This Friday as I walked into a school in session for the first time in 8 years, I was swept over by 'deja vu'. The school in question was Kendriya Vidyalaya - I in Salt Lake, Kolkata and I was there to collect some papers from the tenant in my grandmom's flat who is a primary school teacher at that particular KV. To meet her at her classroom, I had to take "Principal sir's" permission, the watchmen instructed and as I stood behind the fluttering curtain which separated the Principal's office from the cool, dark passage outside, time rewinded itself at incredible speed.
Outside the Principal's office was where we frequently found ourselves in our school days, though in our case it was a stern looking Sister who would take us to task rather than the stern Mr. Mohanty who was the one I approached with totally unnecessary timidity on Friday. Mr. Mohanty asked me a few Principal like questions like:
"What do you want?" [Permission to go inside the school, sir!],
"How long will you take?" [Less than half a minute, sir!],
"Why do you ride a motorcycle?" [??!!, sir?],
"Leave your helmet in my office" [Yes sir!].
Maybe behind the servile respect shown was my previous experience as students at the Principal's office when Sister would put questions to us like:
"Who made Basu Miss cry?" [Collective guilty silence],
"Who broke the blackboard?" [It was really all of us engaging in on-the-spot WWF tournaments on the teacher's stage in between two classes so again 'Collective silence'],
"Who snipped the wire of the intercom in your classroom?" [We all knew who it was but frankly we were all tired of the never ending irrelevant announcements so this time 'Collective gleeful silence'],
"Who was playing cricket inside the classroom?" [The real question here was who wasn't :) so again 'Collective gleeful silence']
We knew that most questions like these were to be smartly not answered and the ones that we were compelled to respond to would have the most diplomatic and innocuous answers. In most cases a session with the Principal ended with Frank Sir, our PT and Sports teacher asking all of us to line up and stand with our right palms outstretched where a sharp slap with a blackboard duster would ensure even punishment for all concerned, irrespective of the level of involvement in the offence. One of the pitfalls of being in the most notorious class in school was that in between all the days of mindless enjoyment there had to be days when we all had to take the occasional fall... together.
I walked out of the Principal's office this Friday, my throat slightly dry but still smiling at the memories and made my way to class III-C of which our tenant was the class teacher. Along the way, I was amused to see all those typical things again. The harried looking teacher being encircled by 3-4 kids around her desk, the rest of the class engaged in total mayhem & noise as only kids can and yet the teacher focussed on the last bench "You... you on the last bench, sit down! I am telling you, sit down!" all in vain. Walking through the corridor I could distinctly hear a buzz in all the classrooms simultaneously, a bomb of excitement waiting for the right signal to explode. I could have predicted what was coming even if I were asleep! "Trrrriiiiiiingggg" went the long bell. Recess!!!
Kids came tumbling out of every classroom, in dozens and in my hyperactive imagination even hundreds! Some floated out in a happy daze wearing a smile of inner peace and some came out racing ready to bounce off the walls and hit the ceiling if need be, so thrilled were they at finally escaping the confines of their classrooms! Recess was a time like that throughout our school years. We had rapidly identified whose every-day tiffin was the most delicious and an unspoken signal brought us all together around him. A few seconds later with a grumpy look on his face, he'd be packing his empty tiffin box into his bag as the rest of us wore triumphant, satisfied smiles before hitting the school grounds.
I always think of our school grounds being unending, infinitely large. In that time it seriously felt like it. The steel roller on which we took the occasional joyride and sometimes served as makeshift stumps; the far end of the ground where the occasional six in that direction condemned the outfielder to traverse and fetch the ball from; the boundary wall that we jumped in our rush to get to the grounds even before the gates were opened; everything about spending the glorious recess time on that barren ground no matter how hot or cold it was outside - all occupy a prominent place in our most cheerful memories. If later on in the day, a "Free" period could be converted into a "Games" period by our continuous begging (Which happened a lot of times because every teacher was terrified of what we would end up doing if left alone for an entire period inside a classroom), that would be the icing on the cake, but the cake... we ate it everyday. Not to mention the continuous action inside the classroom with aping a teacher's mannerisms, Oscar winning performances at asking forgiveness on being caught, biscuit eating while the class was in progress, making the class monitor's life hell, inside jokes and what not! A never ending fun trip it had seemed like but like all things good or bad, that time just came and flew away!
The kids rushed past me and out into their grounds screaming and laughing. I got the piece of paper that I had come for but the real thrill was seeing that nothing, absolutely nothing had changed about school life and its wonderful atmosphere whether the school be in Bharuch or Calcutta or anywhere in the world. I got onto my motorcycle wearing a silly grin and was riding past the boundary walls when a miniature volleyball came jumping out over the barb-wire topped boundary wall. I pulled over and picked up the ball. A mischievous beaming little smile straining to look over the wall appeared and said "Kaku, please ek baar ball taa dao!" [Bengali for "Uncle, please throw the ball in once!]
It cut like a knife to be called a Kaku instead of a Dada [Bengali for "Bhaiyaa"] but considering the age difference of 13-14 years I'd be rather pleasantly surprised at being called Dada by such a young kid! If I were 11-12 years old again and was looking at some 25 year old outside my school boundary, I daresay I'd do the same and secretly laugh at the ridiculous set of self imposed rules that his life was now bound by considering that he was all grown-up and supposedly 'free' to live his life. So all I did was toss the ball back in and I heard the shouted out "Thank you" as the little guy raced away not wanting to waste another second. All I could've told him was this "It's OK, kid! Been there, done that! :)"