Back then, school was not just about learning, it was for a big part about atmospherics. Both blended to make childhood and adolescent days a complete experience. Some students went there to study, most, well, just went there. Life was interesting if you were branded a bad student. The teachers didn’t expect anything of you, you didn’t expect anything of them either. The back benches were comforting. The questions hurled by the teacher hardly reached there. None was meant for their occupants actually. In any case, the questions were smartly caught midway by raised hands in several rows between them and the teacher.
If the latter was in a particularly foul mood, the trigger being a tiff at home or a rebuke from the headmaster, then questions came directly to the benches at the back. We must remember, back then corporal punishment was still considered essential for good education. The innocent-looking cane stick, partially red from the rumoured application of oil for maximum efficiency, in a way was the enduring symbol of that idea. Sometimes teachers used it to vent private frustration, and got creative about it. In such situations, backbenchers, usually surprised by every question, were sitting ducks.
Why are we getting nostalgic about school days? There’s a reason. As the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down, the talk about online education has gathered momentum. While it is a bright option given the circumstances, it would change forever the wonderful experience school life used to be. This is where our best memories — innocent, mischievous, clutterless and uncorrupted — spring from. As a whole, these are life-shaping. And yes, they never fail to bring a smile to your lips even decades later.
Real schooling, if you have studied in village or small-town schools, happened not between the period bells but when teachers were not in the picture — on the way to school and back, the recess, game period, class with the teacher missing, inter-school football or cricket matches etc. The ‘talent’ of the backbenchers came alive then, some of which took the shape of complaints to the teacher later. Many of them have done well in life, even better than the front row smarties. But the article is not about backbenchers or front benchers. It is a slice of life that we shared as youngsters.
Sharing lunches, berries plucked from roadside trees and notes, bunking class, stealing a film show during school time and getting spanked, standing up for teachers and pulling pranks on them as well, away from home those seven hours we all learnt socialising, the ways of the world. The friends from school are those with whom you can unwind without a care or egos even decades later. School was the microcosm of the bigger universe that awaited us; studies a sideshow.
Online schooling would truncate all that and snatch away a beautiful source of lasting memories. One hopes a balance is found in some way.
A TWIST IN THE TALE
Initially sceptical about online studies, this friend was happy to report a few weeks later that it was a great idea. The boy at home, all of 14 and fickle to the bone, had become serious. He was concentrating more, hardly taking his eyes off the computer screen during the classes, and the frequent breaks during studies had come down to near zero. He sat glued to his seat even after the classes. What could be better news for a parent? The father announced with some pride. One was happy for him.
But like in all good stories, there was a twist here too, he discovered to his diamay one day. Curious how the classes were going, he had a close look at the screen as his son took a loo break. The screen had several windows open, one that occupied prime space at that moment was a game of car chase and guns. Also open was chat box where conversation among school friends took place non-stop. After a few stunned minutes, his initial scepticism of online studies was back.
“This is called multi-tasking,” you tell him in jest. “Don’t ever forget you did it too. Children will be children. Let your son be.”
THE KNIGHT-STYLE DUEL
In school, there were many critical issues to be settled besides who was the better student. None of those was part of the curriculum, said a friend reminiscing his school days in Bhubaneswar. It was really important to settle who was the boss boy in the class. It basically meant who among many contenders was the strongest and deserved to be treated with due respect.
The way to reach a decision, the friend told, was a formal challenge for a bout of free-style fight in the presence of a few witnesses. “The venue for this knight-type duel in our school was the open space near a few unused garages a bit away from the premises,” he informed. “It often ended in a swelling in the face or a black eye patch or missing teeth, but a definite result was reached.”
It is not clear whether the boss boy system still exists, but going by a number of reports of online bullying by classmates by fellow students, it does. And it can be worse than physical duels of yore.
WHEN 19 BECOMES 79
In school, crisis hit you in many forms and you needed sympathetic ears and a shoulder to cry on. After scoring a glorious 19 out of 100 marks in maths, this boy was worried. He didn’t mind the marks so much as getting the report card signed by his father. Then the bright idea struck. With minor effort, 19 became 79. And getting his busy father to sign the card turned out to be a lesser problem than he expected. However, it turned into a crisis when the class teacher, instead of throwing it into the pile of other reports, decided to give it a thorough look.
The ceremony of public thrashing continued for several days, witnessed, perhaps enjoyed, by the whole school. But this was par for the course. Companions on the backbench — how dependable they are! — were all sympathy. They, as true friends, blamed the teacher for being full of grudge towards him, not being too knowledgeable and being sexually frustrated. They had words of wisdom too. “Never use the wrong ink to change marks. And be careful about small details. When 19 becomes 79, the total marks should change too.”
Those were the days! Can online match that?