Tuesday, June 20, 2006

First Day Blues: A Flashback

The first day in a new school/college/company is always exciting isn't it? The whole geography of the place is new, you are meeting so many people and the names sort of merge with each other. Everything is a haze. Slowly over time the fog settles down, things clear out and you begin to understand who is who and which corridor leads to what room. Having studied in over a dozen schools, worked in a few more places , I still admit to some butterflies hovering in my stomach on my first day anywhere. This could be the 20th time I am a new kid on the block and I have to say its as thrilling as the first time.

Or the ninth time....

One evening way back in the 80s, I was playing with half a dozen friends in my grandfather's place in Madras. I was abruptly pulled out of an argument surrounding a run-out and put on a bogey in Nellai express and sent on my way to a place called Palayamkottai. Little did I know that I was heading towards two of the most exciting years of my life. All I knew was - It was to be my fifth new school and 4th new place in 5 years. This had become a typical ritual for me in June. I wouldn't be enrolled in any school until mid-June given that my father could be transferred to anytown, India. The transfer order (which was based on the weather patterns, planet-alignment, changes to the Sweedish Government) would come mid-june. Schools and houses would be quickly found and I would be evacuated from my grandparents place to yet another adventure in an unknown place. I completely detested going out of Madras. Every June my dad threatened me with new places and I would respond with a "yuck" or a "Ywack". One year, he'd say "Bombay" and I went "yuck". Next year He'd say "Gwahati" and I'd say "ywack". Quite frankly, I didn't know how to respond to a 'Palayamkottai'. I mean - what the hell was that? I had never heard of this place before. A few people who knew the place scratched their head and said - "It has a jail". But what good is a jail for a seventh grader?

So, one monday morning in June, I woke up to find myself in Palayamkottai, Thirunelveli. My house had a few opened and many unopened crates strewn around and my dad was instructing the men who were arranging stuff. I was nervously dressed up for school. My mom always insisted on a 'kungumam' kind of smear on my forehead before I left to school, which my brother and I wiped out 3 milliseconds after we entered the school gate. Not cool enough. We hadn't scoped out the school yet. [The previous year I forgot to wipe it, walked into a Christian school and was made the butt of all jokes for a month]. A few note books were thrown into my bag and there was obviously a pencil box making the "dodak dodak" sound as I walked. The lunch bag had a water bottle, a tiffin carrier and a towel ( also called a 'napkin' :-) ) wedged between the two. A spoon was loosely dropped in the lunch bag. The carrier had three small containers. The middle one housed the vegetables, the bottom one had sambhar/rasam rice and the top most one invariably had curd rice with pickle stains on it. Sometimes the curd would leak in to bag along with some rasam and the spoon, unable to bear the stench, would jump out and commit suicide.

Sidetrack: Remember the obnoxious kids who wore their school bags with the rope handle of the bag wrapped on their forehead. Do you get the picture? I mean the single long rope/cloth like handle, of the bag that is supposed to go over your shoulders. Some village/corporation school students hung the bag behind them with this piece of cloth going across their foreheads. I wanted to slay them just for that act.

The first Monday, I walked in - It had been 3 weeks since school re-opened. And that was typically the case with me. I had never attended school on opening day because at that point in time, I wouldn't even be aware such a school existed. The assembly had commmenced. My parents obviously had no clue about school timings, they just dropped me at a time they guessed would be the regular start time (and they were 10 minutes off the mark). I accosted strangers and asked them " 7 A" - shouted - " SEVEN A" . The students had already formed the class line that would lead them to the school grounds for the assembly. Some pointed their eye up the stairs and some just vaguely waved their hands towards a corner. I was painfully aware that entire lines of students had started to look at me curiously. "new student".... "is he out of town" they were whispering among themselves. Amazing is the pressure that comes from carrying a bag + hand bag in a stange building with 100 eyes breathing down your neck. I felt like I was paraded naked in front of a crowd. The lines began to move to the assembly (held in the school ground) and I hadn't found my class yet.

My desparate eyes finally hit an ugly board that said '7A'. I rushed in, expecting the class to be empty - since the assembly had begun - and a thought struck me "I have no place. No Bench assigned Where do I keep my bags?". I ran in and barged into a guy who had his left hand covered in POP and bandage. He was the only one in class. We looked at each other for a moment. A moment I'll never forget for the rest of my life. He was huge for a 7th grader, like a thug. He asked "new student?" I nodded in nervousness. I quickly realized he had been excempted from assembly because of the hand fracture. He quickly realized I needed a bench/place, showed me one in the last bench and said "Keep your bags here. This place is empty". Then he went out of the class and gestured with his face asking me to come to the corridor outside - like a Mossad agent calling a CIA agent on a stake out. "That line" he pointed from above (we were in the first floor) towards students standing in line for the assembly "is 7A". "Run. you are already late," he said. I saw the line hazily, ran down the stairs and went and joined the wrong 7B line.

In the next 30 minutes, I went through several surprises. The Sanskrit prayer "Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu" that I said in a aba-swaramic way that day was the first non-english prayer I had said in all my school life. My past school assembly prayers were an random assortment of Christian choirs (by virtue of the schools I studied). The prayer later changed to "thaayin mani kodi pareer" and by the time I got over the cultural shock of being part of Tamizh prayer they threw a "neeradum kadlodukka niramadantha" at me. Despite being Tamizh and having studied before in many schools in the same state, this seemed like a new world with strange things happening. I was thankful when the "Jana Gana Mana" eventually arrived at the end of the assembly session. At least I knew something.

Back in class: The school teacher stopped during the attendance roll call when my name came up (perhaps struggling to pronounce a name them did not end with 'an'). Looked up from the attendance book towards me and asked "Tamizh'a?".The whole class looked at me, I stood up and said "yes". He then ruthlessly suffixed a 'an' to my name and moved on. The first interval break, students began to congregate around me. Most guys had 2 litres of oil on their heads, 0.5 litres on their foreheads and a bright shining viboothi, which if Robinson Crusoe had worn on his forehead when he was marooned, he would have been visible to ships sailing near Japan. I thought of my mom and felt guilty. I wanted to go home.

They made me write a sample paragraph in English to check out my handwriting. They asked everything from my previous year's report card to my caste. The two main negatives was (a) I was from Madras - a bad thing down south and (b) could speak English -if i get classified as a 'peter' my social life was over. My Madras tamil was letting me down in my attempts to fit in. They even started joking about it. I began to feel I didn't even know the language anymore. At lunch they interviewed me on my cricket abilities for positions ranging from class team to colony team. Seasoned by past experiences, I underplayed where I had to and lied wherever else I could. Thankfully the guy I met in the morning was kind of shielding me from intense interrogation. He seemed to be the TopCat around the place[ RunLolaRun SideNote: It is strange how the people you meet so randomly become bum pals. Ozdude, the guy with the fractured hand, become one of my closest friends, we moved to chennai together, changed schools again together, later went to the same college and are still bum pals. End RunLolaRUn Side Note ] History class: The teacher asked me a question and I stood up (you have to stand up when you address a teacher) and said "No Ma'm". The whole class went to a hush. Side Track: A decision on calling lady teachers M'a'm' and 'Miss' was one of the most difficult decisions to make. It totally depended on school habits. However, in the instant case I did not expect these students to undertstand my 'Ma'm' as 'man'. End Sidetrack. End of day: I was hoping the nighmare would end when the Math teacher Mr.Rajagopalan walked in. Within seconds he asked "where is the new student". I stood up and he said "your father was on the phone with me today afternoon - it seems you are good in Mathematics and weak in Biology. Lets see how good you are?". .....

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey..
good one....
My father too has to keep transferring...so ive been to many schools..
Haha...even I have troubles with the ma'am and miss thing...
anyway.great blog....keep writing..

sowmya said...

oh and the classmate you have lunch with on the first day, very important. sometimes no one will invite you to have lunch with them, sometimes you will get more than one offer. one has to be very careful in choosing. :-)

Casement said...

I could relate to every line in your post. The only difference was, we always headed north. That was worse, for we had to learn the local language which invariably took longer than a year! Among the cute, straight-haired, fair northie kids, a Dravidian face often felt strange.

tilotamma said...

Or being chased around , being called madrasi.........

I made friends with a kid several years my junior during lunchtime.

She was Nigerian.

cerisecarnations said...

well my dad also moved a lot of countries..and each country diff school..ppl from diff nationalities.my first job is also in diff country .So its difficult intially but its fun at the end of it all.

Babs said...

Machi, U r Good yoo....u took me back to VII-A, amazing memory u have....u pushed the right cells to spot those immaculate days in my spotless mind :-) (ok that probably didn't come right)....it was wonder days right..

Good work daa, keep it coming

Anand said...

Man I can still remember how angry I was when my family moved from Bombay to Madras & I had pursue class 12.

Bombay - Jnr College - No uniform
Chennai - HS School - Uniform must (no baggy's damn)

Bombay - carry 2 notebooks
Chennai - who bookself

Bombay - eat out
Chennai - carry lunch (I still remember how I decided to get ride of my lunch box under the 12G bus)

Bombay - couple of hrs
Chennai - 8 hr duty :-(

but the ragging was same, foul language, punches and dont get smart with our girls lesson.

Have been reading your blogs frequently. Have blog rolled U.

Me said...

I can so relate to this one :) been thru my share of transfers too

Sunshine said...

Thankfully, I haven't changed schools that often. But the first time it happened, I was in 3rd and I remember bursting into tears when everyone started staring at me like I was an alien from a distant planet and gave me a new name "The new girl".:-) You brought back memories.. nice blog.

Hema said...

Hello Hawkeye

A classic Post...great to see a good one after a long time. Well atleast you were lucky to have one full year in 1 school. In my case i've done 6 months of my 1st std in Mayuram and the rest in chennai. Have shunted between Daithari mines in Orissa to Amristar in one year.I remember how i used to hate whenever my dad came back and tried to enthuse us with "we are going to a new place story". You are a vivid memory and write very well

Hawkeye said...

anonymous,

'ma'm' and 'miss' has been my biggest problem in all schools.

Hawkeye said...

somya,

the first person you talk to, the bench mate, the lunch guy all are crucial in determining your social strata in class.

you got more than 1 offer for lunch... u mustve have something i dont have.

Hawkeye said...

casement,

ur face will pass of as a n.indian. but i agree with the language part. that makes me pity the n.indian kids who come to TN. it must be so difficult.

Hawkeye said...

tilo,

/*Or being chased around , being called madrasi......... */

it is even worse if that 'madrasi' thing happens within TN. 'koovathupatti' etc are other names given.

with a nigerian eh :-) where was this in Louisiana?

Hawkeye said...

cerise,

different countries is far more complex. we had 2 girls in my college in chennai. kids of IFS officers. they developed a much wider perspective because of their travels. its a good experience.

Hawkeye said...

babs,

Ya as I was writing, I was swept away by memories of our 7A days. my parents too. I need a book to file our adventures in palaymkottai.

Hawkeye said...

anand,

i changed schools between 11 & 12 and went to madras for 12th. so i know how it feels :-)

they should homogenize the education system. its tough to have such large differences (jnr collg Vs school) on people who get transferred.

agree with the book bag though.

Hawkeye said...

me ,

:-)

sunshine,

as a new kid your every action is scrutinized and comes up for comments. its like literally walking naked.

Hawkeye said...

hema,

i did that too ..change 2 schools in same academic year :-). 2 months in pondicheri (sewer town) and moved to vellore (sewer).

Anonymous said...

>> Sidetrack: Remember the obnoxious kids who wore their school bags with the rope handle of the bag wrapped on their forehead. Do you get the picture? <<

I did that when my shoulders ached! :) Also put the strap like a garland and then lift the bag and slide it to the back and VOILA! our own customized backpack! You remember that too? ;) Great post!
- Boo.

anantha said...

Hawkeye: In Thanjai maanagaram, they used to call Madaras - Koovarampatti!

Chetan said...

Wonderful post! I could relate to most of it given the number of times I have changed schools. Another thing that was a problem on the first day, apart from the Ma'am and Miss thing, was how to answer the roll call. One school might have Present miss, another might have here miss, still some just say yes, also in some schools you are required to stand up while others expect you to shout while sitting.

The best parts of the post were the "dodak dodak" sound of the compass box and the rant about students wearing their bags with their straps on their forehead. The little attention to detail added so much to this innocent post. Thanks.

Teju said...

beautiful post... took me back to the days of my first day at school...

also, my sister's first day at school...where I had imagined that I would be guiding her till her scheduled place, in her class (we were in the same school, her being two years younger to me)....but, I was pushed to line of my class, and she was hearded into a classroom which wasn't hers (a different section of the same standard) :(
I spent the whole day imagining all those fat old ladies (teachers) and the shorter ones trying different kinds of tortures on her :))
At the end of the day... I was surprised that she was alive. But she said she had enjoyed her first day at school :D

sowmya said...

hey same pinch again...i changed schools between 11th and 12th too. I went from Hyderabad to Madras. Very traumatic move!

tilotamma said...

I did not expect these students to undertstand my 'Ma'm' as 'man'.

:-))))). This is typically what I would expect from my madurai cousins

Hema said...

I still remember the days when none of the girls in my class 7 would talk to me because the "Bombay girl" talks more to boys than girls. It took almost 2 years before i had any girl friends at all. Was like a outcast in our singara chennai. How i wish those years never come back :( Now when i think about, cant help laughing :)...

Once again, a good post Hawkeye..you should try for a bookers price or something. Malgudi tales maathiri..try for something like "Life and Adventures of Hawkeye" - Unedited :)

hamsini said...

brilliant post!!!I love the part about your brother and you wiping out the kumkumum 0.333 milliseconds after you got into the school gate!!!Can totally relate!

jomy said...

I was in the same school for 12 whole years .. my junior college was just 100 mts away , on the opposite side of the school. Engg college was just , 5 mins away from school also !

And believe me ..i yet know ...how it feels , cause i used to get to play the kid ,appointed by the teacher, who helps the "new-student , who had to share my bench wid him/her,had to give all my notebooks away for copying at home aaaaaaaaand teach Marathi basics to out-of-state students. Little busy thing that i was !

Hawkeye said...

jomy,

we need one like you in every school. sespecially regarding "helping with new language part".

i used to feel sorry when some good northie kids ran away because they couldnt do 7th standard 3rd lang tamil.

Hawkeye said...

hamsini,

feel kind of sad thinking about it. i mean u cant do it in the US and u cant do it in ur own country. soon it will be part of "u know what school kids did in the creazy mom & dad days...funny people" kind of conversations

Hawkeye said...

hema,

i do recollect bombay folks singled out for mean treatment in madras schools (reverse must be the same too). if u r from pune, nagpur, delhi etc.. you are allright but bombay and the attitude changes completely.

Hawkeye said...

tilo,

the tecaher was confused for a while and then I quickly adjusted it to "..err..Miss" . but believe me there are many schools south of madras that use Ma'm.

Hawkeye said...

boo,

/* put the strap like a garland and then lift the bag and slide it to the back and VOILA! our own customized backpack! */

this happened in college when we were still experienting with 'what bags make me look cool'.

Hawkeye said...

anti,

ya! there was a time it boiled me up. now i dont care.

Hawkeye said...

/* One school might have Present miss, another might have here miss, still some just say yes,*/

good point. especially if your name begins with one of the early alphabets. yours starts with 'C' so you are in the same boat. once i had 3 'A' students called before me..they were sitting behind me and i was too nervous to turn around so while i knew it was "present Sir" I did not know if I should stand up or not. I stood up anyway and looked quite insecure & foolish when the next guy did not.

Hawkeye said...

teju,

somehow girls are much better in conducting themselves better in awkward public situations. its the guys who make 'bad' -> 'worse'.

Hawkeye said...

sowmya,

11th and 12th in 2 different schools is horrible. i moved from a veritable village to madras. i couldn't muster a decent rank until Quarterly exam.

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Wow, Hawkeye... I could relate to almost every line in the post. And I agree with the first people you settle with part of it: it simply defines your social status. And I know the being-branded-Peter bit... have suffered it :(

Keep this up!

Anonymous said...

I was in the same school from 1st to 12th std, so i never had any issues. But i still remember couple of new students from Bombay who joined my class in XIth std. One always had a chip on his shoulder and considered himself an outsider forced to spend 2 years of his life in chennai. The other guy quickly became one of the gang in my group of friends. I think the attitude you bring makes a hell a lot of difference as well.

hows work at Murugan and company in chicago?

War

moorthi said...

Early schooling experiences are not only thrilling , but never differ over ages.Since , I and my brother who were in the same class got so scared at the sight of a bleeding injury to a fellow student over the teacher"s beating,we were changed to another class ..... simply because our father was a very influential lawyer in the place..Devakottai. A very good blog.. should carry the readers emotionally years and years back

Swapna said...

Lovely post... :) .. Reminds me of how many schools I changed..

Hawkeye said...

chittaps,

i didn't know such a thing happened to you also. it happened to me in 5th standard. I was moved out of the school in 2 months.

tilotamma said...

atleast you spoke the damned language everyone around you did!

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