The Things We Carry Within
Have you ever opened an overstuffed almirah to have its entire contents rain down on you? The flow of objects is incessant and there’s not much one can do in the circumstance. The trick is to let the downpour exhaust itself and who knows, one might find a long lost cherished possession. As I sit down to reminisce, and maybe pen down a few moments of my school life, I’m swept away by a similar deluge. A tsunami of images and memories rush by, a smile lights up my face as I recall days long gone but seemingly never forgotten. Those were the days when life was better, absolutely uncomplicated and unburdened maybe because I was 15 kgs lighter. In fact, I am amazed at how much I do remember: names, dates, faces and how fresh it all seems as if it were just yesterday when in reality; more than 21 years have gone by.
My heart still stops and skips a beat when I recall a steely-eyed Ms. Verghese looking through an open window at the second last bench of Class VI A, where yours truly sat making paper planes during a boring History lesson. The Principal of Ashok Hall Girl’s Higher Secondary School extended her hand leaving me no choice but to hand over the incriminating evidence. She walked into the class and gave the offending piece of paper to the teacher. Not one word was spoken during the entire exercise. It was my third day of senior school and I was convinced it would be the last. Although let off by the teacher with a mild reprimand, I deciphered what the expressions ‘white as a sheet’ and ‘struck dumb’ actually felt like.
I also remember all my Math exams vividly. Particularly memorable was a half-yearly 100 mark exam in Class 7, when on receiving the question paper, a dear friend burst into tears. I, sitting right behind her consoled her to the best of my ability signalling that I too knew nothing but we would somehow manage. Another friend looked at the two of us and mimed a “Main Hoon Na” gesture saying she’d ensure that we passed. I don’t know how we completed the test but the results are burned into my memory forever and ever. The first sobbing friend got a 7. I scored a 5. And the friend who’d reassured us got a 3! I remember the look on her face and amidst the tears and of course, the laughs that followed, we learnt that against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand or feel too bad for long.
Speaking of laughter, there’s no sight more comical on planet Earth than me in a PT class. Most children look forward to the PT period. I dreaded it, especially marching. You see, when normal humans march they alternate the left leg with the right hand and vice versa. Due to some chemical and neurological imbalance, I managed to march swinging the right leg with the right hand and vice versa. Trust me, the entire class waited for my turn to march and even Ms. B.Dutta, the teacher in charge would shake her head with barely controlled mirth. To her credit, she always gave me a D instead of an F, which I richly deserved. Maybe because of a shared love for the game of cricket and a certain Sachin Tendulkar! Mr. Tendulkar also ensured that school days were never mundane or boring and my Sachin Tendulkar collection, currently on loan to the Fanatic Sports museum owes a large debt to the sports magazines in the school library! I hope I don’t get fined for owning up to this offence! Getting punished at the age of 40 for desecration of school property is not the example I’d like to set for my 15-year-old son. He’s already scandalized by the idea of his mother aiding and abetting the removal of starters from tubes in class so as to gain a free period. To our sorrow, the trick did not work and Ms. C Sarkar made us do the class in semi-darkness amidst all the moaning and groaning and complaining.
The only class I never complained or moaned about was English. That period was my portkey to an alternative universe of words and emotions and poetry and magic and distant lands. I remember the awe I felt as Ms. J Ganguly readout The Frog and the Nightingale. That a person could weave such magic with the 26 letters available at everyone’s disposal! Vikram Seth has been a favourite since then and A Suitable Boy occupies pride of place in my collection even today. Lata did not just break Kabir’s heart, she broke mine too.
This passage is already nearing its word limit and there’s so much I haven’t spoken about. I haven’t mentioned the kindness and love shown by Ms. M Mehrotra to a sobbing 16-year-old who’d lost her grandfather and was inconsolable each day in every class for more than a month. I haven’t spoken about the stained skirts and the drama a period could unleash in a classroom. I haven’t spoken about the time when 38 of us in a class of 42 were punished by the Hindi teacher, Ms. Verma and made to stand outside class VIII A for not getting the Vyakaran book. She actually took the class with 4 students who spent the entire period looking wistfully outside. I haven’t even mentioned the narrow school lane that flooded at every downpour and often necessitated half days with students wading through the murky water, socks and shoes in hand. I haven’t mentioned….
The truth is, although we live and breathe in words, sometimes they are woefully inadequate. So let me just end with a profound sense of gratitude to my Alma Mater and friends and teachers for this treasure trove of memories. Even today, as I pass Minto Park, my eyes stray towards the narrow lane adjacent to Chandrani Pearls, where so much of life was learnt and lived. Because however old we may be, the school will always be school.