Your support can turn a life
Harking back to those ‘good old days’, K R K Moorthy goes on a trip of nostalgia to his school days, which he regrets will never come again except as memories…
The cane was liberally used at all times, for playing mischief or for not studying. If he/she hesitated, the teachers hit at any place in the body. More often they preferred the soft rear projections of the body.
With all these misadventures, those days were the most exciting and enjoyable period in our lives. Our desires were limited and worries temporary.
This story takes you back sixty and odd years in time. Then the world was different. As kids, our world did not exist beyond our village in Kerala. This place had no electricity, no proper roads and was still in the bullock cart age. The nearest town was ten kilometers away. People knew about the happenings in the world from the Hindu which came to a person in the village three days after the date of issue. One of the rich landlords owned an old Ford car which moved more often on human energy than on fuel. His brother had an Enfield motorcycle. Its approach could be known when it was half a mile away, with the exhaust fuming and blaring. This doesn’t mean that the village was not progressive when it came to education.
The primary school was two kilometres away from home. It was a thatched building. There were walls only on two sides. The other two had four-foot walls with
openings that served as entry points to the classes. The classes were separated by bamboo curtains. We had introduced the concept of the bamboo curtain long before the Chinese had thought of it! But they were not soundproof. Sitting in the first standard, one could tune his ears to geography taught in the fourth, history from the third, and arithmetic from the second standard. Most pupils never paid attention to any of these, including what was taught in their class, since they were lost in their own thoughts or busy watching lizards on the wall catching insects. A few inquisitive ones had made holes in the curtain to peep and see the proceedings of the next class.
There were no desks, but only benches without back rests. Most of the work was done on slates. When we didn’t do the homework in the rainy season, we blamed the Rain God for erasing out. At other times we tried some excuses, but they were not convincing enough to avoid punishment. The cane was liberally used at all times, for playing mischief or for not studying. The hapless victim was asked to stretch the hand to receive the thrashing. If he/she hesitated, the teachers hit at any place in the body. More often they preferred the soft rear projections of the body. The victims squealed with pain, and the spectators giggled with pleasure.
Most boys who came from poor families wore only a small dhoti, which needed washing badly. Others wore pants and shirts. To some extent the cleaner boys were segregated from the others. This was a form of apartheid! The girls were made to sit on one side of an L-formation away from the boys. I was taken straight into the second grade, since I knew most of the lessons which I had byhearted when the elder children read them loudly at home. I was so scared of the new atmosphere that I cried and insisted on sitting near my cousin, among the girls. Since the headmaster was my grandmother’s cousin I was allowed this special privilege. I loved the smell of flowers and the medicinal oil which emanated from the girls. The boys envied my special status and would ask me to cross the floor to their side. I didn’t want to give up my special status. Ultimately, the class teacher decided that I had become old enough to get free from being under the wings of my cousin. This ended my life in the harem!
In order to keep the students awake and alert, every fifteen minutes the teacher played his ‘tape’: ‘Stand, right turn, left turn, Sit.” There were recesses to attend to the biological needs (first call of nature). The boys rushed towards the hedge and baptised a few plants or a tree, in natural settings. The girls were provided with an enclosure. Thus, I had witnessed reservation and special treatment for the fair sex very early in my life. So this practice does not surprise me today.
There was another occasion when we went out of the class during school hours. It was when the bullock cart, with blaring music and announcement of the latest movie in town, came near the school. We were allowed to collect the coloured leaflets thrown out from the cart. We used to treasure them.
Around April 15 every year, on Vishu (New Year’s Day), my grandmother would send a few vegetables and coconuts to her cousin, the headmaster, as a sign of her affection. She would then ask,” Krishna, how’re my boys doing?” This ensured our ‘safe passage’ to the next class. To some extent we were also spared the rod due to this relationship.
The Best Part
Two incidents about school life need special mention. There was a boy who was an ‘Honours’ student since he spent at least two years in each class before moving to the higher one. While he was backward in his studies, he showed progress in some other areas. One day he inscribed the name of a girl from the next class on a lotus flower, adding ‘with love’, but omitting the name of the sender. Instead of appreciating the attention she was getting from an ardent admirer, the girl chose to report the incident to the headmaster. Many of the habitual offenders were cross examined, but nobody claimed or confessed for what had happened. Even those who knew the culprit, played safe. They believed ‘discretion is the better part of valour’, and ‘honesty is not always the best policy’.
One of my younger brothers was known for his boldness to challenge authority and in playing mischief. He made his less adventurous brother an accomplice in his activities. My father worked in the city about 6o kilometres away and came to the village only on weekends. Taking advantage of his absence, the two brothers would start for school as usual but stop at a wayside shop. They would leave the school bags and lunch boxes at the shop and join a gang of boys playing marbles. At lunch time they took their lunch and then continued the game. Towards evening they would join the boys returning from school to go home. One day the shopkeeper discretely reported to my father that the boys were playing truant. My father waited like a lion for its prey. He caught them red-handed and left them with red b—ms. That was the last time they bunked school. The long absence from school was condoned by the headmaster with the receipt of the usual April hamper.
With all these misadventures, those days were the most exciting and enjoyable period in our lives. Our desires were limited and worries temporary. We were full of innocence except for occasional pranks. They’ll never come again except as our memories. The Hindi poetess Subhadrakumari Chauhan wrote a poem “My Childhood” wishing those years come again in life.