We were standing together, our hands joined and eyes closed as we recited the daily prayers. It was followed by an assembly where a few students gave speeches. Then, we got up and went back to our classrooms, everything planned, disciplined and routine. However, there was one thing that was different. We seemed to walk slower than usual, breathing in its air trying to absorb the essence of the place and pondering on what it has been to us all along. It was officially the last day of school, and we had just sat through the last assembly of our school lives.
Several years ago, the first day of school was drastically different. No one knew anyone else. Everyone was looking here and there, smiling awkwardly at every eye contact. All were thinking about their friends and times they left back at their previous schools, clueless of why they did so for this place, which did not even look like a school. The prayers, the teachers, the classrooms, the schedule - everything so unusual, odd. The first few days were chaotic – trying to perceive how this dynamic place worked and trying to find our own little space in it. “I just saw that the library. It’s huge!” exclaimed a new-found classmate. “I also saw a publishing house. What would they be publishing?” enquired another. “I heard people playing music during the recess. You are free to not only touch, but you can play all the musical instruments whenever you like!” one of us was definitely bouncing with excitement. It took us more than a week to digest the fact that we did not have to wear a uniform everyday, that everyone habitually bowed and touched the final step before entering the school like some sort of a temple, that we had the freedom to go anywhere in the building and talk to anyone, that the lectures were more like discussions, and that studying was never the only or even a top priority in our lives.
There were seasons when we marketed the Diwali Special Issue of “Chhatra Prabodhan” (Sanskrit, “Student Awakening”) knocking on doors, persuading people to buy it. There were months when we took two weeks to plan a two-day hike into the mountains because we were told that our hike was our responsibility, we oversaw our own safety. There were days when we, as a part of an exercise were handed Rs. 10 and asked to bring back twice the amount in two hours. There were competitions to go around the city to draw a road-map, to cook food, to learn and practice first-aid and review 50 books in a school year. There were times when we spent even our weekends on the playground practicing for the inter-school athletic tournaments. There were countless evenings when we spent hours together at the bicycle stand, reveling in the experiences narrated by senior students and alums. There were nights when we talked to the mirror because we had to give a speech in front of the entire school assembly the very next day. There were adventures when we camped in tents, lit campfires and took turns for night guard. There were spiritual journeys when we found solace at Sajjangad (Satara dist., Maharashtra) and reflected upon ourselves. Then, there were also a few instances in the year when we actually opened our books and “studied” a bit.
When we finally studied, it was still unusual. The discussions and debates started during classes sometimes continued all the way through the recess. We studied current affairs and had an opinion on everything. It’s easy to remember all the exciting things we did to learn something new. Once, we made parachutes out of different materials and varied the shape and size, recording their performance in our observation tables. The scene was worth watching — students standing on each floor of the building and parachutes floating down the atrium all day. We also made hand-written magazines with all sorts of stories, poems, interviews, jokes, puzzles and screenplays. Performing historical plays in front of the school assembly used to be our favorite — complete with costumes, sounds and the lights. We ate our lunches together sitting in a circle and we played together every evening till the last muscle in our body hurt. We fought over the chance to decorate the school for Aashadhi Ekadashi (11th day in the month of Aashadh according to Indian lunar calendar) and Ganesh festival to show who did it the best. We even solved 1000 problems in a group of 40 for a “Math Marathon”.
School was not about the curricular or extra-curricular activities, it was about the friendships and the foundations built. Friendship had age bounds — tenth graders being friends with fifth graders and alums at the same time. Spending countless hours in the corridor in front of the Biology lab, shutting all the doors and windows to have “secret” class discussions about the spooky, unexplored parts of the school building, making puns and funny poems everyday, and a series of days when we played fishponds, singing motivating, patriotic songs together, playing and winning together and giving each other the best days of our lives.
Years later, when I’m walking around in the school, and I hear a group of students sing one of the songs which we sang, my mind wanders off to the same place but earlier times.
Master of Science student in Biotechnology (Molecular Biology)
Boston, MA, USA.
Jnana Prabodhini Prashala Pune, Batch of 2010.