Wednesday, June 16, 2004

June & The Threat Of Schools

Its 9:00 AM in the morning, I am still in bed, enjoying the semi-conscious last hour of sleep. The last part of sleep, where I wallow in self-induced dreams, of being a test cricketer, Oscar award winner, 8 time Wimbledon champion all rolled into one, is the best part of sleep. Basking languidly in the vast expanses of nothingness, my state of stupor is rudely interrupted when my eyes wander around the room and rest on the calendar. It’s the last week of May, which means June is not far away.

The thought of June fills the stomach with uneasiness. It is the harbinger of school. School has a nasty way of breaking the sweet monotony of indolence and unnecessarily introducing a purpose to waking up everyday, consequently advancing the wake-up time by 3 hours. The inevitability of June strikes me as unfortunate and unfair. Of all things comprising reality, June after May would have been considered an acceptable omission by the student community. I have even heard one of my friends mutter to himself; “there really ought to be a law against June”. If there was a proper forum where I could represent to someone, even God, regarding this injustice then I wouldn’t have hesitated to send in a petition.

Come June! and the sun sets on my 2 month long grand summer vacation. Gone are the afternoons aimlessly watching T.V. The evening cricket, which starts at 4:00 PM and goes on until you generously allow the much younger kids to bowl to you, after serious cricket is over, evaporates once schools start.

The first week of school is always intense. There is always the initial excitement in finding out the teachers assigned for each subject. Some students ‘match-fix’ these assignments cosmically by visiting temples and posing threats to God that specific teachers should not get assigned to their class. Such students, whose prayers have been answered, give a knowing smile when the teacher assignments are announced. The school principal is unfortunately unaware of students going above his head and directly presenting their case to a higher power. So he disappoints some part of the student community by assigning very strict teachers to their classes. This aggrieved section of the student community wait for a year before taking up the issue with their respective cosmic representatives by aggressively increasing they number of pradhakshnas in the temple.

Sometimes there is chaos and confusion in finding out which section one belongs to. Usually sections are based on second language and so the same set of students remain together year after year. But there are times where one finds himself abruptly removed from the comfort zone and put into a different section, which surprisingly has the same second language. Such students are extremely confused as different classes have completely different culture, lingo, orientation, ethic and other intangibles. It appears as if the class is part of some other school in a parallel universe.

School in June is more interesting for students who are new to the school. A myriad of thoughts fill my mind when I join a school as a new student. The first few weeks of school are always nervous. There are a lot of things a veteran in the same school will know, which a new student will take months or even years to find out. Finding out characteristics of different teachers is usually the most daunting of tasks. There are the friendly ones and there is always the stricter variety.

I always wondered if teachers were actually manufactured in some factory. And whether the strength, ductility and temperature of the materials that goes into making a teacher actually decides their strictness factor. Some teachers have the air about them that instantly puts the student on alert. They have a way of putting everybody in their place and instantly declaring their authority. I imagine that, all the strict teachers are part of an association; whose members are obligated to declare to the students first up that “it’s the cane! If all of you don’t fall in line”. Most teacher adhere to this rule and tell the class that they brook no nonsense, but some teachers cheat and don’t follow the rules. The students usually aren’t sure what to make out of such teachers and have to wait for the storm that blows when a scapegoat student misbehaves or fails to finish his homework. Watching the scapegoat been torn to shred caught in the vortex of the storm, confirms wide-spread fear that the teacher belongs to the stricter variety.

Apart from the lack of inside scoop on teachers, as a new student, I was also handicapped by many other factors. Each school has it own working model, in some places home works are submitted in a piece of paper, some schools insist on the students maintaining a separate home work book. This escapes notice until the first homework needs to be submitted. Even if I had completed the home work as per the norm, there was always the awkward moment or two in class when I didn’t know how to go about submitting it. Only when a veteran student keeps the book on the teacher’s desk a few moments before the teacher arrives is the submitting process revealed.

There was one school where students wrote in their class work with blue ink and homework with green ink. I found this very strange because I came from a school where only the principal signed in green ink. The school morning assembly is another place that has much scope of culture shock, some schools start with a Sanskrit or Tamil prayer song before moving on to the oath and the national anthem. There are schools which only do the national anthem on Monday or Wednesday depending on the day, when students wear a white dress. In some schools the principal always gets to say something everyday and I’ve always wondered how principals managed to have something to talk about everyday

Everybody treats new classmates with caution. On the first day, all the vital statistics like father’s employment, previous school name, rank in that school, place of residence was extracted from me. Once, I was even asked to write a sample paragraph just so that the other students could see how my handwriting looked like. No matter what one’s rank in the previous school was, it is impossible to predict how one will fare in the new school. When the ranks come out immediately after the first mid-term, the new student’s capabilities become evident and he or she is allocated to the respective strata.

The worst thing about school reopening is the bulk of new books. Some schools distribute all the books on the opening day itself. The poor students have to lug it around in buses and auto rickshaws. Every time I was forced to do this exercise it invariably rained or there was a bus breakdown of some sort to make my life more difficult.

School life improves dramatically for a new student as soon as friends are made. My strategy was to talk to a classmate who sat next to me in the same row or bench. That’s how the first contact is usually made. I usually contemplate and mentally rehearse my first few words carefully before talking. I had the morbid fear that the person would scream and run away from the class if I spoke something wrong. Destiny has a fine way of shaping things up in school life, many a time the person whom you first speak to ends up being your best friend. I had the good fortune of speaking to such a person who till date is my best friend.

As a new student, I was always nervous the first day, as I had no clue whether Monday was the school uniform day or an all white day. Once I dressed up in a Navy blue uniform on my first day to school only to find everybody else in white. The consequent embarrassment is too huge for words. I would have been thankful if the earth opened up and swallowed me inside. When I went back home, I unsuccessfully promised never to visit the school again. These were the times which makes me think how the idiosyncrasies of every school come into being. Does it correspond to that of the people who build the school or is it a consequence of some random thought process or changes in management of a school over time? Most of the times there is no real underlying logic as to why uniforms need to be of a certain color. There are no clear explanations as to why even in rainy days students need to show up in all white uniforms. Certain school traditions need introspection and it relevance to the modern world reevaluated.

I have come to realize School is not an easy place to be for the light hearted ones. It is definitely a character building process. Especially if you are a new student, one feels like a solitary soldier who is up against a big army. Once school begins, the frenetic pace does not stop until the annual exams are over. Weekends, quarterly and half early vacations are but an oasis in the mad rush towards finishing syllabus and preparing for the annual exams. The next summer vacation seems to be far, far away in a distant universe. Everyday morning as students wake up to get ready for school, they’d certainly feel Robert Frost wasn’t far off the mark when he said “and miles to go before I sleep”.