Thursday, January 05, 2017

School Daze


I seem to hold a record of sorts, having studied in six schools before finishing Class 10. And this was not because the schools did not want me! My father was on a transferable job and took the family along wherever he was posted to.

The first school that I went to was a two-room affair about which I have the vaguest of memories. I guess I had attended that school only for a few months. It was located in my mother's village near Koodali in Kannur. In the matrilineal scheme of things then prevalent, the ties that married women retained with their mother and her house were strong. She would be in her maternal house for a longer period than her husband's. It was thus that I was admitted to this school.

'Admitted' is too formal a word to use when things were so simple and uncomplicated. The process of my admission, for instance, consisted of a conversation between my maternal grandfather and the headmaster while travelling in a bus. Some time during the journey, it was agreed that I would and could start attending classes from the following week. Admissions and transfer certificates were strictly for the birds!

For some reason I cannot fathom now, I was soon shifted to another school, a bigger one because it had five classes. It was housed in a long thatched shed, open on three sides. At the far end was an enclosure created by putting up bamboo mats about four feet high, which doubled as the headmaster's office and the teachers' room. This was where the box of chalks was kept.

The school had just five classes and four teachers, one of whom was the headmaster. The available four teachers had to handle the five classes which meant that one teacher had to handle two classes at a time. The headmaster presided over Class 5. Class 1 was under Leela Teacher and Class 2 under Sankunni Maash while Classes 3 and 4 were under Baalan Maash who also doubled as the local postmaster. He would open the post office at 8 am for an hour and a half; and again from 4:30 pm to 6.

There was no partition between the classrooms. It was easy to distinguish the classes, though. The class where the students sat on the floor was Class 1. Classes 2 and 3 sat back to back on benches - there were no desks. Classes 4 and 5 had benches and desks and the students of these classes too sat back to back.

This arrangement worked well for Baalan Maash who had to handle two classes at a time. As the blackboards of classes 3 and 4 were placed back to back, his small dark frame could flit back and forth between the two classes - teaching arithmetic to Class 3 and Malayalam poetry to Class 4.

Things were very different on days when the headmaster had to go to the Treasury to collect the salary or to the office of the assistant Educational Officer in the city for some administrative work. The school had to make do with the services of three teachers on such days. That was indeed difficult. The teachers would get 'promoted': Leela Teacher to Class 2, Sankunni Maash to Class 3 and 4; and Baalan Maash to Class 5. What about Class 1? A holiday would be declared for Class 1!

Speaking of holidays, not all the students (There were hardly twenty in each class) came to the class every day. The festival in the temple, mother's indisposition, being requisitioned to do odd jobs, Kannan uncle, a sepoy in the army, coming on annual leave, anything could be an excuse for absence.

The third school I attended was in Vellur, my father's village near Payyannur.

Women used to give birth in their maternal homes and only when it was safe for the mother and the child to travel would they go to the house of the father. Thus, when my second sister, the fourth child of my parents, was ninety days old, it was decided that my mother would spend a few months in my father's house.

I must have made a noise about accompanying my mother, or maybe I may not have bothered, but I too was taken to Vellur. It could mean that I missed my classes, right? Wrong. At a time when school admission could be negotiated during a bus journey, shifting from one school to another was a cinch. So, one Friday evening, I stopped going to the school in my mother's village and on the third day, which was the next Monday, I started going to the school in my father's village. Seamless transition.

This kind of smooth and effortless movement, which was replicated by the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan decades later, was possible because my paternal grandfather was married to the headmaster's cousin. He had a word with the headmaster and I started going to the new school from the next day: no transfer certificate, no character certificate, no progress report, no nothing.

This was an Upper Primary School and therefore a big one. The roof was tiled; the walls were made of laterite stones and plastered. Each class was a separate room - way different from the one I was used to. The bottom one-third of the wall was painted black so that the brats would not soil it. And, most importantly, all classes had benches and desks. For me, used to sitting on the floor in Class 1, this was a great elevation in status!

This school was just walking distance and one could come home for lunch. Did I say the school was 'just walking distance'? That was stupid of me, for which school was not 'just walking distance' those days? All were: it was only a question of whether one could come home for lunch. If 'yes', the school was close by; if not, it was far off, but still 'walking distance'.

The fourth school I went to was Koodali High School owned by our family. As result, it was a place where several of my uncles whose qualification was FA (First Year Arts) were parked. (For some reason, in their case, the level of incompetence propounded in Peter's Principle was reached at FA!) Because more than half the teachers were my uncles, it was a formidable place. Forget about pranks and mischiefs, you could not turn this way or that without one uncle or another's eyes falling on you.

The fifth was the stately and reputed Malabar Christian College High School in Calicut. It was just one of those run-of-the-mill schools where everything was 'prim and propah' and about which I have nothing special to write.

And the sixth went by the more-than-mouthful name Hajee Essa Hajee Moosa Memorial HIgh School in Mattancherry, Cochin. It was indeed a great place to be in and deserves to be written about separately. I will just mention that it was a great place to be in, what with me, a 12-year old, in the same class as the 21-year old Habibulla. If I add that only eight of the 52 candidates presented for SSLC in 1961 passed the examination and only one of them was placed in the first class, that would only be part of the story. They excelled in all extra-curricular activities and were champions in several sports events.

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