Memories of a Receding Past: 17

On to School

My parents thought it was time for me to go to school. I was now around six and curiously they thought it was getting late. I say curiously because others in the family did get education at home till they were eight or nine. Perhaps my mother, with all her domestic chores, was not able to find time to take care of my learning. So one morning one of my father’s students took me not to the Gorkhi Middle School where my other brothers were admitted but to Sarafa Middle School. It was a government school, a private schoo,l like an American’s Miss Hill’s School, was not chosen presumably because of its higher fees. He took me straight to the Head Master who appeared to me rather impressive. He was, surprisingly I noticed, well shod and was in a tie as also wore a learned look with thick horn-rimmed spectacles. He promptly asked me to recite the table of 13. By the time I reached 13x8 he asked his orderly to get the Section 3B teacher. The teacher was asked to take me to the class and register me as a new pupil. I accompanied the teacher to the class which was not a room but only one end of the outer verandah of the building. The street in front was screened off by removable curtains of cane and cotton cloth stitched on to them. Two stretches of jute cloth were spread on two sides on the floor with the teacher's chair and table at the end. The students were to sit on the floor. We all sat on the floor, i.e. on the jute cloth. The other end of the verandah was occupied by Class 3 Section A.

It was a boys’ school. We had only one teacher, a dhoti-clad Maharashtrian with shaven head with a long tuft at the back. He used to teach us Hindi, English, Arithmetic, local history and geography – practically all the subjects. School hours were from 7.00 to 11.00 in summers and from 11.00 to 4.00 in the evening in winters. We were taught by the same teacher right through the school hours. He too seemed to have had, from hind sight, tremendous staying power to deal with 30 or 40 odd children and the din that they raised for four or five hours without losing his head.

One peculiar thing I recall, in view of the current yearly change of text books is that we had no such problem. Year after year the courses would remain the same as did the books saving that big hole in the budgets like those of the parents these days. We used to inherit the books from our elder siblings. No wonder my mother always used to ensure that the books were kept in good condition. I remember I used the same English language book, Himalayan Reader, that was used by my eldest brother six or seven years earlier; then it rolled down from brother to brother, at the end it came rolling down to me. This was true of books of all the subjects in all classes up to matriculation.

We had to have a slate and a pencil as also  single line and four-line note books. The four-line note books were meant to inculcate in us the habit of writing each letter of the alphabet properly. We had to have a special nib, the G nib, for writing in these note books. If one wrote well on these notebooks with the G nib the writing would   appear somewhat like Old English. There were no ball-point pens those days; it was pen and ink that one had to have in a pot. Fountain pens were a strict no no.  Among the writing instruments was also included a pen of cane for writing Hindi in white on a small wooden plank painted black. This apparently was like the use of G nib for lending to the written script a classical appearance.

The class teacher was a hard task master. If the tasks given on previous day were not carried out he would cruelly punish the boys. Those days the belief was “spare the rod and spoil the child” and I remember a child got a bad hiding for not doing the home work. He kept crying right through the remaining school hours.

It was a kind of socialism in the class as even our maid’s son was with me. The tuition fee was abysmally low and looks ridiculously low from today’s standards; it was only three paise – three quarters of an anna which used to be sixteenth part of a rupee. Of course, things were very cheap as the prices I remember appear preposterously low. A 32-page single line note book of widely popular Elephant brand with good quality paper would cost two and a half annas and a pencil that we used to use just an anna or maybe an anna and a half. An anna would fetch a samosa and a colourful ice candy we would buy in half that amount. This was seventy five years ago. But I still feel the Maharaja was also subsidizing education of boys – girls’ education was free right up to the college level.

Since there was no playing ground for the school we used to run across the street in front to a pretty big rather badly maintained park during the recess. The only traffic we used to come across on the street was of cyclists and horse-drawn carriages called tongas. There were hardly any cars or motor bikes. We used to play the game of seven stones in a rather big clearing. On many occasions the ball would miss the target and would travel across to the other side of the park where there was another street known as Phalke Bazar. Phalke was a minister in the Gwalior State and was an autocrat and a feudal contributing to the Maharaja from his revenues out of his huge land holdings. His two sons became my friends at the college and another elder one was a very good friend of my big brother.

Health of the boys seems to have been of great concern to the administration. Every year small pox vaccination was a ritual. Small pox was rampant in those days. Besides, vaccines against cholera and typhoid were routinely administered. These diseases would suddenly spread and take lives of large number of children. I remember after the first TABC injection I cried so much that in desperation the teacher asked me to get back home. I ran a fever for couple of days with pain in the arm that got the shot.

Likewise, the quality of education was monitored by annual inspections. There used to be a flutter in the school whenever the inspector of school came. He would come on a bicycle accompanied by a liveried official who would promptly take care of the bicycle as the inspector alighted. I happened to see the process once from my place in the class. He also came to our class once accompanied by the headmaster, asked a few questions and was apparently satisfied and walked away.

Four years passed uneventfully and as I cleared the Class VI examination my father thought I should get to a better school. Our private tutor suggested the local DAV School, run by Arya Samaj, a Hindu Reform Movement, and thither I went in the next session.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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