You could see the tops of Gulmohar trees from our breezy classrooms of 40 plus children. We ate lunch on narrow benches placed haphazardly in overcrowded corridors. Or sometimes we just sat on the floor in a circle and ate each other’s food. The library was tiny, there was no playground on the premises and we certainly weren’t allowed to use the lift to go to our fourth floor classrooms.
Our co-curricular activities were elocution (that’s why you’ll never find me mispronouncing “vodka” by pouting my lips to produce a “w” sound); needlework (my mother did it all); art (taught by painter Lalitha Lajmi, actually); home science and moral science (I have no recollection of what happened in either of these classes, seriously).
Our uniforms were stitched by stern nuns who lived in an old bungalow nearby. I don’t think we spent a minute worrying about how ugly our outfits were or why it was our right as children of reasonably well-off parents to be educated in an air-conditioned environment. I for one was too busy plotting ways to eat the kairi and boiled green channa mix sold by a hawker outside the school without getting jaundice i.e. without my mother finding out.
As long as you instill in your children a thirst for learning, don’t kill the sense of wonder every one of us is born with and help your kids figure out how to navigate right and wrong, it shouldn’t really matter which school they go to, right? After all, most of us who grew up on one-rupee samosas in all those neighbourhood schools without the fancy stuff turned out quite okay. Of course, they say it’s a different world and these days parents kill themselves over the Great School Debate. Our cover story explores both sides. Meanwhile, I asked some friends to tell me what they remember about school:
“My school had a temple inside and every morning, two students would be chosen to do puja there.”
“The principal wasn’t too happy with boys and girls getting friendly. She came to class one day and yelled: ‘This is a school, not a whorehouse.’ We had prayers from different religions broadcast over the intercom in the mornings. Girls with long nails had to cut them in school with a paper scissor.”
“I liked the fact that we were taught about Richard the Lionheart rather than Shivaji in junior school; that houses were named after Scottish kings and queens; that we had holidays for Michaelmas.”
“My school had an annual egg feast. Students would cook with teachers and staff and the entire school would be treated to a feast. I’ve heard the tradition still exists.”
“The fact that we had competitions in ‘throwball’; the fact that the Class 2 music teacher smacked you on the head if you were not immaculately groomed; the fact that one of the nuns doled out onion chopping as a punishment.”
“The weirdest teacher was the art instructor, Master Painter who, when he felt stuffy, would declare, ‘Open the window and let the climate come in.’ There were also the D’Sa sisters: Patty and Puri. Patty, of course, was Patricia and Puri was Purification.”
“I’ll never forget the 40-page ‘Soldiers of God’ pamphlets that we used to line up to buy every Monday morning; the chapel (all us Hindus) used to vie to pray in; and the NTSE exam a total of ONE very motivated nerdy soul made it to!”
(Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)