Sunday, September 6, 2020

A Writeup For My School

 My school is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month.  I was a part of the first batch of the school, and the school has asked our class to make a short video of our experiences and remembrances.  I decided to write an essay to share my experiences of the ups and downs of school life.  Here it is!

My Memories of School 

I would like to thank Gyan Bharti School for this opportunity to share my thoughts, and also all my teachers and classmates.

As I was amongst the first batch of early students, I want to share memories of the very special year of 1980 and the extraordinary core of people who gave the school its roots and at the same time encouraged it to reach up to the sky.  Since then, our school has branched and blossomed wonderfully and I am sure my classmates and many others who have been involved in this process, will talk more about it.

My first impression of Gyan Bharti School in 1980, was a warm brick building with a hall ideally designed to play hide and seek in (not that we were ever allowed to do so)!

The school’s introduction to me occurred swiftly and dramatically – on my first morning at Assembly.  As we all sat cross legged on the mats, I could feel my feet getting gradually numb.  I knew it was impolite to fidget while people were talking so I sat absolutely still but in a state of inner anguish.  As soon as Assembly ended, we all stood up- or at least I attempted to.  What happened next was that I smoothly and effortlessly keeled over.  I made a few more attempts, with little success.  I could see a group of faces looking- startled, amazed and - amused.  That’s how I became instantly known to everyone as the girl who couldn’t stand!

Subsequently, I learnt how to unobtrusively shift my weight and wiggle my toes to keep the blood flow going, and the memory of this episode gradually faded.

Our classroom was small – but it was the perfect size for us.  There were just a handful of students and teachers under the helm of Mr. Kapoor, making the most of the limited resources we had and working together as a team.  At the age of ten, we felt perfectly equipped to cope with the challenges of building a new school and our teachers and very experienced Director encouraged us in our efforts.  It was this experience of putting aside my personal goals for a little while in order to carry out a challenging and interesting task as part of a larger whole, that has stayed with me and helped me adapt to my changing responsibilities at home and work throughout my life.

The very first teachers I encountered were the ones that left a lasting impression on me and shaped my values.  They were Chaturvedi Ma’m, Anju Ma’m, Usha Sarin Ma’m and Chandra Ma’m.  As days sped by, new teachers - and students joined - enriching our school experience in myriad ways.

As the senior most class, we also had the responsibility of taking care of the little ones- a task we took seriously.  I remember Deepak spending time during every break to push and whirl little children on swings, to the loud chorus of “Deepak Bhaiyya, dhakka do!”

I remember the first project I assembled on a large board in the hall.  Anant had just joined the class; he and I were assigned this task.  As both of us were rather short, it was quite a challenge reaching the top of the board to pin up the charts!  But it served to break the ice and get to know a fellow student.

We had only been a few weeks in school when the activities began- a precursor to many more that would follow in coming years.  

For Children’s Day, we made a beautiful paper model of a children’s park, complete with grass and tiny flowers.

We celebrated Diwali with a garbha dance – it was incredibly tricky managing a sari and a pair of sticks!  But the beautiful melody of the folk song our teachers sang as we danced still echoes in my mind.

Towards the end of the year we put up a ballet.  I think it was based on the story of Prahlad, but I cannot be certain because in order to include everyone, many delightful characters were introduced and the story deviated considerably from the original!  It was this feeling of inclusivity, especially in the first year, that brought a very warm feeling of happiness within me.

Not all moments were inclusive, however.  With complete awareness of the constraints that comparison brings, I cringed each time I was called on stage to find everyone clapping for me.  I would have preferred to have my friends sharing their own accomplishments with me rather than clapping for me.  But I had not the courage to voice my views at the time.

As I grew through the months, so did the school.  I cannot do justice in recalling all the people and events that have made me and the school what we are today.  But here are a few people and memories that have stayed uppermost in my mind-

I am grateful to Dr. Sharma for joining the school mid term and cracking the whip to get our clueless class well prepared to face our first Board exam in Maths.

To Dr. Brar, for leaving the Chemistry lab completely open for us to use at any time, under the supervision of Satish, the lab assistant.  Having worked in many labs later, I realize that it was a rare opportunity given to high school students.

I recall with great fondness the administrative staff, in particular, Mr. Taneja.  Each time I met him, he would ask, “How is your class doing?  Do you need any kind of additional support from the school?”, and he always listened to my answers gravely and carefully.

I remember marvelling at the extraordinary combination of Art and Chemistry that went into our batik paintings.  The incredible way in which Mrs. Arora (or Art Ma’m) taught us, with minimal words- the need to imagine, conceptualize and then work towards creating a piece of art.  And the realization that at some moment the medium takes over and something magical happens to your creation.

I distinctly recall Mishra Ma’m, who provided a special spirit to the fiery roopaks.  She also introduced us to various sports, including basketball – a game I instantly loved and still enjoy playing.

I cannot forget the time I heard Wasif singing.  He usually never did, preferring to keep a low profile.  However, one morning, when there were ripples of restlessness in the Assembly hall, as students waited for Mr. Kapoor and Chaturvedi Ma’m to come, a teacher beckoned Wasif, led him to the stage and suddenly asked him to sing.  I remember the grace, dignity and beauty of Wasif’s performance and the music has remained with me to this day.  

An unusual experience that left a tremendous impression on me occurred during the horse riding class.  One of my classmates, Tripat, somehow managed to edge his horse out of the fenced enclosure.  Suddenly we heard a pounding of hooves and saw Tripat- a largish fellow transformed into a small speck in the horizon.  The riding instructor wasted no time in leaping onto a horse.  Then he looked around and somehow decided that I should accompany him on this rescue mission.  All through the classes, I had been sedately practicing trots and canters and now, suddenly, I felt my horse break into a gallop to keep pace with the instructor’s horse.  I clung to the saddle, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t fall off as we raced down the sports field to the hills beyond.

We managed to reach Tripat in good time and it was only on the journey back that I realized I was actually enjoying the gallop- feeling the strength of the horse and the wind in my face as we sped along.  Perhaps no one will believe now that once it was possible to see – and reach the little green hills by galloping through our school’s fields!

But in essence, this is what my school experience taught me- while moving along predictable paths, sometimes, without warning, life sweeps you up and takes you to unknown places – and all you can do at the time is to try and stay in the saddle.  But if you believe in life – and yourself –  then at some moment you find yourself enjoying some part of the ride, no matter where you are going.

As this was a small school and we were the first batch, the school was keen to provide all the support they could for us to do well in the Board examinations.  There were pluses and minuses.  We had special teachers and extra classes to help us prepare for the tenth standard exams.  Alongside, all our regular teachers reminded us of how important it was to do well in these exams, in hindsight it must have been important for the school to have their first batch do well.  As class topper, the burden of this fell to a large extent on me – or perhaps this is how I perceived it.  It was not an easy load for a child of fifteen.

I was gently reprimanded for the various careless mistakes I made in my ninth standard final exams.  But what nobody knew was that I had taken each exam without sleeping the previous night, due to nervousness.

My family situation was a bit different from others as my brother and I were staying away from our parents (who were at the time stationed in Bangalore).  For the tenth standard exams, I requested my mother to come and stay with me just for the duration of the exams, and of course, she was very understanding and reassuring about it.  

This academic pressure only increased in the last two years, bringing a shadow to the otherwise sunny aspects of school life.  It was at this time that my mother was diagnosed with leukemia and there were many moments in which I felt completely alone.

As we moved through teenage years, I felt a growing sense of alienation from many of my classmates, which saddened me.  There were distinct camps of ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ and the boundaries were sharply defined.  Any attempt to communicate with a boy was greeted with hoots of derision.  The people I had grown up with suddenly seemed to be like strangers.

Over-sensitivity has always been a weakness of mine and over the years, I also sensed a strange internal competition that some of my classmates had set up to try and beat me in academics.  None of this was induced by me and I felt uncomfortable with a situation that I had not the means to resolve.

I felt the same on the playing fields many times.  After hearing several times teachers saying, “Here comes the class topper.  Let’s see what SHE can do on the field,” I retreated into a shell during many of the games.  I longed for anonymity and was always thankful when I got a chance to play basketball as no one could closely monitor my movements on the crowded court.

However, these aspects were a product of the particular states of mind and the environment that all of us were immersed in.  It blew away with the passing of years and I am truly glad to be reconnected with my classmates through largely happy memories.

I was overcome by the genuine warmth with which I was welcomed to the class Whats App group - I had put off joining this for many years until some of my friends tracked me down and said they would be happy to catch up with my news.

A few months ago, when my father unexpectedly passed away, my classmates got the details of the Chautha ceremony and some of them turned up to be by my side at this difficult moment.  It was a gesture that deeply moved me, though I was unable to express it in words at the time.

But that is the wonder of childhood friendships fostered by school ties – they never grow old, even if we do!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Excitements of the Day

Yes, we are all locked down - down but not out!  Each day brings a battle of its own.  But it is almost summer now; nature heedless of man, unfolds at its own exquisite pace.  We are fortunate to have garden with a few fruit trees, some herbs, plenty of bees, squirrels, monkeys and an occasional snake to break the monotony.

We had many eventful moments yesterday.  The not so great ones were our cycle valve tubes getting leaky and our new car battery dying.  Now only my son is able to cycle about and fortunately our old yellow car is still trudging along.

I have been working on a live yeast (and bacteria) culture for bread (as we are running out of baker's yeast).  I was all set to start the bread early yesterday morning when we suddenly decided that we should get down the mangoes from our trees.  In hindsight, this was a very good idea because we had a terrific storm today and the monkeys came this morning searching for fruit.  (They found no mangoes left but threw down some hefty jackfruit, which I am still clearing up.)

Anyway, the mangoes had to be brought down with a hooked stick and they fell (or we caught them) in our bedsheet.  We got three bucketfuls of mangoes and my son was busy handing them out to neighbours who wanted some.  Most people nowadays assume you get ripe orange mangoes from markets and that's how they like them.  Not green and waiting to be covered up in straw and ripened, so there were not many takers for our fruit.  But we are busy wrapping them up and they should ripen in a while.  The fragrance is incredible and I wish we could preserve it on our bedsheets too..

So, I was late by a couple of hours to start the bread.  Anyway, it was fun to make, and I and made a loaf from the Tartine  recipe book.  It was so crusty outside that I had to saw through it and inside it was a bit like sourdough bread, but I think it is not a bad beginning (only my husband has taken the plunge and eaten it so far!).

 And, tomorrow is another day, hopefully filled with - better bread, mango chutney and eventually- ripe mangoes!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Thoughts on Death and Life

My father died a little over a month ago.  My mother had died many years earlier.

Death always has an air of finality to it and when a special loved one dies, in particular loving parents, it is as if an invisible umbilical cord is suddenly jerked out of you.  Umbilical cord and fathers?  Yes, if you know what I mean.

When my mother died there was an immense gap of emptiness and despair.  It took decades for me to cross the vast vacuum within me.  I was quite young and my mother had been the nucleus of our family.  But there was also relief and thankfulness at her death, for she had suffered a great deal from leukaemia in the last few years of her life.

When my father died, things were very different.  It was a sudden, hospital induced death and I am grateful for the fact that my father did not suffer.  He always hated being hospitalised and by the time he reached the emergency unit in hospital, he was hardly aware of what was happening.

Three days before my father's death, about the time he was hospitalised, I began to get messages from him.  Early morning, quick flashes as soon as I awoke, that at the time I did not even quite comprehend.  Messages about life and death.  My father has always been highly intuitive and I do believe that minds and spirits can communicate.  Not in an eerie way but in a wholesome, natural, positive manner.

This sense of communication was heightened on the night of my father's cremation.  I was not the only one to feel my father's presence- my young son did and a few others who were close to him.  In addition I also felt very intensely, the presence of my mother, the presence of a yogi and great joy, love and wisdom emanating from them all.

At the time I did not trust my feelings, thoughts or instincts.  And why do I write all this in a blog?  I have since continued to feel the presence (and communicate with) people who are not here in visible form, in some fashion.  I do not mean that I hear voices or see visions.  It is far more subtle and always a positive, non judgemental and compassionate form of communication.  Perhaps I am more open to listening to my spirit after many years of yoga, I do not know.

I just want to say that it has opened new doors for me.  Though yoga texts clearly say so, we do not really believe that there is more to a person than the physical form.  But now I know there is.  Death no longer has an air of finality for me.  It is nothing but the dissolution of a physical form.  Recently I have spoken to people who have faced similar losses and they have all said that they felt their loved ones close by and had many uncanny experiences which they could not explain.  Coincidences, serendipity, there are many other words for things we do not quite understand.

This view of the transience of death and the continuity of life has made me think and perhaps live my life a little differently now.

Finally, I put down below a few of my favourite verses on these matters of death and of life-

Death, Be Not Proud, by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

A Walk, by Rainer Maria Rilke

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die.

Coda, by Octavio Paz 

Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scattered seeds.
It planted a tree.
I talk
because you shake its leaves.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Kenny Bear Lends A Paw

My husband is travelling and my son, Nayan, is down with viral fever (103 for last two days, is getting better today).  Nayan misses my husband and keeps telling me of all the terrible things he is going to do to him once he is back!

Temperature monitoring and medicine and food giving are a challenge.  What does one do?

It so happened that Kenny bear fell ill at the same time (with a temperature of 1000).  Someone had to take his temperature and feed him and he needed someone to huddle next to. So Nayan came to the rescue.  Kenny bear loves honey, especially when it is mixed with ginger and basil.  So does Nayan.  Lucky, for both of them.

P.S. Kenny bear is also better today (temperature of 55) but fast asleep.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Thoughts On Earth Hour

I sat and watched the sea and sky
A tide within me rose up high.

My heart echoed an ancient beat
I spoke to strangers in the street.

"I've cut the lights, blocked out the sounds
I've let my roots deep in the ground.

When I look up and gaze afar
I will be searching for my star."

Happy Earth Hour!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Growing Up, In Little Steps

This is a busy time of the year.  And we are so looking forward to what the new year will bring that we forget sometimes that a lovely little part of this year still remains.

We usually get visitors at this time of the year and this year is no exception.  The other thing we got (through the usual school route) were terrible infections- sore throats and coughs.  My son, the first to come down with it, was also the first to recover.  When our first set of visitors arrived, I was flat out (literally) in bed, not able to get up at all.

I was extremely frustrated - my favourite nephew (who visits every year) was here, for a brief visit.  My husband was not really available, as he was working on some deadlines.  That left my four and a half year old son (who had to be taken care of).

I was thinking, "The kids are here and I have not baked a single thing and can't even take them out or cook any of the things they like..." and so on.  It took me a while to calm down and when I did, I realized that the kids (my nephew and his wife) were now in their thirties and they were very happy to babysit my son.  They were apparently off sweets on this trip and were happy with fruit, which we had plenty of at home.

My son, who loves walks, showed them some nice paths on the campus.  Quite by chance, a few days ago, he had selected some pasta from the market, which turned out to be their favourite too.  So they all happily cooked dinner for themselves.

The next day, my son took them to visit some relatives (without his parents, for the first time).  Everyone had a wonderful time and I got some time to sleep off my infection and get back on my feet.

It occurred to me that we had all suddenly grown, I don't know exactly when or how, but in wondrous ways, rising to meet the occasion.  Little steps that made a big difference.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lessons From My Son, On Perfection

The pursuit of perfection is instilled in us at an early age, perhaps to develop certain qualities that will help us in years to come.  And it does have a place in our lives as do rigour, a commitment to excellence, diligence, analysis, the process of checking, cross-checking, sifting, unearthing...  But there are times when the pursuit of perfection is self defeating and often, the adult world cannot easily see this.  We need other eyes and ears and tiny  new voices to tell us that we should rethink.

Perfection comes into play quite often in times of self expression - when one is creating something new or just trying to express oneself through appropriate channels.  It is important to remember that when we are driven from within to express ourselves, we do not really know the purpose of the expression or what lies ahead for our creation - where it will go and who it will touch.  Even if we try, we cannot repeat ourselves for each situation is different- the moment is different, we are internally at a different state from the previous time and the space and environment we find ourselves in is never the same.  That is the beauty of our individual efforts and what makes it satisfying is not just the shape it takes but the process involved.  And at some moment we need to let it go, drift away and find its goal.  Many times, our concern about our own inner standards prevents us from expressing what at a very deep level we would really like to.  We hesitate, preferring to wait for a better time, and the moment is gone (other moments do come of course).

Long, long ago, I stopped singing (as I could not sing at the pitch desired by my primary school teachers!).  I do hum and whistle and, like many people, some music does move me enough to sing on my own at times.  But not very loudly.  After my son was born, I realized that he much preferred to hear my voice rather than the tapes I would play and nothing could make him sleep better than my own bedtime songs.  So I began to sing, just for the two of us, and now there is so much joy in the process because, at his prompting, we are learning new songs together and singing them loudly and unabashedly.  The first day that he settled into school, I found I was free to shop in the morning and it was only after spending quite some time in the shop that I realized I had been humming away to myself, and no one had raised an eyebrow.  A gift I need to thank my son for.

My thoughts turn also to a friend who derives tremendous satisfaction from perfection.  Photography is one of his interests, and when he visited India, he carried his equipment around, taking pictures everywhere he went.  There were so many photographs and not enough time to edit them so they lay around for a while until he decided to send them to us anyway.  It so happened that they arrived on a day when my little son returned from school in tears.  He had taken his collection of wildlife pictures (cut out from the newspaper) and someone had trashed them saying they were not meant for his school work,  and my son desperately wanted them back.  As I wondered what to do, there appeared on my computer screen, shot after shot of pictures taken at a wildlife sanctuary.  My son and I went through them with great delight.  We thought they were beautiful because they had a spontaneity and because they were just what my son was missing at that moment.  My son was happy to have a new collection (though he said there were not enough monkeys and also cautioned the photographer not to wander about at night taking pictures because a Brazilian wandering spider might dig its fangs into his foot!).  Perhaps these pictures would not make it into a fancy photo gallery in their current form but my son and I could not have asked for anything more perfect at that moment.

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