeks! Understood then that a lot of gaps existed in my education, set about getting them right, not greatly successful because for a while I thought that if a boy touched you when you were ’chumming’ you’d get pregnant. Thank god for my observant ma who frowned when I was trying to keep away from the guys in the BEST bus one day.

Class IX D became X C – lots of students are still kept back in Class IX so as to not spoil the ‘school’s results’ — CCE started by the CBSE has barely made a dent, today, too. Class X brought in the Vice Principal as the English and Moral Science teacher. I still have to find a teacher, leave alone a nun, who can tell a class of 59 girls that we had already decided upon our morals and little of what she said could change that. So we concentrated on English and I have been in love with the subject ever since. How literature came alive, how our bosoms heaved when we were captivated by Lochinvar and Highway Man, how hyperbole and onomatopoeia became pet words, how Ben Hall’s life was soul-stirring and not meant to be mugged up for a test. Thank you Sister M for your love and guidance and loving sarcasm!

I remember tottering up in high platform heels and a saree as ‘Chinchi’ or Ms. M for Teachers’ Day. Chinchi was a gorgeous beauty with her transparent figure hugging georgettes, low necks and a bouffant. The eyeliner always immaculate and her pallu forever held in place with the index finger and the thumb of her left hand, she took us from congruence of triangles in Math to Reported Speech effortlessly. Many thanks and every time I student remarks about my eyeliner, I wonder if my influence on this young one will be as awesome.

We had Ms. S, a bureaucrat’s wife, teach us Biology and all those ‘naughty’ bits with a straight face and at the same pace whether it was about birds or bees, rather plants or animals! Resplendent in her chiffons, the legend was she never repeated a saree. Ms. W was a propah nose-in-the-air Geography teacher, remembered more for the way she pronounced ’bar-oh-met-er’ and her beautiful twirls and curls on our certificates! Sr Mag struggled to control us hooligans whether it was in Hindi class or in the kitchen garden where she tried where she tried to show us how ‘toe-mein-toe’ grew.

Our needle work teacher suffered from encephalitis, the poor thing never could get my name right and always threatened to punish me. Mom’s knitting and baba suits saved the day. Ms. U was so judgmental she broke my heart when she announced that she knew I would never end up being any good because of my family background. Woe to any teacher who makes such a proclamation! Of course there was Ms. B, always asking me why I was ‘laffing’ and nearly hitting my head with the duster — they used to be heavy and wooden then.

Poor Ms. M, tiny, diminutive, middle-parted hair in a neat bun, spectacles on nose, could not pronounce ’w’- it came out like my brother-in-law’s name, which was Babloo. Once she understood why I always wanted triangles to be named WXY, I graced the door for the rest of the term.

Our Art teacher had more colours in her hair (as mine do now, that reminds me) than in her palette, could never get me to understand perspective. Ms. Joy and Ms. Blossom taught us what dedication to your work means.

Memories, idols and mentors — teachers never can tell where their influence ends. How they have shaped my life and those of innumerable others makes me feel my responsibility more and more each day. The autograph from my Principal, Sr. G, comes to mind ever so often: ‘’Ideals are like stars, you cannot reach them. But like mariners of the sea you can chart your course by them.’’ 

balmitkaur@gmail.com          

 

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 5:46:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/schooldays-like-yesterday/article23783444.ece

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