Ramblings on a High School

By Thathachari (thaths@netscape.com)

[I started off writing this as a humorous article. But in retrospect it looks like a very bitter look at high schools in Madras. ]

Sambasivam's transferable job in the Central Government took him and his family in a zigzagging journey all around India. They kept moving house like those birds in Asterix comics that have to keep moving their nests because some Gaul, much to Dogmatix's chagrin, inadvertently uproots the tree in which the birds nest. Swami and Thambi were thus not fortunate enough to have a school to which they could owe undying allegiance.

By the time Swami and Thambi got settled in a city (or occasionally a village. Especially when Samabasivam had rubbed his bosses the wrong way) and were beginning to blend into the school's milieu, Sambasivam came home with a transfer order and set the wheels in motion for the process of shifting house for Mangalam and schools for Swami and Thambi once again. Perhaps Sambasivam's bosses wanted Swami and Thambi to have a truly national perspective of things. Sambasivam staunchly believed that the Central Government wanted its employees to have a broad outlook of life. He took all his transfers in his stride as only a loyal employee could. At this point it should be mentioned that there were numerous employees of the Central Government who managed to stay in the same city throughout their life span because they could pull the right strings at the right time.

The only time that Swami stayed in a school without interruption was during his high school years. Unfortunately for Swami, these were the worst days of his life. 'B.S.Senior Secondary School' was a popular one with queues of parents waiting to admit their offspring into this school. Queues rivaling those in front of the Ration shop. The school proclaimed its success in national newspapers with large advertisements during June/July. The purpose of these advertisements were a mystery. The school was obviously not prospecting students because it was already bursting at its seams. Swami assumed that all of this was simply a game of one-upmanship being played by the management.

Early in Swami's academic career, Sambasivam and Mangalam managed to send Swami to school with the frequent use of the services of 'Rettai Kannan' (The Tamil version of the Bogeyman). When Swami's belief in the occult began to wane other forms of persuasion were tried. Mostly without success. The final form of persuasion for Swami's parents was a loud solid resounding slap on Swami's face. This usually ended the discussion which usually went along predictable lines - Swami on one side meekly conjuring up illnesses (stomach ache, head ache, I-am-going-to-die-because-of-this- terrible-pain-in-my-whole-body) and Mangalam answering all pleas with a monosyllabic 'No!' Coming to think of it, it was not even a 'No!'. It was a plain matter-of-factly simple 'No.' Sambasivam who was well versed in child psychology preferred other forms of discussion with Swami. He usually said "Go ask Amma if you need not go to school today." The few days when Swami won these arguments, he spent in front of the TV watching West Indies crush India in the one dayers.

Swami, having lost the battle and the war, usually trooped off to school carrying the heavy Bata backpack load of text and notebooks. Wishing to avoid the unpleasentaries of school, Swami lazily shuffled his way to school, making frequent stops to gaze at a shop windows in crowded Mylapore. Swami at last made his way into the school compound. It was more like a jail. Students that entered it could not leave it till the evening. A watchman was keeping a hawk eyed lookout for students who tended to stray away from the school. Swami prayed at the small 'maratthadi pillayar' (Ganesha below the tree) for some terrible calamity to close down the school for just this one day. This Pillayar was christened (Hindu-ed, if you prefer) Vidhya Ganapathy (Ganapathy who imparts education) by the religious minded school authorities. Coming to think of it, Swami's prayers were rather ironic. Ganesha is supposedly the diety who removes obstacles and not one who creates new one to stop the orderly functioning of high schools.

Following the predominantly Hindu prayer, Swami and classmates had to endure a five minute 'Thought for the day' from an over enthusiastic school mate of theirs. Swami and his like stared at this student, who was also the apple of the teachers eyes, with daggers in their eyes. The principal, referred to among the student community as Princie - perhaps a good pun on the monarchical pretensions of the holder of this office, glared at the goings-on. She considered herself truly blue blood. This particular Princie advocated her historical parallel (Queen Victoria)'s sense of morals and punishment - puritanical morals and the whip as suitable punishment for any offense. B.S.Senior under this particular Princie was probably the inspiration for many a poignant bits in Dickens' Oliver Twist.

The annual "medical checkup" was one of the indignities that Swami and friends had to go through. In retrospect, the whole affair looks like a chapter straight out of 'Himmler's Official Concentration Camp Maintainer's Guidebook'. Young medical interns got to test the overall health of each of the students. They even got to test the testes. The medical checkup was one occasion in which the administration got the boys by their balls. And I mean literally.

Another feature of B.S. Senior was the 'Kadha Kalakshepam' (story telling) by Balakrishna Satrigal. Every year, the class grandiosely titled 'Literary Association' was sacrificed for these sessions. The whole school assembled in the asbestos covered shed (where the school's busses - affectionately called 'nAi vandi' (dog pound van) by the students - were usually parked) to listen to the discourses. Perhaps the administration thought that they were imparting knowledge about India's glorious mythology to their wards. They were sadly mistaken as the sexually maturing section of the schools boys took this as a golden opportunity to look up their fellow class girls skirts as they were sitting down and getting up. Balakrishna Satrigal, unaware of the rouge elements in his audience, frequently urged them to join him in his singing.

Other forms of entertainment for the students was ogling at thirty-ish English teachers (rumors about whose romantic escapades abounded among the students), poring over a surreptitiously smuggled copy of Debonair or 'Human Digest' and cracking crass jokes about their teachers.

It seems Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of English civilization, replied "I think it would be a good idea." The same answer could, in Swami's opinion, apply to a question about the practice of child psychology in those modern upscale successful high profile schools.

The PT (Physical Training) class was Swami's nightmare. The whole class was paraded to the playground and were put through a set of 'rigorous exercises'. The only thing that was probably exercised during these sessions was the PT teacher's ego. Following the ten minutes of exercise, the students were allowed to play a game of their choice. Swami preferred cricket (look out for 'Ramblings on my cricketing career' in the future) as it was cricket season.

The schools in Madras usually organized their classes into sections to ease administration. But it was not so in B.S. Senior. The organization of sections was based on the perceived (by the teachers) academic potential of the students. Marx, if he knew about the existence of this school, would have chosen easier examples for his 'Das Kapital'. Each class was divided into three sections. The 'A-section' had the students who had Hindi as their second language and whom the administration considered to be good. The 'C-section had students who had Tamil as their second language and were equally good. The 'B-section' was filled with students whom the teachers considered to be dunces. The A and C sections produced alumni who ended up in prestegious colleges such as the IIT... Material who would later in life enter top executive cadres in IBM Motrola Microsoft. And the B section produced people who enter a less prestegious DOTE 2 engineering college and, later in life, go to the US and get addicted to Sco.culture newsgroups and who post articles titled 'Ramblings on .......'

Footnote:
I am sure that not everybody is a Swami. I have personally seen people who went to a few of these "successful" schools and who loved every moment of it. I know of this person who went to 'Beta Matriculation' and liked it. I feel he liked it because he was the sycophant that he was. There is this other friend of mine who went to a school that had the grand name 'Chicago Matriculation.' Why name a school in Madras after a city in the US was something that Swami always wondered about. There is simple *no* logic when it comes to schools in Madras.

Copyright © 1994-2000, Sudhakar "Thaths" Chandrasekharan
Last Updated Sat Nov 25 17:07:13 PST 2000