Its been 2 months since my 3 year under-graduation got over. By virtue of no gap years, its only been that many years since I left school only to realize that I can’t get over it. By virtue of this gap year, I have the time to pen it down.
‘Gap year’ is an interesting concept and shows the obsession of the society with the fact that learning and education can only be availed formally. The other interesting concept, one which has given me some of the best memories from school, is that of a House system. A few days ago, the world celebrated 20 years of Harry Potter by showing their loyalty towards their favourite among Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor or Slytherin while it struck me how important is this system for every school-going student.
The sports teacher, Ahluwalia Ma’am, entered on our first day of school and read out our House names from a register. Little did we know then that these freedom fighter names that we’ve been attached to, were going to be one of the most special things of our school life. All we did then was laughed on the little pun in her surname, Aloo-walia, with all due respect to her. We had four houses in junior school named as Nehru (Red), Tagore (Blue), Gandhi (White), and Netaji (Green). For once, houses only meant that on two particular days in the week, I had to wear white by virtue of me being Gandhi house. Back home, Mummy wasn’t too happy with the idea of me being in the same. Any other house would have meant low maintenance of the P.T. T-Shirt and as a child, I was an un-named endorser of ‘Daag Ache Hai.’ But, it did not take much time for us to become patrons of our houses. The first Run-Touch-Run Back-Tag was where it all started. Four rows of four colours were aligned for the whistle to blow and the race to start. Winning the race might have been the best thing to have happened. But losing the race made me realize that the next time I am running, Netaji house needs to be defeated. Loyalties got etched when Sports Day happened which shouldn’t have been the case. We were too young to realize that in the name of discipline points for the house, we were not being allowed to act notoriously. I cannot just do away with Sports Day without mentioning Free Milo which we tried to sneak out twice. Apart from all the strategies behind doing so, our focus never shifted from the ticking scoreboard. Seeing the senior classes race, we realized that this loyalty is no where near to ending. At Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, I found a home (Or, house?!) inside my home, Birla High School.
Our major chunk of activities like public speaking and music started in the third standard. And so, the thirst to keep contributing for Gandhi House kept growing. There were charts pinned to soft-boards where we got red stars for our houses if we performed well and black stars if we misbehaved. Of course, I was competitive enough to ensure the net red stars (Red Stars – Black Stars) were always the most in class but that isn’t what I loved the most. The best part was when the teacher finally decided to negatively mark a student and asked someone to volunteer draw the black stars on the charts. Out came running the representatives from the other three houses opening their shoes, climbing the chairs and drawing the respective stars. The other good thing because of this was that Back Benchers felt a sense of employment.
Pro Kabaddi League happened much later. Our inter-house Kabbadi competitions were held in junior school, and we were boastful enough to call ourselves Pros. In classes IV and V we were made vice-captains and captains of our respective houses, and I had the opportunity to serve my house in both these positions. More than being proud of the investiture ceremony, I was ecstatic about the fact that we got to move out of our classes while the classes were on. Just when junior school was ending, one of my racing partners died while on his vacation. We only spoke before races on Sports Day. It felt like losing a very important family member. A family called Gandhi House.
Enter senior school. Now there were six houses which only meant that we recognize two more freedom fighters – Shivaji and Pratap. Ashoke came in for Nehru. (Details mentioned to not hurt Blue house students) We were told that we’ll all be shuffled into new houses. I wanted to don a different colour. I wished I was in the same house as my best friend’s. I missed the sorting hat who I could tell my wishes to. Ashoke went to the first roll number, Gandhi to the next, and it carried on. I was Roll No. 10. Number System was on my side, until there was a twist in the tale that I was in Gandhi House again. I was sad at that moment, but when I see it now I am proud I belonged to the same house for 12 years whereas my mother never got an opportunity to feel good about the same. If we really had a sorting hat, we would have told it to not sort us into any house, only because we had to wear the house badges on days we had Assembly, or otherwise we’ll be detained. It isnt so simple as it may seem. House badges were never in place and why would it be? We were growing teenagers taking pressure of the larger phenomenons in the world and all the schools expects us to care about is a small badge? But in that moment before Assembly started, the largest phenomenon was some 10-20 students running around the whole school for a badge. Any badge, of course. Who would remember our house? Some volunteers did. I was one of those volunteers. *Cinematic Pause*
In senior school, we had to decorate our soft-boards when it was assigned for a particular house, and we were marked on the same. We got this opportunity twice a year and all the 6 times till class eight I did it with all my might and with all my free-riding friends. Senior School made it for certain that in the name of houses we have been exploited. We have been asked to be disciplined, to be prim and proper, to stand in rows properly, to participate in cleanliness drives and to decorate soft-boards too. Good habits are these, but still we have been exploited.
The better opportunities included Debates, Elocutions, Quizzes, etc. Senior school upped the ante with all such competitions. With rising intensity, the rewards were also huge. Two of the most special rewards were – one, being the commander for my house at Annual Sports March Past and two, being judged the best house for the year and getting on the stage as one of the representatives to receive that award. There were pitfalls too. For a house that I had been a been a part for 11 years then, did not elect me as their captain in Class 11 which basically made up for the heart-break in this 12 year affair with my love. My love – Gandhi House.
A home. A family. A love. Being a part of a house introduced me to ways of becoming a true patriot. It gave us an identity as a group which was always guided with one purpose – to get our houses above the rest. Whenever I have visited school in these three years, I have never missed visiting the soft-board in the fountain area which shows the grand points tally of all the houses. I still calculate the points to see if my house, Gandhi house, is winning. Thank you Gandhi House. Thank you Birla High School.
13th November, 2013: The Last Stage.
Children’s day celebrations at school. Seeing teachers perform had always been a treat all these 12 years. This year too. But it was more of a reckoning. Realization of how close this very stage has been to me. And how many a performance have i staged here. I have always maintained that the biggest gift Birla High School has given me, is giving me all these opportunities. This stage has been the wrapping paper to that gift. Sounds kiddish, but it has been the colour I always got attracted to, to pull me towards all those opportunities. The thousand stage rehearsals, the hundred performances, all keep coming back to me again and again. I will not be going back to that stage again. Going to the auditorium in Junior School was ecstasy. Getting in to find conditioned air, skipping queues to sit with your friend, and always struggling between sitting comfortably and watching the performance. And there have been so many moments which have been special.
But it had been the most special once. August 2nd 2013, it was.
“Over these nine years of unending journey, Odyssey has earned the reputation of being called the best and the biggest fest in town. But in reality, this biggest fest is measured in petty packages. It is these small tributaries that we have ventured to make this voyage a successful one. Getting to sign on the passes, getting to meet the celebrities, getting to live three months of your life without being bound by the syllabus, coming up till this podium to give a speech at this platform, getting to meet 21 other people over the tireless days and sleepless nights, who i never knew were so crazy… So insane, and so passionate to create this masterpiece, the masterfest, the ninth odyssey. And this defines Nirvana”
The Ninth Odyssey, it was. The Vidya Mandir Auditorium, it is. My theatre of dreams. School life is ending. How amazing it is to find that how close am i to every small part of the school. Be they be this stage, or the staircases. That one staircase, which i have always trusted for bunking. That one staircase where i knew, i can safely open my tiffin. The staircases i have ran about, walked miles on, or have hated after a tired recess… These cannot be a small part. They are life. And all lives on earth perish.