The Cultural Divide. Rich-Poor Gap. We may have only heard about all this, but I have actually experienced this. I hope that my experience will open the eyes of other parents.
After completing my Std X with 87% (third rank in school), I was confused whether to pursue arts or science stream. One of my seniors who was the school topper had joined NM College of Commerce & Economics in Mumbai. I almost ended up joining Sydenham College to pursue a course in Commerce. But 26 years back, students who were top rankers would baulk at joining commerce courses.
The choice was something like this:-
1. Greater than 80% in STD X...... Science
2.65% to 80% in STD X...... Commerce
3. Less than 65% ......Arts
Thus, more than the aptitude of the student, the percentage of marks scored in Std X exam played a vital role in the choice of stream. My senior (the school topper) was more of an exception rather than rule.
During those days, the schools issued the Std X mark sheet as well as a School Leaving Certificate. For some peculiar reason, we had to submit this leaving certificate (in original) to the junior college where we had secured admission. The choice of colleges eventually boiled down to two – a famous college in Vile Parle in the western suburbs of Mumbai and another one in South Mumbai founded by Sindhis who had migrated to Mumbai as refugees post partition. Yes, this is the same college that boasts of alumni like Sunil Dutt, Chanda Kochchar, Hafeez Contractor, and Hiten Tejwani.
In Parle college, my name did not appear in the first list. However, in this South Mumbai college, my name figured in the list and I submitted all the relevant documents and also the original school leaving certificate. All my other classmates in school had joined colleges like Bhavans, Parle, Ruparel, and Ruia etc., I was on a real high as I proudly told my friends that I had joined a college near Churchgate. A week later my name appeared in the second list in Parle College but the college where I had secured admission refused to return the school leaving certificate. So, I had no option.
Alas, joining this college was the biggest mistake of my life. For one, I was not so fluent in English like the South Mumbai crowd who came in cars and bikes, dressed to kill. I had an atrocious dress sense. I just felt lost in the crowd and became an object of ridicule. My anxiety increased further when I saw one Mrs. Naik entering the class to teach chemistry. She turned out to be a spit fire, throwing chalks at students who were wavering in their attention or snubbing them. She was an expert in giving cynical answers to your straightforward questions. “You can call me Mrs Naik, do not call me Miss Pink Saree or Miss Red Rose,” she blurted out. A far cry from the teachers in my school in suburban Mumbai.
Travelling to the college from my home in the western suburbs took close to 1 hour. Plus, I hardly had any friends and had to make friends with some boys staying in Andheri (in the journey back home, which was another 1 hour). The worse part was that the college timings coincided with office timings so I had to travel in train compartments [first class] where commuters had to travel like sardines packed in a tin. I was all of 15 years then. It was hell. The railway compartment had a statement something on the lines of – “Unaccompanied students may be travelling in the train; please accommodate them and give them a seat”. But the snobbish gang that had occupied the trains at Borivali and were busy playing cards or singing old Hindi songs or passing third-grade remarks about Bollywood actresses had no time to look at all these messages.
Almost 90% of the students in this college were from the Sindhi community. 99% of staff were Sindhis.We had one lone South Indian lady who taught mathematics and travelled from Matunga to Churchgate .Broadly speaking, the atmosphere was cosmopolitan, but wherever you turned, there were only Sindhi faces.
As it happens, not every teacher was like Mrs Naik. Some of them were good – Mrs Neelam Shalia (Chemistry), Mr Sunil Purohit (Chemistry) (he was debonair and also a TV compere on Doordarshan), Miss Kapoor (Botany), Mrs Jhangiani who taught English (she is actress Preeti Jhangiani’s mother), Nisha Sikka (Hindi). One particular Parsi lady who was staying in Churchgate (a pale resemblance of actress Suraiya) and taught Biology was also strict. It was only in my second year in college that I realized that her strictness was only a facade and in reality she was good-at-heart.
These teachers were impartial to all the students and were quite spot on with the Walkeshwar-Malabar Hill-Cuffe Parade gang. Then of course there was the Bandra gang. Most of the girls hung around with boys, girls had no qualms about wearing sleeveless frocks and displaying their unshaved armpits. Needless to add, words like “F ....” “b....D” were freely flowing in the air. I was made fun of in college because I was more sombre, never smoke / drank and did not have any girl friends and had a middle class upbringing.
But I survived. I would, along with a few chosen friends, walk to the Marine drive sea shore. We once chanced to meet Shashi Kapoor and Mukri (Bollywood comedian of yester years) near our college. The Malhar festival was an event we all looked forward to. Notwithstanding all this, I reiterate that I suffered. From a top ranker in school, I slipped to 70% in FYJC (First Year Junior College). I lost my confidence, lost interest in studies, developed inferiority complex but understood the finer nuances of the Queen’s language spoken by the South Mumbai gang. My performance in SYJC (Second Year Junior College) which was a board exam was nothing to write home about.
Despite the entire aura the college had, the writings in the gent’s toilet about a teacher and the Vice-Principal left a bitter taste in the mouth. So, however affluent, educated and flamboyant the South Mumbai crowd was, they had a vulgar frame of mind to conjure up images of the teachers in bed. Mind you, this was 26 years ago. What a warped sense of humour! Sick minds!
- Some teachers were extremely arrogant and treated the crowd from the suburbs with a condescending look.
- Even then, 26 years ago, the Bandra-Colaba divide was huge.
- The college never thought of clubbing students with similar backgrounds together.
- In the second year of junior college some of the lecturers ended up taking private tuitions for subjects like maths, physics, chemistry, biology. Students who took up private tuitions from these lecturers were assured of full marks in the science practical exams.
- There was one Zoology teacher who travelled from Virar but was particularly nasty with the timid students.
Today, my English has improved to the extent that I can pen my memoirs. But my stint in this college proved to be my nemesis. Three years later, I shifted to a college closer home. Years have passed; the wounds have healed; only the memories remain to haunt me! I just do not have the gumption to become a part of this college’s alumni association.
Friends, I can’t tell you how much I suffered on account of my experiences in this college. So, dear parents, please spare a thought about your socio-economic background before enrolling your child in such a college that is frequented by a motley crowd from the affluent society. No one else should suffer the torment that I went through. Better to be safe than sorry!