Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Down Memory Lane – St Xavier’s High School

This morning, while I was standing near the carriage doors on the train, a group of bleary eyed school kids got on. Coming back from an Easter break, they were eagerly discussing their holidays, how they "like" completely "like" wasted their time "like" doing nothing. One kid spoke about apparently starting his school homework (Business Management, I think he mentioned) on day 1 and only got so far as writing 6 lines, before he realised the futility. The conversation then proceeded on to discussing school teachers and subjects they've taken up for the year.
Kid 1: Who’s your English teacher?
Kid 2: Uhmm…I don’t know her name. You know that Greek chick, who MC’s for that band. She’s pretty chilled out.

1995/96. Year of the milestone-like SSC exams.
In the vicinity of a very suburban housing colony Ratan Nagar, along a narrow rivulet (so claimed by the local municipal corporation), stood, and still does a rather imposing (certainly at that age) building with the words St Xavier’s High School largely inscribed on the building. 

Image courtesy: Google images
School for me and a lot of others was a place that shaped our lives, in one way or the other. While we certainly didn’t have any MC’s masquerading as school teachers, we did have some pretty good humans teaching us values that strengthened our moral fibre, or so I’d like to think.
It wasn't the best of institutions in terms of facilities. We didn’t have a school ground or a campus of anything of that sort, but what it lacked in infrastructure, it made up in environment. My teachers weren't really strict or hard nuts, except for a handful whose reliance on a good whack or thumping was understandable, given the tough shame proof exterior of some students. 

Our Hindi teacher used to call us “chikne ghade” (smooth claypots made of a special non-sticky exterior), specifically in reference to our utterly shameless acts of repeating the same mistakes without remorse. (Chikne Ghade implied the water that fell washed over without seeping in even a teeny weeny bit).

Our Geometry teacher was particularly concerned about our future and conceded that we didn’t have the character to make it through high school, leave alone our careers. She would sneak in unannounced on the class, with a notebook in her hand, one eye out on unsuspecting students, challenging the student’s conscience to use any free lectures to concentrate on studying rather than sketching anatomical or other figures at the back of the notebooks. While our newly appointed PE teacher didn’t have a clue about teaching, or PE, or anything interesting in particular, it was upon us to utilise the 35-40 minutes to the best of our abilities. So we got back to chiding, or shaming or making a mockery of anyone that caught our fancy. Girls were not spared either and often a few even joined in the fun.

I remember our day used to start with a rather long and arduous prayer and communication session. There was a prayer, a hymn, a short story, thought for the day, national anthem, birthday songs and famous last words. (Ok! I made up the famous last words bit). It dragged on close to 18-20 minutes where students were left standing (no one was allowed to sit for the entire session, unless you were sick or dumb enough to risk it). Every class had to volunteer to do this in turns and it wasn't limited to the classroom itself. Thanks to the geniuses who set up the microphone and speaker system at school, you had to broadcast your golden voice, one that didn’t exactly coming out pouring honey at 7 in the morning, to the entire building. There was a set schedule to these sessions, or so we were led to believe, because every Monday or so, the headmistress would come running in to our class (closest to her office) and randomly pick 3 students, one to recite the anthem and prayer, one to make up a short story and one to inspire the building inhabitants with the thought of the day.

One of the nicest things I learnt in school was to use bullet points to answer questions in an exam paper. I thought it saved us heaps of time, because you could think concisely and to the point, without letting your mind drift into hibernation. Our History/Geography teacher actually encouraged us to use this technique, I think primarily because it was easy for her to decipher students’ mastery of alien decryption at such a young age, which they passed off as their handwriting. I was impressed however, because it actually got a lot easier to answer questions and often got a lot of people good marks (almost as close to 100%) in subjects such as History and Geography. Of course, it also helped that these students were brilliant nevertheless and knew a lot of stuff anyway, bullet point usage or not.

I was deeply mystified with selection of some students as Prefects or Class Monitors or the highly ambiguous “Discipline-in-charge”. I could understand and appreciate the role of Prefect/s and Class Monitors, but the term “Discipline-in-charge” was as vague as it gets. They had no set portfolio, no jurisdiction and certainly no pattern of setting any precedents whatsoever. They wandered around aimlessly, snubbed people the wrong way by pointing people to their badges and usually were miles away from any discipline themselves. They were randomly selected and were mostly set upon to handle crowd control if the chaos got of hand. More often than not, they were the reason behind chaos and confusion. Their place in the Prefect/Monitor hierarchy was unclear and they certainly didn’t give a rodent’s backside about this.
I should know. I was one of this breed.

To be continued…