My life comes with a past. Goa was a far-away experience; the only few memories I have of Goa is shattering glass over my feet (ouch!), a birthday party next door, my sister breaking her front tooth and a faint outline of a dog and a slingshot.
No, my true life began in Mumbai: the city of dreams. I was born in June, supposedly a tricky month for getting admission into a school. When I came to Mumbai, I was supposed to be put in Naval KG School. However, my age was the problem for, although I had completed LKG, I was too young for UKG. Again, the June-effect. So I was admitted into Scholar High School (close to Gateway of India: we even went for a field trip there) in UKG. The school was ICSE. The reason for the choice was simple: nobody else would give me admission!
The first memory of it - and arguably my most powerful - is crying on the first day! Yes, crying! Somebody had locked the door from outside (I guess it was to keep the tiny tots under control): my over-imaginative mind had terrible images of being stuck for days, being forced to eat the chairs and tables and living without water. Of course, the class-help (who remains to date once of the nicest people I've ever met) opened the door in a few seconds and consoled me. And obviously, I was embarrassed, so I tried to pretend I was acting. Back then, my acting skills weren't very good I suppose.
Another memory I have of Scholar High School is being asked a question in class: which is the island-country near India? Well, I actually took a whole minute to say Sri Lanka! And in another incident, I actually dozed off in class! Now, of course, it's pretty common since I've completed 10th, but that was the first time I actually did that! I also remember the racks outside the class where we'd hang our water-bottles. And there was a little recess that was used for small demos near that! And another flight of steps upstairs would take me to my last destination: Class 4.
But before that, I'd have to go through Class 1. I remember my class teacher: Mrs. Minu Sahai (the spelling might be wrong). Now, I can't really say I liked her. But I suppose you always meet good and bad people. It was in Class 1 that I was placed in a class in the front of the building: it had these little stable doors which would open up to the outside. In no other school to date have I seen something as brilliant as that!
Class 1 was when we started music classes: a period a week with the sir who could play the piano. Now, I can't recall what songs I learned when (hey, this is nearly ten years ago!), but some of the memorable titles were K Sera Sera, Home on the Range, and some many others: I still have the notebook! Another new class was communication skills, in association with some company called Platform. What was the use of it? No idea...
In Class 2, I was introduced for the first time to a dictionary! How does one use it? Well, back then, I had no idea. Another new and controversial feature was that we would study our Class 2 and Class 3 English Readers in Class 2. In Class 3, we'd study Class 3 (again) and Class 4, and so on. Money-spending technique? Indeed.
Was I popular? Hardly... I was the quietest boy in class: I would never speak. Never. Even I can't remember my own voice! Was it shyness? Fear? Or both? I don't know. I never saw the need for friends: yeah, somebody to talk to if you're bored (and my imagination, fed with wholesome supplies of Cartoon Network, which I owe for my good English, never let me get bored), but never a friend. I never saw the need. And I was still like that all the way till Class 9: when I moved from loner to orator and finally to Headboy.
Computers began as a subject for us that year. I remember where the lab was: side-annexe (where I studied UKG), first floor. My first class was memorable in the lab: the teacher said 'spacebar' and immediately my mind was filled a a bar (on the lines of lounges and drinks) in a space shuttle! And to think, someday, I'd win an International Prize in Computers! I also remember waiting for my turn to play Prince of Persia: I would sit quietly, if the teacher wanted to give me a turn, I'd take it. Else I'd keep quiet. I did get a turn though, along with a classmate whose first name is all I remember: Aasma (may be misspelled). I had no idea what to do! I just made the Prince run around and die!
Then came Class 3: oh, I'll never forget that library class! It was the first time we were supposed to have library classes, where we'd be required to write out names on a slip in the book, put it in our library cards and hand it over. One week and we'd have to return it. Well, that was the first time I read Noddy, and I had the thought to read them all! Sadly, that was not to be. I borrowed a book once: Noddy and his Car. Short with yellow cover. Why do I remember it so well? Because I lost it! That was the first time ever I actually lost something that wasn't mine! I was scared!
I searched and searched at home. But alas, my then fear of cockroaches prevented me from checking a cupboard which I suspected of an infestation. Before I left Mumbai two years later, I discovered the book. I still have it. But my immediate concern was what I should do. Now, the Librarian was no sweet angel: she had a sharp tongue and simply seemed to hate me! So for three weeks I deferred from returning my book, I kept telling her I'd forgotten to bring it. My mom had written me a letter explaining the situation, but I didn't hand it over. Again, maybe it was shyness or fear or both. But eventually, I'd have to won up. I showed her the letter, and she went berserk! She shouted at me and told me she'd never let me borrow a book again unless I substituted the last book. So the next week, my mom somehow managed to get a copy of the very same book, and I tried handing it over to her. By luck or bad luck, another students also reported the loss of his book. But the Librarian called me a crook: she said I'd stolen another book which I was trying to give her now! She called a liar before the whole class! She eve told this other student "at least you are not a thief like him!" However, she cooled down and let me borrow something: I borrowed an Enid Blyton (and I would be glued to Enid Blyton for years to come, and this is another reason for my good English). I never wanted to read Noddy again. And I never did.
If anybody ever wondered why I dislike borrowing things today, why I always complete my assigned tasks in advance, why I never forgot to bring a library book on the due date, or I always check my bag for everything before I leave: this incident should've explained it.
A distinctive feature of Scholar was the Annual Fun Fair. My father, being in the Navy, was always asked to book the venue. Oh, and the school would ask students to pay Rs. 5o for it. Every year. The fair included some kiddie games that I did enjoy. The admission coupon system thing was hilarious: you had to buy a white admission coupon to get into the fair, and you could buy food coupons only outside, so every time you went out to buy more coupons, you;d have to buy another admission ticket!
The Fun Fair was held in the assembly 'hall' (an outdoor area, really). The assembly - compulsory everyday - included some Christian Prayers and the National Anthem. The fee counter was also in the hall behind a window-like thing.
The Activity Period after school was the only conscious effort for Physical Education in a school that had no ground. The period was held after school on different days for different classes: it was Thursday for Class 4. We'd have to wait for Class 5 and up to complete their assembly (the school had shifts) before we could play. We would wait in the nursery room or even in the corridor: straight line, and sometimes the PT Sir would check our shoes. We played various games: dogdeball, 'monkeys and donkeys' and the jungle gym (which was constructed shortly before Class 3 ended). I would never win, nobody wanted me in their team: I was and remain, a bummer at sports!
It was in Class 4 that we could start using pens rather than pencils. It was to begin during Second Term. I still remember my pen: black and silver in-pen designed for black ink. Well, I suppose any ink would've worked with it but we were supposed ti use only black. I remember my daily struggle refilling from the inkpot! The there was the first exam we were to write with our ink-pens: the teacher told us to write our names on all the sheets. One student asked her if we should write it on both sides of the sheet, to which she jokingly asked if one side of the sheet could disappear! And one absent-minded students even said 'yes, ma'am'!
There was this bully who would come in the break and dishevel our class. Once during a Hindi class, one boy said '
The last three memories I have is of the school annual day. I was in some recitation called Block City, By RL Stevenson. The costume took the cake: white uniform, red ribbon and... red lipstick! That was the first and last time in my life that I put on lipstick! I still have a photo of that... :-)
The school sports day was another event: it was held in the Stadium near the Naval Area (My dad's handiwork again). Well, I don't remember what we did, but I do know that nobody would be allowed to cycle in the park in the evening for a week since they were laying chalk for 'some school's sports day!'
And lastly, the class picture: it was only in my last year in Class 4 that they took it. It was in the assembly hall, near the barn-like doors which opened up to higher classes. I stood somewhere on top. I still have the photograph: the white uniform, black tie and badge ('True be the Scholar'). The girls in a white gown.
Missing my musical debut on Christmas, Mrs. (Ms?) Alavia, a very cruel lady whom I feared, getting caught in the infamous Mumbai rains, waiting for my dad to pick me up after Activity Class, the front gate, the fear of being late for assembly, the 'Scholar Seat' on a bus full of St. Anne's girls (it was a naval bus), the kind conductor who gave me a chocolate before he left, the shopkeeper near the bus stop who'd trouble me and who also called up my mom when the bus came late and everybody but me was absent, the music sir leaving after Class 3, the field trips to Gateway of India, the BEST Office and the Mumabi Fire Department, a thief who stole my money... that was Mumbai. That was where my story began.
I won't say I was very happy there: I had no friends. None. However, that day in Class 10 when I saw my old school on a debate on NDTV 24x7 was when I realised that I too came with a past, and on meeting my past, I was amazed. Stunned. Scared. The past can be shocking. I recognised most of the students who participated in that debate. One of them (who's an albino) was desperate to become my best friend in Class 4 and whom I advised to save somebody's life and make them indebted forever (my imagination at work again!), and another was a boy named Jimesh I think. He was the most popular student in the class. I remember we had these Britannia Stars that the best students in the class would get. I got it in Class 2. And I broke it! And one day, Jimesh left it on the staircase and I took it: I don't know why. And I threw it away somewhere. He cried in class, the teacher tried to console him. Since then, I have abhorred people who steal, because I myself was tainted with that crime.
I had also written a story for the school magazine: Moby Dick, it was called. Not every original, I know. My class teacher in Class 3 was very kind. Though my grades were below average - especially in communication skills - she still encouraged me. She made be the 'class helper'! She helped me when I got bad marks. She helped me with homework. She made me the class monitor. me, the loneliest person in class. I remember how she once wrote a science answer on the board (one teacher would take all subjects except Hindi/Marathi) and used the word 'etc.' and I pronounced it 'etk' not knowing what it meant until my mom told me later!
Mumbai was my first bastion, my first home. But life moves on. After five years in that glorious city, I moved to Hyderabad. From there on, my life was a roller-coaster.
(To be continued...)
Scholar High School has a community on orkut which can be accessed here.