Back to school, Part 1…

Blue pinafore – √

Crisp white half sleeve shirt – √

School tie – √

White socks – √

White keds – √

Watson house badge – √

Blue and white belt – √

Lunch box -√

Pocket money – √√

School bag – √

This was my checklist every night before I hit the sack once upon a time. I would succumb to the sound of the alarm that woke me up everyday at 6.30 in the morning. The alarm at home was my Mother’s high pitch shrieks. On fortunate days, it would be the music of “Vande Mataram” from the All India Radio and on glorious days it would invariably be blaring carnatic devotional songs meant to wake up the Lord. The Lord, who I was sure, was well asleep through the din in his sound proof quarters in the milky ocean. After all, there was no need for him to go to Baldwin Girls High School like I did. The “Venkateshwara Suprabhat” woke me up without fail, even if my Mother’s high pitch shrieks from the kitchen did not. There was something magical about the Suprabhat, it inspired me to take charge of the day ahead, it inspired me to battle the vagaries of school life, the inspiration lasted as long as the song did or lasted as long as I gulped a glass of milk which had to be gulped before MS Subbalakshmi recited the 108th verse of the “Vishnu Sahasranama” barring which, a “wakka wakka” would come my way from my Mother’s graceful hands. A cardinal sin for every twelve year old to be punished this way.

Getting ready for school was a nightmare. It is simply amazing how we were trained to accessorize even when we were little girls. The ribbons, the badges, the shoes, the socks, the bag that carried the all important lunch box, the lunch box that carried a smaller snack box inside it and the school bag, exactly in the order of priority.  A tuft of unkempt hair fell on my left eye; the right eye would be the one that saw the black board. The left eye had its own three sixty degree vision; it knew what was happening at the back of its own head. No body had a clue what was going on with the left eye, it remained hidden behind those locks, like the left eye of Dennis the menace, not seen even by Mr. Wilson from close quarters or even Mrs. Singh, the evil Hindi teacher who would jab a slide pin into my skull and pull my hair back in place.

 The drive to school would begin at 7.45 AM, on the dot. My German shepherd brother – Rover and I both fought to keep our respective places at the back seat of the car. The winner in this majestic duel would invariably gloat while the loser would sulk and keep his / her head out the entire time during the journey to school. En route to school, at precisely 7 55 AM ( Note in those days, during peak hour traffic, one could get to Brigade Road in ten minutes ) Mr. Mitchell, the sixty year old  Anglo Indian music teacher from school, in whose school band I had the privilege of playing the drums  (Tenor) would pull up alongside the car and say “ BOO”, shocking the living daylights out of me and making Rover salivate all over me. Rover would trample me as he would duck his head through the window and bark at Mr Mitchell’s face. Despite this daily ritual of near misses, Rover hoped he would nip off Mr. Mitchell’s head one day. Mr. Mitchell walked with a limp, his walking stick jabbed the concrete floors of the hallways in school in perfect synchronization with his gait. He made more noise than the prestigious band that I was a part of. His bellowing voice would create a sonic boom and shattered the windows of the dingy orchestra room. Blue and white uniformed school girls would blow tiredly into rusting bugles or weakly play the flutes and carelessly bang the drums out of sheer frustration. He would yell in his Anglo Indian accent “You bloomin’, bloody idiots, do you not know what Music is?”  We would giggle at all obscenities that came our way and it would irk Mr. Mitchell more. Rumors were adrift that Mr. Mitchell the hard hearted Music teacher was rejected by the sexy, fifty year old Mrs. Frandsen our school Librarian a long time back and since then Mr. Mitchell had lost the plot and sang ballads over his daily dose of Rum. If I know “Waltzing Matilda” or “Hava Nagila” today, it is because of Mr. Mitchell who took it upon himself to illuminate us dark souls in Karnataka with Australian and Hebrew songs. I took it upon myself to scribble on Library books about Mr. Mitchell’s love for Mrs. Frandsen and vice versa, amply encouraged by giggling buddies.

Ah, the wonderful memories of bygone days with friends. Time that will never come around again. I was evil ( still am ), it was a glorious feeling to be that way and my friends were accomplices who brought out the worst in me. I will remain eternally grateful to them. I will write more about it all, another series that you have to bear with.

Here is Pritish Nandy’s blog on his days in school which I immensely enjoyed and kick started the school topic for me.


31 Responses to “Back to school, Part 1…”

  1. Sharmila… I was in a Mission School for Boys attached to the St. Josephs (Pune Diocese)… so you may expect a boy’s version from my side on today’s post… unfortunately the net connection in my office is on CPR… unable to log-on at this moment to write a normal response… this one comes from my personal sms gateway… I hate to see the office infrastructure wasted for official work… irreverence? God-bless-my-soul, nevvvvver me! 🙂

  2. Aishwarya Says:

    School hours in ME was from 7:45 to 12:45, with minor changes during Ramadan and winter. I was a student of the IHS, Dubai. I wonder what magic it is about school that we never forget even a moment of our time spent there…

    On my first day, I sat quietly next to a chubby little Rajasthani girl in pigtails, Seema. We exchanged shy smiles. As classes began, we hummed a Hindi song and agreed that it was absolutely the ‘bestest’. We sat a little closer. Recess period, we shared our snacks – her aloo paratha and mango pickle and my cheese sandwiches. Still havent forgotten the taste of the pickle – or the feeling of making a good friend for life. With time, we went to different divisions, made new friends, but the bond remained. I was one of the best students, participated in quizzes, was the teachers’ and principal’s pet – all in all, I was good – translate as ‘boring’.:P No hanky panky, no pranks. Which must be why when I joined college, it was like all the mischief was unleashed. I broke all the rules. Danced on the 2nd floor parapet on hostel days, sneaked in late after lazy evenings spent outside with friends, and arranged all the moonlight dinners in the terrace (which was strictly prohibited). My attendence lack was made up by friends who proxied for me. Life was good. Touchwood, still is…

    Looking forward to reading more about your school days. I loved Rover the best. Thanks for the absolutely ribtickling post by PN.

    P.S. Seema is now in Mumbai, happily married with 3 beautiful kids.
    Still very much in touch.:)

  3. St. Joseph’s High School, Pune, is attached to the St. Ignatious Church under the patronage of the RC Diocese and protected by the minorities act. The Principal, Father Michael Mascarenhas, was an Indian of South African origin. His parents were British speculators who had settled in South Africa. His sister ran a nunnery and health care center in Lonavala.

    Father Mac had his own style of working. The more I was involved in extra curriculum, the more opportunities I got to experiment with his ideas of discipline. In those days, no one ever called ‘caning’ a corporal punishment. I, for one, was a bit uneasy if I didn’t get a few ripe reminders once a month….

    The more I was part of other activities the more I got to feel the cane. I was playing for the school’s hockey team, a member of the Hindi drama club, an assembly prayer singer and was even suspended from school for fifteen days once for having lunch inside the church on benches where people kneel during prayers.

    The only assignment that I politely refused was the role of a Prefect. I would not spy on friends to catch them speaking Hindi or for long hair or uncut nails. There was a penalty of 10 Paisa for each violation and invariably I paid at least 2 Rupees each month to Father Mac’s saloon of Prefects. My dad would actually smile while paying the amount, “Go on son, ” he would say, “You are doing fine!”

    While in the 10th grade, I was chosen by Father Mac to correct the grammer papers of another class. He had prepared an answer sheet and asked me to check the papers against that. And, not surprisingly, I got caned for even that. I found a mistake in the answer sheet that he had prepared as a sample. He gave me some English Chocolates to eat and then rapped me on the knuckles for being over-smart! I remember the correction. The question was, write the opposite of ‘Legal’ – the sample answer that he had written was ‘Illegal’, and I scored it off with a bright red pen and wrote ‘Illicit’ and when he saw that he planted a bright red shade just under my right ear..

    And yes, there was a girl’s convent nearbby. And yes, we were not allowed to peep in there. And yes, we did peep in there. Shirley Philips was growing up, you see… and she needed help…

    I was disciplined once for circulating a gossip newspaper in the class… with headlines and columns designed to look like a proper newspaper… only the content was presposterous… Like, ‘Mrs Alex is pregnant, look at the way she walks, we are told by reliable sources that she is carrying a ton of cement concrete’ or ‘Mr. Sebastian’s wife’s name is Jessie. Readers are cautioned against saying ‘Just see’ in his presence. It sounds like Jessie and he starts sweating if you don’t know.’

    The paper got into Mrs. Alex’s hands somehow and we were called to Father Mac’s office… I stood politely next to his chair, with my back turned towards him… then in quick succession there were two cracks on the posterior as his favorite bamboo cane found its mark… I stumbled out rubbing the parts with both hands…

    School… hmmm… do I miss it… you bet I do…


    • All the learning I ever needed was available at home. The school was only for fun and games…

      Besides, my mom being an inspector of schools, we had family friendships with most of the teachers and Father Mac. So, all those ‘experiments-with-truth’ in the school just added value to that end product which stares at me from inside the mirror today!

      I loved and respected all my teachers though some of them pinched and caned and whacked me at times… but it has all worked out fine… they could not have been better and I could not have been worse!


    • Reader – Marvelous..ha ha ha, you have me in splits. Loved the ” Just see” bit. I shall share this with a few of my friends on Facebook too. Thanks.

    • And its rather remarkable you know the family tree by heart of Faher Mascrenhas..

      • Sharmila,

        Father Mac was a good man… I finished my school in 1979, yet I was in touch with him till December 2002… thats how much he bonded with us… the last time I met him in his house in the Pune Cantonment…he was 67 that September… he showed me his collection of books.. and was surprised that I had read most of them…

        “You are not up to speed Father, ” I said, “these so old-school”, and he laughed like a child… he had this toothless smile like an infant…

        I owe a lot of my brat side to him… its not irreverance.. its an acknowledgement of his goodness and my commitment to put his teachings in action… a bit boyish.. no doubt..


  4. hmmmm interesting ………and i giggled when i read your post and kept sunconciously saying to myself …..hmmm…..yes thats how it felt only that u expressed it sooooo well

  5. MonaLisa Says:

    Your life seems more colorful than ours/most of us, or is it a magic of your Art to Tell Tales..!? 🙂

    • Those are real life instances… remembered with love and fun… Memories are about the only things in life that we never leave behind… we carry them with us and enjoy them at leisure!

      Besides, memories are duty-free, which ever way you look at them!


  6. Oh Sharmila,what a pleasure reading!Have great day!
    Love always,Saroj

  7. School days are always unforgettable.I too miss them quite often.You seem to have enjoyed your school life.By the way,that radio incident is missing here.I hope it comes along with other parts….

  8. archana(bengaluru) Says:

    Sharmila.. U have a very cute way of expressing nostalgic moments.. Truly school days and college days are the best days.. In my case, my school was just about 200 steps away.. Was like a kick from my house and i landed in the school compound. OH!!! those were the days. Thanks sharmila for taking us to this wonderful world which is well stored and nurtured in my memory bank.

  9. Sharmila – Thank you for taking us along on a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Yes, who can ever forget those early formative years? Next to our parents, it was our school and teachers who were responsible for who we ultimately turned out be in life. So we shall forever remain indebted to them. Back then we never realized how priceless those moments were, but with the benefit of hindsight and the maturity of years, we now rue the fact that we could have made better use of those once in a lifetime opportunities. Such are the vagaries of life. May I take this opportunity to thank my teachers Mrs. Moore, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Balasubramaniam, Mrs. Nair, Ms. Clara, Ms. Maggie, Ms. Shinde, Ms. Rita, Ms. Amy, Ms. Daisy, Mr. Sheikh and Mr. George. And thank you once again, dear Sharmila.

  10. Melwyn – Happy to have you back and thank you for your lovely comment as always. Yes, our school and teachers shape up who we are next to our parents. Priceless memories and thanks for sharing your thoughts here with us.

  11. Kool article, especially Pocket Money double Tick

  12. Anand Khare Says:

    School and College days are most remembered for unforgettable companionships,relationships and friendships. I got this piece from a very old friend.

    Friendship is not about “I m sorry “ its about “abbe teri galti hai “

    Friendship is not about “I m there for u “ its about “kahan marr gaya saale “

    Friendship is not about “I understand “ its about “sab teri wajah se hua Kamina“

    Friendship is not about “I care for u “ its about “kamino tumhe chhod ke kahan jaunga “

    Friendship is not about “I m happy for ur success “its about “chal party de saale“

    Friendship is not about “I love that girl“ its about “saalo izzat se dekho tumhari bhabhi hai “

    Friendship is not about “R u coming for outing tomorrow “ its about “ nautanki nahi, hum kal bahar ja rahe hai “

    Friendship is not about “Get well soon “ its about “ Itna piyega toh yehi hoga“

    Friendship is not about “All the best for ur career“ its about “ bahut hua, abhi toh switch mar saale“


  13. couragetotremble Says:

    I found this blog when I googled for Mrs. Singh. Some people should not have been allowed near children at all. What were they thinking! There were a handful of such people at Baldwins who made life very difficult for some of us. I was in the school when Mr. Mitchell first joined (gradually taking over from Mr.Kirkwood), and have pleasant memories about him.

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