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!


Unknown said...

Just loved it. Kudos to your memory and recollection of small anecdotes, especially the horse riding bit, which was hilarious. I enjoyed the trip of a a shy and diffident girl and the confessions of a mature adult. Best Wishes Sujata.

sumitanigam said...

School memories penned down so beautifully, great memoir Sujata !

Unknown said...

Hey...I accidently stumbled upon this blog. It's so engrossing. Takes one back to a bygone era. It was a delight traversing through time

Sujata Varadarajan (Sujata Malhan) said...

Thank you!

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