Putting together a book about schooldays as seen through the eyes of poets, novelists and film-makers has been, well, an eye-opener.
These poems, essays and stories have taken me to the heart of the Indian school experience. They cast a clear and unsentimental eye over a familiar childhood battleground, a battleground we often tend to forget or romanticize or gloss over as adults. It’s even taught me a few lessons, which might be useful for parents with school-going children.
Recess--The Penguin Book of Schooldays: Penguin, 355 pages, Rs450.
“What tortured me in my schooldays was the fact that the school had not the completeness of the world… Children are not born ascetics, fit to enter at once into a monastic discipline.”
From My Life in My Words
What I learnt: The factory approach to education does not work. The world outside the classroom is important. Whether a child excels in school or not is no indicator of the skills he or she can develop later in life. After all, Tagore, who never enjoyed lessons as a child, did go on to win the Nobel Prize in literature.
“Two things that Doon gave me—and I will mention just two most valuable things—were a sense of equality with boys from very different backgrounds and a wide range of interests outside purely academic… Our friendships and enmities had almost nothing to do with the world outside Chandbagh.”
On Founder’s Day
What I learnt: In our country there is great disparity between regions, not to mention class and caste divisions. The child should be sensitized to the fact that we are all equal and that religion, caste or financial background do not make one person superior to the other.
“I had fought once or twice in the junior classes and emerged with my clothes torn. But this was Soakum, the best cry-baby in the school. The rest of them had seen him throw my towel in the pool. He could go around telling the boarders that he had beaten me.”
What I learnt: During my teaching days, a young student stole a Gameboy (a video game) and was found out by the other classmates. These classmates ganged up and soundly thrashed ‘the thief’. While ‘the reason’ behind this violence may seem justified to the boys, they took the law in their own hands and meted out punishment as they deemed fit, and that was unacceptable. There are ways of addressing a troubled situation but taking the law in your own hands or violence defeats the purpose. Children must be taught from an early age that violence is not the solution; nor can it be justified.
Wide angle: During the school years, children should be exposed to a range of activities outside pure academics. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
“The Short Skirts seemed somehow to the manner born. Anyone who was not and tried to emulate their swishing ease was taking the big risk of exposing themselves as laughably overreaching and ludicrous.”
What I learnt: Children are often prone to pressure from peers. It is only when they grow older that they are able to resist it. A parent must comfort a child constantly and let him know that he need not do anything that goes against his nature and temperament.
“The teacher is leading the class through a poem from the Bal Bharati state textbook: Tennyson’s ‘Farewell’…
“‘The poet is speaking to the river,’ the teacher explains to the class. ‘This is a figure of speech. It is called an apostrophe.’ I did not know this.”
From Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
What I learnt: A child must have access to material he can relate to easily, that comes from his own environment. During my school years, I found it difficult to visualize things that foreign authors and poets spoke about. This feeling of not being able to relate to what is taught is usually the beginning of a loss of interest in academics. I am glad that I was, at least in the senior years, exposed to Indian authors such as Allan Sealy and A.K. Ramanujan, who wrote about the world around me.
“Taking my report card home was an ordeal, not because my parents worried about my marks but because I was distressed at not being able to do better.
“‘I’m terrible at arithmetic, Papu,’ I would tell my father unhappily.
“‘So am I,’ he would promptly reply.”
From Prison and a Chocolate Cake
What I learnt: I always used to be nervous before exams. I used to get physically ill. I remember my father walking with me on the terrace, saying it did not matter to him how many marks I got or whether I failed. The stress of exams is very real to a child and as a parent it is important that you take that pressure off. A high-scoring mark sheet does not always mean that your child will also be a great leader or a good person.
The New Delhi-based author used to teach at Doon School, Dehradun. He is presently working on a book on urban youth called The Butterfly Generation.
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