There was something weird about sitting in a huge hall, occupying one small part of it, while the rest is a huge empty space falling away on one side, where you have to skip to every Saturday to hear people perform on the stage at the other end of it. The benches and desks were placed perpendicular to the hall, which ran the whole length of the longest side of the building that was St. Joseph’s School, Briand Square. The board was hung on the wall with the benches facing it, the windows at the back, facing on to the ground. If you are in the 3rd standard, all of 8 years old, that is a huge distraction. They stayed closed or just the top halves open, and teachers kept an extra eye on any wandering eyes at the back.
One such morning in 1988, we walked into school, me and my brother to cross the ground into the Primary school and my cousin to the High school – three stories standing between the road and the ground. Just as I climbed into the ground, I noticed a huge commotion on the right. We promptly joined the crowd, to see a kite that had fallen off injured. There were a few high-schoolers, no-nonsense guys for us, who wore pants, the brown ones which looked odd as they were just extensions of the same brown in shorts for us. The bird was crouched down, unable to stand, and was being fed someone’s lunch, while being stroked by the guy closest to it. The rest of the crowd wanted their share – to stroke it, or to offer their lunch. It was strangely ordered for a crowd drawn out of kids from Cottonpet, Chickpet, Azadnagar, Tipunagar etc. But looking back, this was the 80s. The unruliness that increasingly marked the students was a feature from the mid-90s when I was in High School, when you were unruly by default, whether you came from the Agraharas of Raghavendra Colony, the Muslim slums where 4th cross Chamarajpet met Mysore Road or the Tamil colonies behind Super Talkies. I’d like to dismiss it off as age, but I never found the same geniality I found in my brother’s and cousin’s friends and batchmates when I came across them in any form in School in my own batchmates. In fact, I do distinctly remember being a bit wary of my juniors and feeling glad that I had less than a year left in School.
Anyway, I digress. The bird lay there, all innocent, the strong beak meant for tearing into meat looking meek tucking into a chapathi. The bell rang and we ran into the school. The fear of the P.T master’s cane ruled over any other instinct – baser or not. He was a friendly guy in P.T classes, but we knew where to draw the line and where to fear the cane. But we could trust it more in the hands of the P.T master than in the class teachers’ hands. At least it was predictable in the master’s hands. With the Miss’es there were their own moods to factor in. Of course we could get away with not doing homework on some days, but the other side meant we had to endure 4 whacks on the hands, the cane drawn from as back as possible each time, some days for the same offense! Predictability was the key!
Between classes, we moved to the back, crowding at the back windows to catch a glimpse of the bird. It was still there, thrashing around, trying to get off. There were the usual “ayyo paapas” thrown in, but we were fascinated in our own 8-year-olds’ ways. The teacher would arrive and we’d scurry back. She wouldn’t be amused. She was never amused. My sole accomplishment was gaining a rank of 3 in the mid-terms which oddly made her spite me more. “Third rank antha jamba jaasthi eega yuvnige” before the whacks fell for every other reason.
Lunch time came and we ran out looking for the bird. It wasn’t there. We looked around, but there were no signs of it anywhere. “John must have taken it” someone suggested. We nodded along. John was the high school peon who being from the High School was cooler than Das, the primary school peon. He also got to ring an electric bell while the primary school just had an iron bar that was clanged. John knew my mom, having joined there when she was a librarian there till 2 years before I was born, and greeted her whenever she came to school for our admissions etc. Anyone who had been there long enough to recognize my mom was by default in my good books, and it was only proper that someone like John would have rescued the bird.
Post lunch, battling drowsiness and canes, we were in for a surprise as we were told there was a science exhibition in the High School. We never got to go much there, except to get to school through the ground floor and even that was limited. So it was a happy event, as we assembled down and were marched out in single file during the 3rd standard slot with students from other sections, whom we were invariably wary of. The stricter and more hated the teacher, the more hated the students under her. It should have worked the other way around, but the class leader was the main face of the class, and the stricter the teacher, the more of a douche the leader looked.
We trooped along and climbed up to the 2nd floor which was the hall that stretched out the whole length of the building. There were weird cardboard things made. There was a boat that floated in water and ran on kerosene. There were models of forests, some chemical reactions, some really good stuff made by the High Schoolers that amazed us kids. There were teachers that I couldn’t recognize, but knew were old enough to have been there when my mom was working. At the very end, as the last exhibit, the bird was there crouching on the table, to our collective delight! And there was John, standing next to it with a wry smile, guarding it from curious hands.