There is a common saying among folks – “I wish I could get back to my schooldays!” The statement has its merit of course, and is, in all probability instigated by the now-incandescent faggots of friendship experienced during those “carefree” days, to be missed much in the later days of competition and cunning.
But if you look at it from my point of view, school was much more than friends, and very regrettably so. In what follows, I shall outline some of the worst horrors I faced in my school-life, which has emblazoned the belief in me that once school-life is done with, one should never look back at it.
To start off, it was the school timing. Some apothegm of some insomniac dictated that school kids should wake up early. And by early, I mean HELL early. My classes started at 7 am. The school bus came around 6, which meant that if you allowed some time for incoherently chewing a little breakfast, brushing your teeth and dressing up, and made suitable allowance for the inevitable grogginess at those wee hours, one should wake up at around quarter-past 5. Every day, every week, months on end, regardless of summer or winter or fog or rain. This is the closest to forced child labor I had gotten. At one point you feel like medieval farmhands, who woke up with the sun and started chaffing the hay and grooming the horses, with the exception that you of course would not burden your bed when the sun did – there was homework to be slogged on, and after that there was the insatiable urge to try and answer the questions on Kaun Banega Crorepati.
One should not be too comforted to think that one had the pleasure of being home by lunch. After lunch, when any sane human being would desire some rest, there were tuitions to be attended. Thankfully though, it was a home-delivery, and my teacher, expected to come at 2, would usually turn up at 3, when I would just start to get raw in the eyes. From 3 to 4 I dozed, and 5 onwards I stared out of window at those lucky ones playing the field. But no, the importance of education was too much. Majority of my childhood was starved of games, which could be a plausible explanation of my physique which suddenly decided to grow no more, much to my exasperation.
But the biggest irritation was what transpired during the school hours. I recall a few subjects in particular.
Firstly, there was Bengali (my vernacular). For a large part of my student life (except, thankfully, at the very end), I felt Bengali was total nonsense. There would be unnecessarily long prose pieces, stupid poetry, and of course, you were supposed to write answers on them. For some reason, the teachers decided that the more difficult and un-understandable your language was, the more it was praiseworthy. Where I would have willingly displayed what I understood of the pieces on the answer papers, they expected me to create counter-samples of literature in response. And state board schools have a notorious reputation of under marking students. I never managed anything above 50%, and the stalwarts whose answer papers would have ashamed the originals themselves, managed 60-65 at best. I was pretty convinced that if the teachers tried the stuff themselves, they would end up somewhere in the 40’s, and people of the stature of Rabindranath or Sharatchandra would probably accrue 70 after a while. Hence, I stopped paying attention for good. To my utter amusement, I still got the same marks.
Then there was the infamous torture called History. It was devoid of any logic whatsoever, and I have never been able to understand what wonders it would do to my life to memorize when some idiotic king woke up, when he felt the intense urge to run to the toilet and the like. Ancient history was full of such kings, whose ultimate aim in life seemed to keep fighting until they killed everyone in sight or died themselves. If someone reads ancient history, he will be mighty convinced that there did not exist any sort of people called “commoners”, you were either a king, or a dead king.
I liked medieval history, partly because I fancied about knights, castles and damsels in distress and partly because it acknowledged the existence of people who were not kings, who did boring stuff like cultivation, pottery and trade by the daylight, drank flagons of beer by dark, sang their hearts out on wooden benches of dilapidated taverns and made love to their ladies. Their stories were probably not very happy and definitely not glorious, but it was something you could relate to. I guess this disease of medieval fancies is there in most of us, and that’s why movies like The Lord of the Rings are such huge hits.
Modern history on the other hand took this “common man” phenomenon to extravagant proportions. It is so freaking full of stupid, egotistic and headless common men that you feel you are possibly living in the age with the minimum average IQ. Such is the intensity of commonplaceness that you find eager apotheosis of any guy who was slightly above average. It’s awesome, and makes you think whether you are worthy of equivalent fame. But it’s not good to write answers on, because while many of the dates are uncertain in ancient history, people are uncannily familiar with them in modern times, and the onus passes to you to carry the baton of wisdom.
Amazingly I liked geography. One reason could be that I liked the teacher, she was young and, at least I thought, beautiful. She had a wicked habit of giving notes in extraordinary detail though, and the margins of our books would be crammed with pencil writing. Physical geography, which dealt with planets and seasons and weather and erosion, somehow made sense if you took a limited number of things for granted, and so it seemed easy. Regional geography was irritating, and had too much to remember about countries I was sure never to end up in, but I liked maps and read them in unison, so it got over not too badly. Queerly enough, I never took tuitions in history or geography, while almost everyone else did. One subject seemed easy and the other was hell nonsense, so I reasoned it was a waste of money anyway.
Science subjects were generally interesting. Contrary to many, I found math not too bad, although the marks you would end up with at the examinations were rather arbitrary and sometimes freaked you out. But there was the relief that there were a limited number of things to be remembered, and most of the rest had to be figured out then and there, which was better than memorizing reams of nonsense. The board examinations, though, took math to a different level of commercialism, and books were full of problems where people would mix water in milk and sell it at a handsome pre-estimated profit, or of a water-tank that had an unnecessary number of inlets and outlets all working at different speeds and being turned on at random by some insane guy, or of some over-civilized monkey who had made it the mission of his life to first get drenched in oil and then desperately slip up a bamboo to try and reach the top. It seemed the sole purpose of learning so grand a subject was to analyze the abject austerity of life.
Physics was good and made sense, chemistry was a bit confusing. I could never understand how people had decided that A+B=C+D meant A and B when reacted would turn into C and D. It always seemed to me that the reverse should be equally possible. It turned out later that I was on the right track, but then of course, at that stage of life, all we got in response was “you’ll be taught in higher standards”. When people say that throughout your secondary school, you come to suspect that you’ll never actually learn it, people actually don’t know it, and they are just trying to cheat and defer you.
Among the sciences, what seemed interesting but hopelessly wrongly taught was life science or biology. Life science was always full of things that I had no interest in. They taught me about pea plants, which other than Gregor Mendel’s perversions never attracted my attention. Worse still, there was a fish which I ate daily, and other quaint creatures like the house-fly, mosquitoes, potatoes and lotus. If there was anything I was interested in, it was the human body. I wanted to know, firstly, how I was born (which I guess everybody is very eager to know to the finest possible detail at that age), then things like what was the use of me having hair on my body when I wore sweaters anyway, how my brain made decisions and stored stuff, and why cat’s eyes shine in torchlight but mine don’t. But no, they decided the right things to learn were ugly toads and pigeons (including lewd details of how tadpoles were born).
And there too, your most interesting questions were never answered. I wanted to know how is it that pigeons can remember their way home, while we, considered to be far more intelligent, would easily lose it. Nobody knew, and worse still, it was not considered important. They only seemed interested in cutting the bird open, and then concluding it had 6 or 8 lungs and hollow bones. It never occurred to them there could be interesting things to observe and think about without taking everything to the mortuary. There were wrong definitions in the outdated books, like blood being “the red coloured liquid which takes oxygen to …”. I knew numerous creatures who had no blood, and an equal number whose blood was not red. Somehow they were not important, and more amusingly, the definition seemed to be in a terrible hurry to say everything about what blood did, in case you got irritated and read no more.
And what I found most laughable were things called “write down the differences” in the books. There were sensible ones, like “respiration and breathing”, but much more of amusing ones like “peacock and peahen”, confusing ones like “neuron and nephron” (someone thought the alliteration was worth a question) and insane ones like “lotus and potato”. Sometimes there was so much to write that you couldn’t decide where to start, and sometimes there was so less to write that you started with points like “the brain is spelt b-r-a-i-n while the heart is spelt h-e…” and so on.
And then there were exams and marks. Somehow people who had the minimum curiosity and maximum efficiency in memorizing the nonsense did exceptionally well. And I would sit and gape, wondering when it all would get over. No way am I going back to that again!!!