By Kulbhushan Kain
There is something special about school days. Why do we respond (generally) so powerfully to a collective memory of something in which we were at a particular time and space? Schools, then (and let me be honest even now) were always a symbol of something that was not a joyous experience to go through. School-going children were expected to be “seen and not heard”, the punishments were harsh, and the dictum was “spare the rod and spoil the child”.
But years down the line, all stressful memories get washed away and the one memory that keeps haunting one I s– “School was wow! I wish I could go back to it. Oh – what would I NOT give to be taught again by Mr GC Gupta or Mr JL D’Souza”!
Why this yearning?
I think it is so, because as human beings, we get ‘selective’ about our memories. We tend to select the good moments of our life –and we have plenty of them in school, which are not necessarily connected to lessons in Math, Science or History.
Besides it’s not just about school days – it’s also age, a phase of one’s life that transcends the classroom. It’s an age of ignorance being bliss! School is the first place where we interact with our peer group collectively over some time. It is a place where the mysteries of adulthood start to wrap around you – the first shave, the first crush and the first attempt at dating, the first prize, the first sip of beer, the first attempt to dress in a la Marlon Brando suit! Anything that happens for the first time (especially the forbidden fruit) is difficult to forget. It’s an age to play with marbles, handball, cricket, “langdi taang”…
All that happens when one is in school.
Another reason is that the past always appears better with the hindsight of the present – because we know its outcome. The sense of knowing one’s past instills a feeling of security that the present or the future do not. The further one goes into time and space – the greater the sense of security and achievements of success and how one handled failure.
The result – we connect with what we can remember, and schooldays are the strongest connect because they go as far as one can get as one ages.
There are certain other factors which make school days always special. No matter what one goes through –childhood is always associated with our dreams. It’s a special quality that a child has in plenty – dreams! To be able to dream and enjoy it –you have to be a child or as innocent as a child. The entire school system is based on selling you dreams. I remember writing an essay, “If I could fly”! And, I also remember reading fairy tales such as “Thumbelina”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” “Rumplestiltskin”, and “Rip Van Winkle”! I remember acting in “Cinderella” as “Prince Charming”.
While in school, we dream of our future in an uninhibited way. I wanted to be a truck driver. It would allow me to drive endlessly, I would not have to switch off lights at 9 p.m., I need not have to take the compulsory afternoon nap between 3 to 4 p.m., and I could eat food at any one of the wonderful dhabhas on the Dehradun – Delhi Highway and just lie on the charpoys after that for a snooze! As a schoolboy, no one could stop me from dreaming.
Years down the line, my thought processes got more worldly. I started eyeing jobs that were “status” oriented and which would fetch me money – which complicated my life. I found that we were more equal in a school than in any other place where we gather regularly to work.
Maybe that’s the reason why we glorify schooldays. It helps us to forget the sharp inequalities. And maybe that’s why we love going back for reunions. You are still known by your school number and your school houses. And the talk inevitably veers around to incidents that took place many years ago. A reunion in which people are talking about the Russo-Ukraine war or the election results – is not a school gathering.
Many years ago, Miss Massey had asked me what I wanted to do most, and I had answered, “I want to build a home on the moon!” She had looked at me sternly but did not laugh at my dream!!
On the last day of school, I went to the great GC Gupta Sir with my autograph book. He hurriedly and neatly wrote, “Imagination is more important than Knowledge”, followed by a smile that has stayed with me.
Even now and then, a dream does escape the grey hair, the baggy eyes, the labored walk. A dream one can only share with one’s classmates.
In about two months, I will go back to reunite with my schoolmates on the 50th year of leaving school. A reunion is a resurrection of our past and what we dreamt.
Not all our dreams came true (they never do!!) –but at least we dreamt them.
And at reunions, we continue to dream.
(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)