We all have memories about our first school, some good some bad. Let me tell you about mine.
I started my schooling way back in 1964, (God, I am Ancient!!) in a little known village in Kollam district, where our ancestral home is located. It was the same year that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru passed away. My mother was down for her third delivery. Having given birth to the much awaited ‘boy’ baby, got through divine intervention from Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai Temple, to whom many a petition had been filed, my mother was busy with the new one on the scene. Interestingly, she had to send many more petitions to the self same Goddess Meenakshi years later to get a granddaughter! Goddess Meenakshi had the last laugh after all!!
Father was away on duty as the Officer in charge of moving rice from Andhra Pradesh to grain-starved Kerala. He was stationed at Vijayawada. We were to join him soon enough. But till such time as that would happen, mother thought it best that I attend the one and only village school with my cousin, her sister’s daughter.
I was already five years old. Those were the days when there were no play schools or kindergartens. I had been idling away my time as it were, doing nothing, till then. Doing nothing, did I say?? Wrong!! We had duties to perform like helping to fill water in the big vessels in the huge old bathrooms, washing clothes as also sweeping. We were good little helpers to our mothers. I remember walking around with a plate of mashed rice and vegetables feeding my little brother, when he had begun to take baby steps. “Kaake nokku mone” (Look at the crow son), I’d say and he would look at the crow and open his little mouth while I slipped a ball of rice in. A little mom at five!
With school looming large on the horizon, it was an abrupt end to the lazy summer days spent under the jackfruit trees making mud pies, playing on the swings and looking for tender mangoes beneath the mango trees. I didn’t like it one bit! In fact I positively hated the thought of going to school. Why?? I wouldn’t know. My cousin sister, who was about 6 months older to me, was happy enough to go to school. Her elder brother, Chettan as we called him, all of 8 years old, was our caretaker. As I walked to school with them, slate clutched in my hands, I sobbed all the way, my Chechi giving me curious glances.
The school, was an open building with white washed mud walls and thatched roof. There were plenty of trees around and it was all so shady, cool and pleasant. There were wooden benches for us kids to sit on, no desks as such. A blackboard stood in one corner. Plain and simple.
I abhorred the school. I cried and cried and cried. It got so bad one day that I was sent back home. I remember sitting on the raised doorstep of one of the rooms in our ancestral home, with tear-stained face, anxiously watching mother who was seated across the nalukettu, having breakfast. She was talking to her sister and aunt. Turning around she caught my glance. Anger spread across her features when she saw me thus.
“Jnaan ezhunettu varatte!!” (Let me get up and come over) she said at her threatening best.
I wailed louder! I was not sent back to school that day. But I did not attempt to cry so much as to be sent back home after that. Accepting the inevitable, I accompanied my cousins with a heavy heart.
The recess time in school was the only part I enjoyed. My cousin brother would come to collect us and we would go with him to the well. Cool water would be drawn up by him and his friends, who treated us, his sisters with the utmost respect and affection. We would drink the water and watch while the boys threw stones and collected mangoes. We then shared the raw mangoes with them, relishing each bite. That about sums up what I thought was the best time in school.
I don’t remember any of the teachers except the mustachioed Math teacher, who rolled his eyes at us five-year olds and kept us perpetually nervous. One day he was giving us a test. He would write the simple addition sums on the blackboard and we had to write the answers on our slates. No giving the answers out loud, said the teacher.
‘2+3= ____’ He wrote on the blackboard, and as he wrote he repeated aloud,
“Two plus three is..”
The innocent fool that I was, I blurted out loud,
He whirled around, twirling his cane and asking,
“Aaraa athu paranjathu??” (Who said that) I was terrified, but kept mum. I was unsure if anyone else had caught me answering. Luckily for me, most of my classmates were laboriously writing on their slates and had missed my reply. But I was sure the teacher with his x-ray eyes would find I was the culprit. As luck would have it, he didn’t! Hmmm… I must have been pretty good at keeping a straight face in terror even those days!!
As we walked back home, that was the chief topic of discussion among friends. I wanted very badly to confide to them about the faux-pas I had made. But no, I couldn’t bring myself to do that, not even to my Chechi. Years later, this story was first unburdened to my own children, who thought it all extremely funny! Imagine, keeping a secret for, how many, 35 or 40 years!! Well, if you have any secrets to keep you know whom to approach!! You would not get to keep it any safer in Fort Knox!!
Very soon I got used to the school and the children there. Far cry from the initial days when my cousin and I, wanted to take a bench of our own to school as we didn’t want to sit next to the what we thought ‘dirty’ village children!! Grandma used to tease us even years later about this. Yet the same children became my buddies as I soon made lots of friends. Years later my Aunt still recalls that I had more friends than her daughter, my cousin.
I had begun to enjoy the school and my local friends when it was time to leave them all behind and accompany father to Vijayawada. On a rainy day we left our ancestral home behind. That meant a sad goodbye to my first school as well. More than four decades have elapsed, but memories linger.