Memory Test (Ranjana Poduval, Aug 10th, 2007)
I confess that of all the members in this group, I seem to have the weakest memory. Places, people, events (even with photographic evidence) seem to ring no bells, touch no chords anywhere. I am actively inclined to believe this is amnesia (and not aging) bought by the trauma of dissecting dead rats or in horror of differential calculus that I was subjected to in high school.
So, in response to people remembering their houses for each academic year, not to mention sections, homework assignments and seating arrangements (yes Jacob, that was the final straw), I attempted to revive a few memories of the so called halcyon years.
What do I remember of junior school? Well I remember coming to KG from a small town in Kerala (Trichur) with no knowledge of English and being assigned to the ever beautiful Mrs. Chakraborthy’s class in/over the Young Goan’s Club where school used to be; of being grammatically corrected by my cousin, Vineetha, to confidently announce to the class “Teacher, I am bathroom” when I wanted to take a leak. I couldn’t understand anything that she said in response, but I did gather from the smiles of everyone around that I was now a popular person.
Once I surmounted my difficulties with English, I discovered to my horror that an utterly incomprehensible Hindi was awaiting. I chanted “Aloo, Kakdi, bhindi , baingan, Bhari hui hai station wagon…” with the rest of my class in blissful ignorance of its meaning and often mixed up poems too for good measure. When my daughter, the other day, asked me to please meet her principal and check if she could drop out of Hindi, I laughed, but I recognized that feeling.
After a few people took exception to the building we were housed in by throwing Pepsi bottles at us, no doubt, neighbours whose afternoons were shattered by “1 2s are 2” and evenings by the presumably more musical expressions and exertions of the “Young Goans”, the school was relocated to Isa Town, via a short stint in some branch school.
New school, school bus, and waddaya mean I have to wake up an hour earlier mom!!! My parents, whether inspired by a constant need to better their living conditions, or a suffering from a low threshold of boredom, shifted homes 7 times in Bahrain. We never ventured beyond Manama, and could always revisit any of the homes we had vacated by foot. And oh yes, we carried the neighbours with us. Always shifted in packs of 4 families. Net result, we oscillated between Bab al Bahrain and Citibank and finally opposite the Family Bookshop for bus stops.
I seem to have more memories of life outside school at that stage of my life – though many of my classmates, especially the Malayalees, stay with me in memory, outside school. Can one forget the Keraleeya Samajam or the Bahrain Sports Club (BSC)? If the former was a microcosm of Kerala with talent nites, dramas and the bi monthly dance programs my dance teacher (Mrs. Rao in trousers) volunteered us for; the latter was a non equitable (tilted towards the Hindi speaking) representation of India. Enjoyable, nonetheless, with games of Housie, Bombay nights and Christmas parties. There was a higher risk of running into your teachers here, though. Imagine running into Mrs. Sequeira! Ajit K, Sandhya Radhakrishnan, Reshma Yousuf, Anith Philip, Maya and my cousin Vineetha were constant companions from our grade and a whole host of seniors too, bursting with talent (so the competitions seemed) and intelligence ( or so my mum kept telling me).
We girls kind of stuck to this group at school as well, and continued games of hopscotch, begun at recess, elastically into the evenings where we would meet up at some one’s house, especially Thursday nights.
I remember a Fatima in second std, who had such beautiful handwriting skills, that as a true art connoisseur, I exchanged my English test note book with her prior to a test, with the laudable intention of convincing my mom that my handwriting had improved. My mum wasn’t fooled, my teacher horrified at my marks and Fatima delighted. Mrs. Sen, the teacher, felt especially culpable, since she used to borrow Amar Chitra Kathas from me, and secretly advised me to concentrate on textbooks instead for a while. I feel compelled to add that Ms. Salahuddin has stoutly denied being this Fatima.
I also remember a Punjabi lady, inconspicuously named Mrs. Singh who taught us Hindi in 3rd std. During one particular session, I saw her hugging my friend Sandhya. As I walked up to get my notebook signed, I casually asked what that was for. I was on good terms with her, having recently attempted to make her understand that Hindi was as alien to me (sigh, yes, in 3rd too!) as Malayalam to her by getting her to pronounce the Malayalam word for banana. Of course, an impossible feat, since only Mallus are genetically coded to say this. Back to the matter on hand, she informed me that she had just demonstrated the meaning of “gale lagaana”. At my rather dubious expression, she hugged me too. Of course, we had half the class perplexed by the meaning of that phrase then, and in line for an explanation. I remember the sweet lady obliged quite a few.
Joofri Cold storage, qubbus, shormas, hot samosas and dairy queen – yes, good years indeed. The advent of television was remarkable and exhausting - my dad was forever on the terrace adjusting the aerial while I was a go between from 3rd floor to the terrace atop 5th floor to tell him if the current western on TV - a peculiar penchant of my mom’s - was clear.
The telephone was no less significant - now we could book calls to India and shout into the phone after 9 irrespective of what time it was there, they better be delighted to hear us. Colour television, VCR ( big time, man – mallu movies ( 3 in one day to maximize rental charges), and later on back to back episodes of Ramayan – shudder!!
I have no memory of 4th or 5th stds, though it must have been a big change – late mornings – lunch before school, sudden elevation to senior status and tougher choices (will I look like an idiot if I wear colour dresses to school on my birthday now?)
6, 7 and 8 seem a bit of a blur too. I left school after 8th standard and spent a year in Chennai at Asan memorial – a lovely school, unspoiled, innocent and good fun. In many ways, I felt we grew up too quickly in the Gulf. I realize I will tread on a few sentiments here but looking back I felt freer and more childlike at Asan, as opposed to the adolescent I was at Bahrain. Perhaps, those of you who left Bahrain mid school might recognize what I am speaking of.
And on that sober note, I will stop for now. Fear not, a sequel is planned – wherein you will see our fearless heroine return to Indian School, join the admiring throngs around Mr. Sivaramakrishnan, one of our best teachers to date, despair of Mr Susai who forever called me Rangamma and staged a walkout from school with my class to see a basketball? football? volleyball? game at Pakistan High school. We lost, by the way.