Monday, January 10, 2011


Modern High School for Girls or MHS (or Mad House Society as we laughingly lovingly called it) celebrates its diamond jubilee this year. That’s not such a big deal in a city where other institutions are celebrating 150 years, I guess, but then this particular institution is one I can call my own. I still remember with a lot of nostalgia when MHS celebrated its 30 year anniversary. I was in class V, and there was this huge programme in the school. Every girl took part. Our class did this drill display which had us running about in tiny ballerina skirts in rainbow colours. I was orange… was fun, the endless days of no classes, practice and running about. Now I look at my girls’ excitement as they keep telling me about all the exciting things they will be doing all year and I can share their joy. It’s not that I have been a huge MHS fan. I do not cry blue murder when anyone criticizes it nor do I overtly defend it, I am content to sit back and listen to others arguing about the merits and demerits and I am secure in my sense of belonging. My nieces and two daughters go to MHS. Every morning the car goes and drops four little MHS girls to the school from our house, my involvement and memories of the school go beyond a few arguments over lunch or a glass of beer.
Somehow school is something we all take for granted. Or so I think. When we started school we went to the old building on Theatre Road. At first it depressed me, I guess every child goes through those pangs but as I made friends and the years passed by, it became the center of my whole existence. We shifted to the new building in Class III. It was a matter of a lot of pride to be going to the “big school”. As we settled in we never realized back then how the school would take hold of our lives and turn into a living, breathing creature dwelling just underneath our skins. When I think of school, the memories come thick and fast….there are so many of them, so many precious moments, all of which have become an integral part of who I am. You cannot spend fourteen years of your formative years in one place and not be attached to it……
I seem to remember every inch of the garden which we explored at leisure, the sand pit, the basketball courts, the old peepul tree. There was no planetarium, and the jungle gym was at the bottom of the garden. The new wing wasn’t there, oh yes, the changes to the building and grounds have been many. But the essence remains the same. The other day I went for a parent teacher meeting for one of my daughters and looked out at the garden, the bell rang, signaling lunch time. It was all of us again, eager to play games and run to the ice cream man or the guy who sold chips and stuff…..running on the corridor even as the prefects and teachers kept telling us not to. The teachers who were nice, the ones who made life seem unbearable, the ones who indulged us or were strict…….they all wove a tapestry in our hearts, in myriad colours, some have grown dull and faded, some remain vibrant to this day. I remember my teachers well, some I am grateful for even to this day. If I am to be honest, I cannot say I loved them all and I would be lying if I said I was nice to everyone, I guess I was quite a horror for some of them. But yes, they were on the whole, encouraging and kind. Even the ones we used to laugh about or the one whose hair we sprinkled with chalk dust whenever we passed the blackboard, or the one we did a hartaal against, they put up with all our nonsense, because they saw the larger picture, which we, at that time, possibly couldn’t. Not being one of the most obedient of persons, I had the occasion to be punished quite often, this ranged from being thrown out of class to being marched down to the principals office. When we were really small we were made to stand on the chair. On one such occasion, this friend of mine and I (both of us were on our chairs by then) continued our conversation over the heads of the rest of the class, when asked, we said, “you only told us we were punished, you didn’t tell us not to talk!” Irrefutable logic to a child in class II. I had one drawback, unfortunately my mother was a librarian in school, so often even before I got into the car at the end of the day, I would see my mothers face and knew that some well meaning teacher had already told my mom about my day’s misdeeds….and my dose of scolding would start in the car. So I took to walking home, or taking the tram or bus….anything to wait till I got home and THEN got the lecture!
And then there were studies, some classes we day-dreamed through, some we giggled through, some we yawned through and some went over our heads. The rest remained with us and some teachers’ words still echo in our heads…. Can we ever forget, the cramming before the exams, the times we “helped” our friends or were “helped” in return, the frantic note taking at the end of the year. Those art classes, those needle work classes, those projects, the cookery classes and those charts. We did them all. And the school programmes and sports…Bulbuls, the march past, participating in everything, basketball, interschool competitions, sit and draw art competitions, debates, drama competitions, school taught me to be independent and to rely on my own resources.
We made friends that have lasted me well all these years, my closest friends are from school….we laughed together, we cried together, we shared our dreams and fears and now we grow older together. We learned to love. We learned to hate. We learnt to gossip and whisper and get our displeasure felt. We learnt to protest when we did not like something. We learnt what it was to stand up for a friend and get scolded on their behalf, we learnt unity and discipline, we learnt to accept the consequences of our own mistakes. These are not such bad things, when you think about it, it made us the people we are. Yes, sometimes you had to drag us though the day and some days were endless, especially when there was a Bengali exam, but all of a sudden, our school days were over. The Class XII Board exams loomed in front of us and speaking for myself, my head was full of hopes and dreams of the rest of my life, I never paused to think about the school that had been my home and shelter for so many years. Yes, I went though the farewells and wrote in my friends’ diaries and said the words but I was young, I had the world at my feet.
The school however, stayed, and now as I write this, I realize how much I took the school for granted, how I owe it and how well it has gotten its claws into me. So as the school turns another corner I look back on my years in the school and I have to smile. And in my mind I’m still a little girl holding on to the skirt of the girl in front of me as the class winds its way down the corridor.

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