Thursday, February 05, 2004

The Skool Days





Hi Guys, This is actually the first article I wrote. An earlier version of this had been sent to Sudharsan (and to a sister of mine), say a year back. Thought it's high time the skool day experiences I remember are shared with you all. These are some of the memories of The Skool - some pleasant, some unpleasant, some exciting, some sickening, some happy and some sad - but in the end it's the skool that won. Hope you all take this article in a lighter vein and believe this will make you enjoy & relive those most cherished moments that we as part of ER had. Please do add to it whatever you guys remember.

The year was 1986. My dad resigned his job in Madurai and we shifted to Trichy. It was very late, almost a month and a half after the schools start, that my Mom and myself along with one of my aunts, armed with my achievement certificates (I had stood among first 3 always in my earlier school in Madurai) that we met the then HM, TMS. But actually it was a letter from one of my Grandads (an uncle of my Mom) Pazhaniyandi Pillai - whose sons studied in ER and their donations resulted in a new block - which got me through.

TMS was very polite in saying that there was only one English section with 150 boys (strength of all 4 sections put together in my earlier school!) and still if we persist we may join. We had no option then since all the other doors were closed and so Mom and me visited VII A.

The class teacher was Mr. Nagaswamy. My first surprise - students sitting on the floor and chappals strewn outside the class room. Since he was also from Thiruvanaikaval, it made things a bit easy for my Mom. He inquired the well beings of our family and allotted a seat in the benches.

The reason for chappals lying outside, I soon learnt was because classrooms were the abode of Godess Saraswathi. One habit of mine which remained till college - to sit without chappals while in class. The whole environment was new to me who had studied till then in a Christian convent - teachers in dhothis, some in 'panchakachams' even sporting 'kudumis'. My roll no. I remember was 150A, the 151st guy of the class. ER did not follow the Lexican order of attendance but went with the admission no. order.

Another new thing was that the same teacher taught 2 subjects - English and Maths. This was not such an odd thing after all in ER. I came to know soon that a teacher can teach upto 4 different subjects!

The earliest guys I got to know were Thayumanavan (habitual BT, now a Yogi) and (TST) Ramkumar (kutti) and then came the gang of Prasanna (bhagavadhar), Suresh (ChuChu), Karthikeyan (drawing karthi), Sreenivasan (Steffi), Sudharsan(kupi), Dharma Prakash...

The best things of Std VII that I remember were the social classes taken by Mr. Viswanathan, who had a really big mouthstache in the likes of Veerappan, Gopal or Devaram. The way he taught was rather astounding. He had a very unique style of putting things into your head. We had in Geography, Australia and Newzealand and still I remember his words echoing through the class "Namma helicopter ippo The Great Barrier Reef mela poguthu." That teacher had such vivid imagination when he presented New Zealand thus, "Apdi rendu chappala inga onnu anga onnu thooki pota epdi irukum, adhu pola". Some quotes you never forget for life!

We had Rennaissance and Reformation in History. He introduced us to Machiavalli's Prince, Fredrick the Great, his Minister, the man of Iron and blood, Bismarck, and the artists Michael Angelo, Raphael & Leonardo. Another pleasant thing to happen to me was he nicknaming me "Garibalti" (since I'm black and nothing to do with the bravery/shrewdness of the original!) which stands till date. I have really felt for not joining in std. VIth itself, since he had taken Social for std VIth too. One proud thing, I always was among the toppers in Social Sciences :-)

One of the topics discussed in hushed tones during class 7 was about Mr. Nagaswamy's tuition students - he made them sit in the middle row and gave them question papers of the forthcoming exams. This is one of the first unpleasant memories I have about ER.

Science was taken by an oldie called MRS (or was it NRS??) who usually came in a pale blue shirt and a brownish white dhoti. One queer habit of his - throwing the stick (which was there always under his armpit) at guys who erred during class hours. One rumor had it that a boy was blinded, but he still kept the habit with him.

Tamil - Kannaiyinar Naidu, hope I spelt it right. His type of punishment - call the guy, put his hands inside his pocket and crush the poor fellow's balls! Many teachers had an odd, sometimes sadistic way of punishing guys (the other one coming to mind was the master for craft, who hit everyone on the back of the hands). A habit of K Naidu was to ask Dhanagopal (of Ramjinagar, roll no. 1, he always called him Dhanabal) to go to the nearby Naganathan tea-stall and get him biscuits and tea whenever Tamil period came in the afternoons.

Two more things about Nagaswami, he took care of the Pillaiyar Koil inside the school's compound and he collected money from us to put ceiling fans for VII 'A'. That's what I remember of std. VII.

The class teacher for std. VIII was SVR. He too took Eng and Math. The best things I remember of him were the nicknames he gave. I don't remember much, but here are some - White & White (Cricket Pradeep), Veeresasingha Bandhullu (wonder where he got that from?!), Kudi etc. He held his tuitions at 9 every morning and most of the times he was late, the reason being 'Vaigaikaha gatea potutan'. He was the one who named Sudharsan 'kupilapo' - 'kutti pissaasu lathi podum', the line he had scribbled on the newly built toilet's walls. One queer custom he followed was punishing boys who didn't come with their hands tied behind their backs (following the 'Stand At Ease' position) while coming back after the morning Assembly where we sang "Vaanor Vanangum Annaiye..." & Thamizh Thai Vaazhthu. I still wonder why we were made to walk like that. Two of the English lessons that I remember were the ones on John Cadbury and on 'Ants'.

We had some of our earlier classes in 'Yana Kottai', now no longer there. It was so named because of it being so huge and resembled an elephant's abode.

A strange custom of ER was the brahmanised way it functioned - skool started only at 11 am on Ammavasyas and it was a holiday for Thai, Mahalaya or Aadi Ammavasyas. Even when the district collector made a rule that all schools should commence by 8 am onwards to avoid the morning peak rush in buses, ER tried twice but could not stick to it. I strongly believe it was mainly due to the teachers rather than us students who couldn't follow that regimen!

New kid on the block was R Bhaskaran. We buddies went till Engg in the same Univ. Nice that we are in Chennai, together still :-)

School Leave - it came for everything - whether the teaching staff were on tour, some staff's second cousin's wife's sister's marriage, rain, former teacher/HM's death etc etc. It's odd that a saying about ER goes like 'Adadhu (mazhai) peidhalum vidadhu nadakum ER High School' - might have been true during Nataraja Iyer's days, who knows.

Another teacher was introduced to us, Mr. Ramaswamy, who took Tamil. He in turn introduced to us varied subjects from teachings of Osho to Yoga to Tamil poetry. It was rumoured that there is a life-size portrait of Osho in the drawing room of his house in Mangamma Nagar. He was a good bit egotistic and used to recite poems that he wrote, the best ones being the one about Vinayaga which goes like "Aval, pori, vellam.." and the other one, the song to bring rain. It rained the day he sang that song! He also wrote a sort of poetry in which letters were put into 6 segments of a circle and they formed the words of the poem when followed in a particular order.

History and Geography was taken by NB, that Mallu who always carried his dhothi in his one hand and carried a small bag in the other. His fav punishment "10 kuttu pottu velila anupuda", when the whole class rushed and knocked the offending guy down on his head. I wonder whether he realises the agony of this torturous punishment.

And his fav line was, "Uyeee, inna sound udriya?" He was the one who introduced us to the harsh realities of civic life in the real sense. Corruption, bribery, untouchability and reservation were some of them. One of his oft repeated stories - how the traders of Chathiram bus stand unitedly put meetings to collect money and give it to the local MP/MLA whenever there were talks of the bus stand being moved away. Chathiram is still there and the traders too.

Science - by an eccentric called Rajagopal, famous for his eve teasing episode. Legend has it that he teased a girl and got thrashed by the girl's brother with a cycle chain. Also he did some yoga postures like showing off all the veins and arteries of his body.

The class was divided into two in ninth. Sec 'A' had the likes of stalwarts like TMT and TMS (he can draw the map of India without facing the board, can quote anyone from Thiruvalluvar to Appar to Wordsworth!) whereas we in Sec 'B' were left to the likes of MB, NK & TSV. Only we had a better Math teacher in Mr Ramani.

An interesting thing started happening in Std 9th. All 'grown' boys wore color full-trousers to skool, changed them to khaki half-trousers behind the Pillaiyar koil. This served 3 purposes, 1) To avoid the embarrassment of showing their hairy legs, 2) to sight see the girls while coming in the bus and 3) to cut afternoon classes and go for cinema.

Rambha/Oorvasi theaters (The Sivalaya Complex) very near the school was the fav. This was coz they showed 'A' movies. Sirrocco and Playboy were the most famous of these movies since they came again and again year after year. Since I was tall and quite shy, I always sat in the last benches along with these matured guys. One of my fav pass-times then was to hear to these guys tell those movie storylines (whatever story they had!), as I didn't have the guts then to cut classes ;)

Subban who took English for us was obsessed with the pronunciation of words and the phonetic symbols. I had a dictionary with me then and was named 'dictionary boy' by him.

Two interesting teachers were VSG who took Tamil and Nehru who took Maths. While VSG terrorized the class with his double toned voice and daily punishment, Nehru told stories that kept the class thrilled. One story he oft repeated was him seeing a murder taking place right before him when he was reading his morning newspaper. The words he used with a dramatic effect were 'Appdiye top-a kalatitaan' (the head was sheared away). Remember, all this was before 'Nayagan' or 'Thalapathi'. Those teachers were our real eye-openers to the harshest realities of this world. Science was by MB, and I don't have much to say about him.

During the lunch hours we played that good old game, "Thirudan-Police", running up and down across the school's corridors like mad. The guys who played it were "Battery mama" Badri, Thayumanavan, Srinivasan (the tall guy who had a unique way of writing all the letters in a square shape) and other Andar Street guys like Kannan @ Venkata Krishnan.

Cricket as now was the omnipresent game then too. It was played in a very novel way in ER. No stumps, no bat. The net poles for Volleyball/Badminton served as a single stump and typically 2 to 3 matches were played simultaneously around a single pole. And the ball most of time would be "solakkarudhu" (corn cobs) or paper sheets rolled over as a ball with rubber bands cut from an old cycle tube to hold them. You have to be beside "Mookupodi" Mani(kandan) after he'd played such games in the afternoon - sitting beside the sweaty, heat radiating Bell-Neck was quite an experience in itself.

We did have other games like Volleyball (Vijay or Prabhu Anand was quite a player from our class), Co-Co and Kabbadi. But these weren't played as enthusiastically as the first two. The PT periods should get a mention here. Most of the time we were sent home if the period comes last or were asked to just sit down under the shady trees. Even worse, we were forced to perform drills just after breakfast or lunch sometimes.

The skool had a rusty canteen too. (Ramana, where are you?) Thankfully, it changed to a new building during our XI/XII stds. There were (still are?) vendors outside the skool too. The best of the items was the "sarak-sarak" ice for 25p.

more to come...