ON BEING INDEPENDENT, INQUISITIVE AND FOOLISH
my estate school days
I had not been a regular school student till I was nine or ten. My occasional sojourns in the estate schools, the schools meant for the Tamil labour's children, where all students sat together in a single room irrespective of the age, class or even the language, did not offer any chance for friendships. The special seat and status I enjoyed in the school/class even discouraged others from getting near.
The only occasion I got a friend was when Raghu joined. Well dressed and hair neatly combed he had a kuri ( a mark) of sandal paste on his forehead. My teacher Rao sar seemed to have a special respect to him.
We two sat on a small bench, a bit away from our teacher on a chair with arms and a table in front of him. We were a bit away from the rest of the school, they crowded the remaining benches while the smaller ones on the floor. The seating arrangement offered us a lot of freedom to pursue our hobbies and interests. We freely exchanged stamps and match box stickers and talked while the teacher managed others.
Raghu seemed to know everything and required no more coaching. And I had personal coaching at home by the same teacher in the evening. So we needed little attention from the teacher in the school . He devoted most of his time controlling the students by sending boys and girls separately at different intervals to the urinals and punishing the fighters. And the like.
There used to be group activities in which everybody joined, like the Multiplication tables in Tamil, the teacher recited and all students repeated. We too joined them, at times, though we were not supposed to. The national anthem at the end of the day used to be the loudest with our contribution. Before joining the school I used to wonder why they shouted so loud.
‘Aana avanna’ the Tamil nursery rhyme which aids to remember tamil alphabets was another group activity we enjoyed attending. It was also for all ages and all classes.
We enjoyed watching the ball game played by the boys on the days we attended the afternoon session while the girls played some games indoor using pebbles and chanting
But the pit of tea waste which was the main attraction of the school was closed by the time I joined . The boys used to jump into the feather soft fresh tea dust deposited into it daily . It had fresh tea smell and never stained or sticked to your body. But some one started stealing it to adulterate tea sold in the market and the factory started adding a smelly medicine to prevent adulteration. It was likely to cause skin irritation my father told me. So all of us avoided the pit with a nostalgic look.
The republic day celebrations in the school was another novel experience.
The luck dip with a difference where all the students won some prize or other was the main item. The prizes with serial numbers were displayed on a table in front of the chief guest who distributed the prizes to the children. My father was the chief guest. The prize was announced first and the winner was chosen by drawing lots . Small scrolls with the names of students were picked from two bottles.
Raghu and me were at the bottles picking up the scrolls alternately.
I enjoyed it as if the gifts were being distributed at my pleasure. But I must admit I would have enjoyed better a if I was alone. The presence of Raghu lessened my feeling great to a considerable extend.
Towards the end of the lucky dip, when the scrolls in the bottles were almost at the bottom, there was a break. the good prizes still on the table, the teamaker ,Raghu’s uncle took the bottles from us shook vigorously and gave back telling Raghu something I could not make out. It was at the time I noticed a scroll which was folded to appear different from other rolled ones. There was one similar in Raghu’s bottle also.
The teamaker said something and Raghu took the odd roll. His name was on the it and he won one of the best prizes. There was a murmur among the gathering and we continued drawing. Though Raghu seemed to have lost interest in I continued enjoying it.
I chose the odd one in my bottle last, to win a moderate prize, a celluloid soap dish, though I was prompted to take the folded earlier. The murmur subsided. Every one started to leave only the national anthem held them back.
“Why didn't take the one I told you?” The Teamaker seemed accuse me.
“Since you told me to do so” I wanted to answer, but I was afraid.
On our way back home, my brother taunted me, “you got the last prize ha ha ha“
“It was very nice that he did not win one of the best prizes other wise I would have been in an awkward position” my father said.
I was very confused. Why did he say so?.
I think as children we failed to understand stand the grown up. But it is a paradox as grown-ups too we fail understand the children many a times.