I went to a school in Madras (as it used to be called in those days), which some people branded the best in the city. I daresay people are entitled to their view, however bizarre. I, however, had a different view, based on my experiences in those hallowed (?) portals. My school did not have the risks that today’s schools have – where precocious children exaggerate to their parents about teacher behaviour or prying newspapers that usually try and execute erring and often unsuspecting teachers for what was exemplary behaviour in my time.
My teachers thought nothing of slapping me or even caning me, (on one memorable occasion, the cane broke). I also had the unique distinction of being awarded an imposition of copying the first 26 pages of the Geography text book, something that probably went out of fashion the day I left school.
But my school, whatever its failings, had one admirable quality. It was closed on Saturday, and that, in hindsight, is phenomenal considering the day and age I lived in. I know this is not about anthropology, so let’s not waste time and effort in idle conjecture wondering about the era that I am talking about. But back to my high point and Saturday – which I looked forward to with the same zeal a tippler looks forward to the bar opening, and I must confess – that admirable feeling of anticipation and wonderment for that special day have continued till the moment of writing.
Oh, those Saturdays
I am not sure we had “mood meters” in those days but one had to just look at my face and you could easily figure out which day of the week this bespectacled schoolboy with a heavy satchel was toiling under the weight of. Mondays were the curse of my life, probably the results of a previous janam where I might have been Genghis Khan at best and I was paying for it with interest.
When the teacher asked the loaded question about homework, my head was usually burrowed in my bag searching for my ever missing diary.
I usually would have not completed my homework and being the inveterate gambler that I continue to be, believed in taking my chances that my name would not be the one to be called out. Nor was I King Harischandra reborn to own up and say that I had not done my homework. After all even King Yudhistra used truth and fiction on one occasion at least. Who was, I ordinary mortal, to split hair on technicalities?
When the teacher asked the loaded question about homework, my head was usually burrowed in my bag searching for my ever missing diary. But though the stress would invariably show in my demeanour, slowly but unsteadily the smiles would start to break through the troubled visage of a careworn and homework-resisting boy as the week stretched painfully and inexorably onwards until Friday dawned.
Friday evenings were my high points even then. Though the “good times” started a little earlier for me in those days, at 3.45 p.m. to be precise. We did not wear watches, so a lot of the time was spent in agonizing how many minutes were left till the bell rang. When it did ring I felt like my forefathers might have felt at the ‘stroke of the midnight hour’ in 1947. I usually would be the first off the blocks, haversack et al to begin our game of holycolley – which some ignorant people called “seven stones”.
It was about trying to avoid guys with astonishingly strong arms with a tennis ball in their hands, trying to mutilate the first guy in range. I would duck, weave, spin, fall and rise in pure ecstasy. My soiled clothes hardly pleasing my mom, who sadly was not a Surf Excel mom who thought stains are good. I would go home tired and dusty, but happy; my mind savouring the game and even more the heady two days to follow and not even the pall of homework to be completed was too much of a downer, for that was after all for Monday morning, even if it was to be done.
Cometh the morning ….
Saturday mornings were relaxed mornings at the Ramanujam household, with the only whirl being three sets of hands rushing to grab the single Hindu newspaper that was thrown carelessly over the compound wall. I usually won but had to reluctantly hand it over to older if not more gracious people. But then that is another story.
Life then proceeded almost slowly for me at least till 9 a.m. That would be a reasonable time for me to leave the house, bat in hand. My father would leave for work as too would the fathers of some of my friends who would soon know what was going to hit them. I would go from house to house, bat in hand, calling each one of my friends to come and play with me. But calling them out was not as easy as you might imagine. Mothers guarded their children zealously from the evil influence of this kid who seemed to have no parental control. If I had just eavesdropped on conversations, I am sure I would have been described as one who had “holy water sprinkled”on him by his parents as I was forever on the street.
Mothers guarded their children zealously from the evil influence of this kid who seemed to have no parental control.
Windows would be quickly shut and mothers would say in loud voices “Raghu is studying“and the unsaid part would be “why the hell aren’t you at home studying?” or “doesn’t your school believe in homework?”. I would be disappointed for a short while but my normal optimism would soon take over. After all it was barely 10 and the day stretched in lazy abandon. Time to thank my stars that my parents had no clue how much desolation their son was causing in the neighbourhood of Ramaswamy street.
I would make my way to the playground close by, at Hensman Road, (a name still etched in my memory), bat over the shoulders anxiously scanning the various teams that were getting ready to play a tennis ball match in different parts of the ground. Invariably my time would come as some kid or the other would drop out – having been blocked by a zealous mother- and soon I would be standing at third man, already dreaming of scoring a century whenever my chance to bat came. So the day would roll on too soon for my liking and Sunday would follow with even greater speed. And as my luck would have it, it would be Monday morning with all its depressing consequences, particularly for a boy who had done everything except his homework over the weekend.
And so life continued…
Life rolled on. To the utter disbelief of my parents, I made it to college which only cemented my grandmother’s unshakeable belief in my brilliance. Not for me the khaki uniform and T squares that some of my unfortunate friends chose to carry for the next five years of their depressing lives as they studied engineering.
I studied Economics, where I spent five years in college learning only two things – “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and the second and even more philosophical statement that said “in the long run we are all dead”. But even in the midst of all this learning, in the short run and in the long run there was one constant. Saturdays were still holidays (as the college did not even have a syllabus to keep us occupied for weekdays much less Saturdays). Cricket was still there to keep us deliciously occupied, and also the admirable Philips transistor radio which my father sarcastically referred to as “my spouse” as I went to bed with it crackles et al.
In hindsight, I guess there are no doubts where I inherited my sarcasm from. There were test matches at all times of day and night that kept me in a world of delicious possibility. Not for nothing do they say that the radio is the theatre of the mind. I imagined myself at Lords, the MCG or Bridgetown Barbados. What a succession of memories and images cloud my mind as I try to recall a childhood that in retrospect was largely happy.
And today as I try to analyze that period (what needless and stupid things management school teaches us) I realize that it was the one day of the week that made my day, my week and if I may add, my life…