Saturday, March 17, 2018

Remembering my primary school

Today, thanks to the 6th pay commission, I consider myself rich, but I was born in a family with modest means. My father was a school teacher, and this was the time when it was believed that the compensation package for a teacher should be primarily in terms of respect and paying him a decent salary would only convert teaching profession into a commercial activity. So he did get a huge amount of respect, but it meant that when it came to deciding which school I should go to, there was no option but to choose a municipal school in Delhi.

This was a better endowed municipal school with its own building, with separate rooms for different classes, and even a playground, since most of us would want to be in the playground anyway. On any given day, the number of teachers present would be less than 5, which meant that a teacher would be teaching two classes simultaneously, if at all. And we would sit on the floor to listen to him (it was always "him") or watch him write stuff on the blackboard.

By the time I completed my first grade, my father was sure that this was not the place I should hope to get educated. My brother was already going to a nearby private school, but the issue was to afford the tuition of two kids (and later, two more kids, my sisters were younger to me). One day, he visited that private school with me, and talked to the principal and with great diffidence asked if it was possible for me to study there without paying the tuition. My brother had been doing very well in the school. And my father was promising her that I too will do academically very well. The great lady immediately agreed to the proposal. Not only that, she told my father that when my sisters are ready to enter the school, even they won't have to pay the tuition. Only the eldest sibling will pay tuition as long as the younger ones do academically well. She did warn that even without the tuition, it would be expensive as they would expect me to be better dressed, with a coat and tie in the winter and black leather shoes throughout the year and things like that. My father told her that he would be able to afford that much. So I got admission to the "Children Home School." (Don't try to look it up. Sadly, it no longer exists.)

However, she did not agree to admit me in class 2. Her argument was that there is no education in a municipal school. My father pleader with her that he has taught me at home. So finally, she said that if I do well in the first quarterly exam in September, I would be promoted to 2nd class in the middle of the session. The exams happened. I was the topper. My father came to school to remind the principal of her promise, and she told me to sit in the class 2 from the next day.

This was a disaster. The classes 1 and 2 had a history of having a fight every day during the brief break. This must have preceded even the wars in Panipat, and when I had joined class 1, being the eldest, I was the natural army chief. I was the one to whom the other kids looked up to to save them from the attacks from the top. We were at ground floor, and class 2 was on the first floor. We would keep an eye on the staircase and had strategies to delay their barging in to our classroom, and all that. We would be ready with chalks and whatever else we could gather for the counter attack. How could you ask the Army Chief to join the enemy army and restart the career as a soldier.

So, without telling my father or the principal, I continued sitting in Class 1. I was enjoying myself. I knew the subjects, could play all day and still be topper. Why would I change. Next month, when the monthly report card had to be signed by the father, he noticed that I was still in class 1. He came to the school next day, and this time, the principal came to my class, asked me to come out, and go with her to class 2.

In class 2, the maths period was going on. The teacher was very upset that someone is going to join the class after so many months. He started arguing with the principal and finally said that if I could solve the problem that he will give me on the board, then I can stay, otherwise I had to go back to class 1. I still remember the problem. He asked me to add two 8-9 digit numbers. And I was like, this is all they teach you in class 2. I could have done this in my mother's womb. I took only a few seconds to solve this on the board in front of the entire class. And I was allowed to stay.

Now, there was another problem. All the teachers wanted that I copy all the notes of their subjects in my notebooks within the next few days. And all the boys decided that they aren't going to help the commander-in-chief of the enemy army. I didn't know what to do. But as would happen in my life repeatedly in future, whenever I would need some help, some angels would appear and ensure that the job is done. The top three positions in the class were held by three girls, and India had not allowed females to be part of combat duties till then. They were sympathetic and what is more they had the best notes, and an amazing handwriting. So it was a blessing in disguise that all boys refused their notes. Every day, I would take a notebook of one subject from one of the girls.

I left the school after completing class 5th. Thirty five years later, one day, I received a phone call on my landline number, which was on the website. "My name is Ranjana. Does this name ring a bell?," she asked. "Are you from Children Home School?" was my immediate reply. I try not to forget those who have helped me in the past. She was one of the three girls who had helped me immensely in class 2. Internet and social media had made it easy for people to search for long lost friends.

From Left to Right:
Rashmi, me, Anurag, Ranjana
Since that phone call, I have met her twice in the last 10 years. She is running an NGO called India Redefined, visiting lots of campuses, trying to attract students to nation building. Today, the TechKriti team had invited her to IIT Kanpur, and I thought of writing this.