Memories of a Receding Past: 20

On to High school

Having cleared the tough Middle examination of the Gwalior Board I was ready for high school. Middle examination was, in fact, the terminal examination for the stage of primary education. After this was the matriculation examination that was as tough as they come. We didn’t have higher secondary in our time. It was two years of matriculation that prepared one for college education, then known as higher education, culminating in a bachelor’s degree. In early 1940s Gwalior did not have post graduation in the only degree college that we had in the entire state. There were even no law classes and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister, had to go out to Lucknow to study Law after he cleared the BA examination from the Victoria College conducted by the Agra University.

There were very few schools which used to run the matriculation courses. The closest to our place was the Jiwajirao Intermediate College which, apart from matriculation, used to run the 2-year Intermediate courses.  Somehow it was considered a college for Marathas and non-Marathas never tried to get admitted there. The only option for me, therefore, was to seek admission in the VC (Victoria Collegiate) High School from where all my three elder brothers had done Matriculation.

VC High School was located at quite a distance from our place. It was much beyond the College where my father used to teach. It was around a couple of miles from our house which was quite a distance for us as we did not have any mechanical means of locomotion. To leg it up to that distance we had to start off around half an hour earlier and walk it up, go past the then up-coming memorial of Madhav Rao Scindia(Sr.). The school was located in a huge property of the government that was inherited from the Maharaja’s estate. While we used to enter the premises from its rear gate that was around a furlong from the building, the building itself fronted on the Jhansi Road with a big iron two-piece gate, from where there was a circular drive-way to a biggish porch. It must have been residence of a big and wealthy man in Maharaja’s establishment and, as was the wont of Scindias, finding no better use, it was later handed over for the school.

Father took me to the headmaster for my admission. The headmaster was a Maharashtrian gentleman called Bhise. His room was at one end of the building. A biggish room, a little cluttered up with furniture and papers, I happened to notice that it was, in fact, a bath-cum-toilet. I saw a chain from a cistern mounted up on the wall still hanging, the marble of the wall had faded with deposits of dirt. The floor was covered with white square tiles as used to be the case those days. This was seventy or more years ago and howsoever rich a feudal might have been he obviously couldn’t have achieved better than this. My question was, as I posed it to father, why should the headmaster have had to run his office from a bath. He could have opted for some other room. My father’s reply was he could have, but he didn’t and that was it.

At the back of the building there was a fairly big enclosed area which also had a bi-cycle stand. And, there were a number of mango trees which in the month of July were loaded with fruits. As used to happen, the school administration would lease the trees out to a contractor to harvest the fruits. One day as I entered the area I heard somebody shout “Barso Bhola”. And the unseen Bhola from a first floor balcony let loose a well directed missile that brought down more than half a dozen mangoes. The contractor’s man was, to begin with, nonplussed not finding anybody whom he could pin down but later he adopted aggressive attitude – threatening and intimidating virtually everyone. Bhola, nonetheless, remained elusive for him and kept raining down mangoes whenever his friends down below gave him the call on slackening of the watch.

That Bhola was the same Bhola whom we had known from childhood I came to realize when I came up against him. He had passed out of the Miss Hills’ School and had joined VC High School and, as luck would have it, was in my section in Class IX. His father was a railways official and his mother used to be my mother’s best friend. They used to live not far from our house as we would frequently see him running to the school with his school bag on his back to catch up the time. His name was Prasoon Kumar Guha but was popularly known as Bhola, meaning a simpleton, which he was certainly not.

Bhola became a very good friend along with another very decent boy Mahendra Sharma and we three were virtually inseparables at the school. In course of time Bhola endeared himself to everyone in my family, especially my mother who was very fond of him. Much later after I had done with the College and everybody else in the family was busy elsewhere earning their respective keeps he would be spending the hot afternoons with us, mother and me, during his vacations from his B. Tech course that he was pursuing in Bombay. When a telegram arrived in May 1961 from my oldest brother about my selection in the Civil Services it was he who received it and read it out to mother.

As the hot season changed and was heading towards cold weather Bhola too turned his attention towards guavas. In the school complex there was a huge guava orchard that too was leased out to a contractor for its fruits. The two years that we were in the school he was up against Bhola for whom no obstacle was difficult enough to get at the luscious and sweet guavas. Once I remember he crawled into the contractor’s store wearing his new double-breasted grey jacket – all for a few guavas. It was not the fruit that attracted him it was rather the challenge to get at whatever was being contrived to be kept away from him.

Both of us were not fond of studies at that point of time and used to bunk classes with impunity. Leaving all the lectures behind we would go all the way to the Gwalior Mela, All India Scindia Hockey Gold Cup matches at the Race Course or even the Polo Ground where once a mishit of the Maharaja whizzed past him missing him by inches. He was happy to see the Maharaja gallop by saying “sorry”, “sorry” under his breath.

In course of time the Head Master Bhise got changed by a Maratha from Baroda (whose name I forget). He had played cricket with Vijay Hazare, the captain of the Indian Cricket Team around that time. He could bowl a steady length around middle-and-off but age had taken its toll. Nonetheless, with his arrival cricket got a fillip and all the other games for which equipment were available were promoted. So we played Badminton and Table Tennis in addition to cricket.

A Badminton tournament was conducted in the winter of 1950 in which I won the singles trophy and reached the doubles final with Late Rajni Nagarkar as the partner. Somehow he didn’t turn up for the match and I was asked by the organizer whether I could play without my partner. I played the match all by myself and won it. This was mentioned at the time of distribution of prizes by Roop Singh, the Olympic Hockey legend. In fact, the opposition should have been given a walkover, but, no, this was only a school match. And Bhola, noticing the stale biscuits in the well-packed cardboard boxes given away as the prizes to me, thrust them into the hands of the organizer asking him to feed them to his children.

As both of us, Bhola and I, did not study hard enough for our Matriculation examination we did not do well. While Bhola flunked I scraped through in III Division. It was Arithmetic and Science that killed me. In rest of the subjects I did pretty well. I realized I had no brain for Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry and that I should shun them in the college. However, later it did not turn out that way.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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