I wanted to name this 'Triggers and Warnings: Part 1' and that is what this will be.
The year was 2007. I was going through intense grief from the loss of both my grandfathers— one to cancer and the other to brain haemorrhage. I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I left the school I studied in for over ten years, for another school for reasons that sound funny to me now. My parents were dead against me moving schools. My mother refused to step into the new school, but she did subsequently (more on this later) and so it was my father who came with me to enroll me in this new school. I didn’t know the impact that moving to a new school would have on me. It was a mindless decision.
My old school was filled with kind teachers, amazing friends, and freedom. We spotted mynas and sparrows flitting about, squirrels scurrying away with fruits and nuts, trees the height of skyscrapers (well that’s how it seemed to a four-foot school girl), silent post-lunch breaks in the girls’ dorm, dance and art rooms with red-oxide flooring. Work Experience class was something everyone looked forward to. In my first class, I diligently stitched my skirt with the embroidery frame, while learning about chain stitches, and the teacher sat after class trying to unloop and cut the threads from it. I scraped through with a 40 in Electronics. I broke a string on Denzel sir’s guitar and ran away. I enrolled for swimming classes in our founder’s house. Once, I nearly drowned, only to be saved by one of the gardening didis who jumped in to fish me out. Whitefaced, I clambered out as a wriggling worm of an eight-year-old from the six-feet pool, in my teal swimsuit.
The school was a green campus filled with mango trees that dropped its fruits every now and then. Crows shat on my head at least once a year, tamarind trees jostled for light, and the neem trees blew cool breeze into our classrooms fitted with French windows, painted with our logo in white. ‘Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re’— translated to ‘Gentle in manner, resolute in deed’, or a friend pointed out, was it Suaviter in re, fortiter in modo?
We were lucky to face sprint punishments in the sprawling playground. It was a cricket, football and basketball ground all merged into an acre-wide (or bigger, I’m sure) space. This meant all these sports could take place simultaneously. We hosted tennequoit matches, volleyball tournaments and repeatedly won basketball matches at the inter-school levels.
We were bestowed with piping hot food and water cans everywhere, sweets and sugarcanes on festivals, and packed lunches to take during matches. We waited for colour-dress wearing class-day-parties and fests such as ‘Jwa’ (actually supposed to be ‘joie’ in French) with bated breath. We waited to meet Ambi sir. We marvelled at his scented, but quick and unconventional handshakes every time we walked into his room to share chocolates on birthdays, or simply walked past him in the checkered quadrangle.
We had a medicine room with actual doctors and actual nurses, a huge library overlooking the playground, red stone benches that shone and burnt us on summer days, and turned into audience-seats for a game of Kings played by crushes and frenemies, and timely school bus pick-ups and drops.
Summer vacations were for mainstream school-goers. Though we had summer vacations and holiday homeworks, we had something special. We had month-long ‘monsoon vacations’ between October and November each year.
We were spoiled by tuckshop treats every time we won something. We ate breakfast in school on practice days. We hardly carried heavy school bags. We were given rexine attaché cases (referred to as attachés) on which we engraved our five-digit unique roll numbers with compasses. The purists left theirs intact. I obsessively corrected students who got the spelling of the school wrong. Sorry, friends.
The school prayer was a mixture of six different languages, including a Tamil thirukural, and a prayer for world peace. The school functioned smoothly without any religious affiliations. Like a friend put it recently: ‘We were woke before the world even got up from their sleep.’
We didn’t care about religions, who ate what and went where. We forged strong bonds and cemented friendships.
We fought in the coloured quadrangle during assemblies, (I remember slapping my best friend, and she slapped me back during one of the assemblies) and fought again inside the school bus, saving seats and dashing to pick the best ones. Voilà, Skyline and Yellow were not houses for sports, but were names of buses. Sekar Anna, Palani Anna and so many others who were our drivers and conductors, who ensured we got home safe and sound.
We were repeatedly caught with slam books or whiteners at the entrance by ‘bag-checking’ didis. And yet, we never complained of privacy infringement. Lord.
We had ‘longest sentence writing’ competitions (which I won, duh!) surprise cloze tests and poetry recitations. I wrote for the school magazine (which was not a big deal anyway, but kind of was, for me) and submitted short stories to contests through my English teacher Shanti Sree (typed on Windows 98, which I haven’t been able to find since then!) I took part in plays and stayed back after school well into the evening a couple of times – staring at the tall sodium vapour light that leads to the school quadrangle, waiting for the bus to pick me up. Sometimes we practiced for plays which were handed to others, but it didn’t bum us out. But I remember about it, so maybe it did?!
I believed strongly that all schools were like this. With this expectation, and much to the chagrin of my parents, I set foot into my new school. The first day sent me into a tizzy. I had to bring a lunch box? If I didn’t, then I had to carry money to buy something to eat.
In this new school, my classmates used public transport to get to school or cycled. They stopped in bakeries after school – another new addition. I had to make new friends and wear skirts that reached my shins and polished black buckled-shoes. I had to forego wearing navy blue shoes and socks. I had to forget how our school dining hall smelled— of washed plates, hot rice, ghee, curries, sambar, rasam, curd, pickles and appalams the size of our round plates. I had to erase the memories of the snaking line that led us into the colossal dining hall, saving seats in the six-seater dining tables, and waiting for friends from other lines to join us.
While I was transitioning as a newcomer in this school, I made friends, but I also met a bully of a teacher, who failed me, literally. I had never failed in my life earlier. I didn’t exactly have friends who stood up for me, because why would they? I was a duffer anyway. The size of this school was half the size of my previous school’s playground. Well, that shouldn’t matter. True. And it didn’t, initially. But it did, when they said that at any given time, only one sport could be played. Girls played throwball. Every other game was reserved for the boys. I always thought I was in the middle of some kind of joke.
But, a lot of students had studied in this new school. They attached memories and life-events to this school. They have had kind teachers most of whom I’m sure had a great impact on them.
This– is MY experience. No experience is wrong or right, good or bad. It is an experience. Sit tight for what I have to say next in Triggers and Warnings Part 2.
Please write to me at [email protected] if you have any additions, corrections or praise. You can add them as comments below as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this, kind La Chatelaine folks.