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Nineteen Sixties & ‘Mobile Schools’ in Dehradun!

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By Kulbhushan Kain

A very underrated aspect of what we learn in schools is the contribution of school buses. Not everyone travels in school buses – children in residential schools don’t need to travel in buses on a daily basis. In a day school on the other hand – a lot of children travel in school buses. Of course, some children cycle to school, some get dropped by their parents and some even walk. But the vast majority of them travel in the ubiquitous yellow coloured school buses.

When I was the Principal of DPS Jaipur and later DPS Ahmedabad, nearly 95 percent of children studying in the school used to travel in school buses. Jaipur had a fleet of nearly 50 and Ahmedabad, 75 buses. It’s not that the buses made only one trip back and forth – many made two to three trips every day. Huge logistics were involved – buses would pick up senior children, drop them and then repeat the same with kids of middle and primary school. The timings of the school were tweaked to give time for buses to do that!

I always told the teachers, helpers and drivers that children hear and learn what they see from how they behave in buses. I told them that discipline and indiscipline often were reinforced in school buses. I told them that buses were like ‘mobile’ schools -before and after the formal classrooms in the school building. Parents who came to drop or pick up the kids at the bus points often talked to the teacher and drivers on a daily basis. The reputation of the school was built on how they behaved with the parents.

I distinctly remember this very important part of my school life. A fair part of my school life was spent, getting on to the bus from the ‘Society’ bus stand in Clement Town, a stop before ‘Chaar Khamba’ on the Post Office Road. From ‘Chaar Khamba’, the bus made its way to ‘Puri’ stop, then ‘Our Home’, past the Airforce Station before stopping for a minute or two at the now defunct ‘Victory Cinema’. As the bus wove through Bharuwala, the children of Army officers and personnel got on to it. The next stop used to be ‘Coolie Camp’ and onwards towards ‘Tall Trees’ before proceeding to ‘Clement Town Moar’. The bus would then weave its way through the well- known stops – Majra Aapkari, Majra, Niranjanpur Flour Mill, Kashmir Silk House, Patel Nagar, Ice Factory, Mata Wala Bagh, Saharanpur Chowk, Meedo Hotel, Laxmi Picture Hall (now a rather rundown looking shopping centre), Kacheri (where the MKP College Girls got down), St Thomas’ School, CJM, past the Doon Club, and St Joseph’s Academy. The local bus stand was between Moti Mahal Restaurant and Pavilion Ground.

The parents of the children traveling in the bus knew each other intimately. We dared not misbehave. The bus carried children who in turn carried the hopes of their parents and aspirations for themselves. This was the bus I got on to everyday – with unfailing regularity. It was rare for anyone to miss school – unlike these days when children ‘bunk’ school regularly.

The bus had its heroes, heroines and villains. The heroes often played the double role. They would rule the roost –and would often come armed with pea shooters and ‘rubber guns’. Rubber guns were nothing but rubber bands twirled between the index finger and the thumb, and the ‘bullet’ was a small piece of paper folded many times, which was released by loading it into the gun and pulling it with the other hand before releasing it. It would fly a fair distance and could sting – and if aimed at the girls – got you good attention, the squeals notwithstanding! We would sometimes try to follow suit, but never had the guts to pea shoot or ‘fire’ at the girls. Maybe that’s why I call the ones who had the courage to do so, heroes and villains! Students like me were spectators.

When I look back at the students who travelled in the bus with me, and try to evaluate their contributions, my mind goes into a spin. Three Generals, scores of distinguished officers, IAS officers, journalists(Amreeta Cheema who not only became an international TV Broadcaster but was also a Rhodes Scholar), IITians (plenty of them), musicians who attained international repute, Police Officers and Para Military Officers who have risen to the top of the pyramid, academics, businessmen who have stormed international business, lawyers, doctors … the list just goes on and on. And all this coming from a locality which 40 years ago probably had a population of 5 thousand. It was a very special place. Behind the lazy exterior of the place lay a very solid core of values, energy and intelligence.

However, one must never forget the contribution of the school buses to their success. Parents never had to worry about the safety of their children. The buses were not air-conditioned. They were monstrous and dull looking and very rickety and noisy. They had no doors or emergency exits – the entry was an opening in the middle of the bus, and the conductor stood on a semicircular iron seat at the entrance. There was no GPS and a string was attached to a bell in the driver’s cabin which was pulled to alert the driver. Most importantly, the school buses were not exclusive. Individual schools did not have their own buses. They were owned by the government and not by the schools. School buses in my school life carried children from all schools – St Joseph’s, CJM, St Thomas’, Scholars’ Home, Vidya Mandir and more. Thats why some of my best friends belonged to other schools.

The cherry on the cake – I can’t remember a single breakdown or an accident.

Personally, travelling by school bus made me fall in love with bus travel. I have travelled different parts of the world in them, crossing many international borders because, as George Takei wrote, “On a bus, your eyes, ears, and pores are open, absorbing in the variety, the wonder, the magic of the city. It is a beautiful way to get to know the city.”

I am all set to cross Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia – in buses!

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)