In the months since I began this blog, I’ve had mighty few visitors and, those too, either by accident or through coaxing. It could be because (1) the universe is a lonely place, (2) my true friends are fewer than my own estimates, and (3) I’m still a novice in this big boys’ world — for all of my 64 years. Having had no luck so far (despite dear Razib’s well-meaning patronage — see his blog at Razib’s World), I’ve decided to change tack. It will be in memory of my old school which, I’m sure, will be googled by quite a few, for 2012 is to be its 200th year. But, in view of the fact that we are all slaves of time, and because time doesn’t stay in hand for more than a few minutes at a time, this blog has to be posted in easy instalments — whether there are readers or not. Call it catharsis of the soul, if you want to.
It was way back in 1957 — the centenary year of the Mutiny and bicentennial for Plassey — when I sat for a somewhat belated admission test with a few boys and got selected for class VII. Those who joined with me, to the best of my recollection, were Ananda, Bijoy, Dilip and Saradindu — in alphabetical order of their first names. I omit surnames to avoid undue error and the resultant umbrage. And I may have courted displeasure of a few by inadvertent gaffes in juxtaposing the four names; I don’t have Alzheimer’s yet but my memory is no longer what it was.
Non-curricular lessons learnt at school
I was a grey little pupil from a grey little school — provincial and providing shelter up to class VI for boys — with no special gift to show off. And my entry to HCS didn’t create any ripples at all. Only three of my classmates made friends with me in the first few days on their own: Pradip Pal, Buddhadeb Mukherji and Ujjval (who was an excellent artist, though I forget his surname). Samir Pal too was friendly but not so close at that time. Alak Mallik, who lived in Mallik-pada next to the school and always started for school after the first prayer bell, also was none too inimical after a while. In my previous school, all the aggressive pupils were in other classes. Learning to fend for myself in a strange and hostile world was a lesson in its own right.
I used to commute each day from Sahaganj (where my father had a company-provided flat in the estates of Dunlop India) in a company-provided bus for boys and girls of the estates who went to several different schools in Chinsurah. That alone was cause enough for snide, derisive and ostracising remarks from many boys and a few teachers of my new-found school. The reasons were mixed and somewhat confused: partly socio-economic, in a large part by association with a few past students from Sahaganj who were odious beyond measure, and mostly (I imagine) because none of the Sahaganj entrants had ever left any scholastic or athletic mark to write home about. That was when I started learning about discrimination and how best to face it. Shyamal Ghosh Dastidar, first boy of the class and truly bright, picked on me shortly after I joined. I used to wait for the return bus at the curious triangular park (before switching to the banyan tree none too far off) between Nirmal Sadhu’s house and the Mohsin college. Shyamal, aided by Asim Pal, snatched my satchel and hung it from the tall branch of a tree inside the college walls — just to make fun of me. I did know a few swearwords, though not quite as many as Alak, and for the first time in life uttered them in anger. Shyamal was not amused. That lesson has come useful in my later life when I had to face greater derision without losing my cool. Gentle reader, if there is any out there, please bear with me. This is not a blog about childhood ostracism (that is common enough in any school anywhere) at all, but about pleasanter memories.
The general election of India was due later in 1957. Many of our teachers were called on election duty and had to attend orientation and training classes on most afternoons. All local boys enjoyed what we used to call half-holidays — all, that is, except yours truly, for I was bound by the company school-bus routine. It dropped us at nine-forty-five at the triangular park on the way to the courthouse (near Nirmal Sadhu’s house) each morning, for the approach road to the school gate was not wide enough for the bus to turn around on the return path, and in the afternoon we had to wait under an ancient banyan tree till half-past-four at the crossroads midway to Banimandir school for girls. Sun, rain, hailstorm or election – nothing made any difference in the dropping and pick up spots and timing. And waiting three hours or more was no small matter. Patience was another lesson that I learnt early.
Mr. PK Sen was our headmaster then. Once he spotted me in uniform (black shorts and white half-shirt) under the trunkless-but-still-alive-on roots banyan, lost in a book (one of Mohan series, perhaps) for want of something better to do. I vaguely remember that Amrita-babu (Deb) was with him. After that I was officially allowed to bide my afternoon-while in the headmaster’s outer office upstairs, where there were several almirahs full of books and the daftari’s (Sukul?) alcove – redolent of freshly dissolved gum arabic, new paper and writing ink prepared earlier that week (“ei to, som-bar meshalam,” Sukul used to claim) from Supra tablets. My enjoyment (and erudition) took a great leap in the few days that I had in that book-lovers’ haven. I wouldn’t count this as a legitimate lesson for reading habit was something that I was born into, encouraged by my father.
Quite a while later, in class IX or XI, some books went missing from the locked book-case in our class-library. I seem to remember that (a) nobody ever issued us any books from the lot, (b) the wood panel at the back of the case was already broken – of natural causes, perhaps, and (c) I too had earlier borrowed a book or two on the sly but always returned them to their rightful place when done with. Yet, when the class teacher (was it Bhupesh-babu?) had decided that theft was involved and reported to the then headmaster (Keshab Bhattacharya), I was one of the prime suspects. I did have the motive and the opportunity but, honest to god (even though I never believed in him even now), I didn’t retain any. It took a long time for the wound of the unfair accusation to heal. My lesson here was that one may be accused any time for any mischief on the basis of suspicion alone, and not necessarily out of personal spite.
I shall end the instalment here and return another day when, to avoid spelling controversies, I shall spell the personal names in Bengali — using the Roman alphabet but with the long-approved diacritical system used for Samskrta. It might be a bit irksome but one can get used to without half trying.