Tuesday, January 1, 2013

School days : the good, the bad and the ugly

1st of January, beginning of another year. Nothing new, nothing special. But what comes ahead, scares me a lot. Four more months and the awesome life I had as a students will (most probably) come to an end and at the back of my mind there is this nagging feeling that I haven't had enough, I want more, I don't want this awesomeness to stop.

Since first standard till now, out of fifteen and half years, I feel, time and again, that only the last five and half years were truly satisfying and enjoyable in an educational context. Here's an attempt to take some time, look back and see what went wrong in my school years, whether there was a good reason I still went through it, whether the situation was really as one sided as my pessimistic mind would want me to believe.

First off, I am not saying that the current, conventional exams and the education system, especially the evaluation methods are good. Nor do I agree that people doing better in this system are really better than the peers who don't do as well. A pen, piece of paper and 3 hours are in no way enough to gauge one's potential, understanding, aptitude and intelligence. Nor do I agree that the "conventional", academic intelligence is the only kind of intelligence. But, this blog post isn't the place I am going to discuss that. So, for notational convenience, words like "better", "smarter", "more intelligent" or similar concepts are being used in this post and one should note that they are just that - notational convenience.

The ugly
At a moderately sized place like mine, the slightest indication of the child being more intelligent than normal results in sending it to a "better school" in "bigger cities", or, shifting the family altogether to a "educationally better place". Result? I didn't have any competitive atmosphere whatsoever in my school. Among my classmates, there was the dichotomy :
  1. Those who looked up to me.
  2. Those who despised me.
There was never a peer group of like-minded, similarly abled people. This resulted in a friend circle so miniscule and small that it's more like a friend-dot that a friend-circle.

After all, why won't a kid hate me if all his mom says almost all the time is "Look at Sujeet. He finishes his homework everyday.", "Why don't you study like Sujeet?", "Your marks aren't anywhere close to Sujeet's", "See! Sujeet does foobar, why don't you too?" Give it a break aunties and uncles, for god's sake! Not all parents are Mr. and Ms. Gholap and not all the kids are Sujeet. Don't you see that your son draws and paints so nicely while Sujeet can't? Don't you see your daughter is such a natural at dancing while Sujeet doesn't even know the 'D' in dance? People fail to understand that everyone is differently abled, everyone has different capabilities to different extents. I just happened to have the so called intelligence a tad bit more than your kids. C'mon, Get over it already!

The net result of this parental hammering was that there formed a group of sujeet-haters. Among many scary and nasty things, once the hatred and jealously went as far as my water-bottle was peed into! Mind you, those aren't small kids, this was in late 9th standard. Disgusting? I know! Disturbing? You bet! Could not do anything! Ran home crying "why me?"... Cheapness and shamelessness assumed new meaning when, after I had a small surgery, rumours were spread that "Sujeet had his manhood cut off!"

The bad
Local maximum
Pushing their children to be like Sujeet on one hand, these parents junta would talk among themselves "He is just a lame cow doing better among calves" "Sujeet isn't going do any great anyway after being exposed to the competition that is out there" I would say, that's just "sour grapes" into action. But it isn't acceptable if you talk such shit in presence of my parents. After all, how long can one tolerate such remarks being passed all the time, everywhere. Invariably, whenever the kids' topic used to come up, my parents would have to hear this stupid shit of an argument "He is just a bit good, locally."

To top it, rumours were doing rounds that I was much older than what I my birth date shows! In seventh standard, not just once, but many times I heard people gossiping about how it would be no surprise if a guy with age suitable for ninth standard tops the seven standard class. These morons had made me two years older already!

Infrastructure
So much whining for peers and parents. What about infrastructure? Wait. What did you just say.. I-N-F-R... what? Infrastructure? What colour animal is that? Forget AC, my classrooms didn't have any electricity connection whatsoever! In the boiling summer heat, just imagine sitting under a ceiling made of galvanized metal sheets... OK good that you imagined, I don't need to; been there, experienced that! We used to sit cross legged on the floor till seventh standard, when we got benches finally, they were just for sitting. No arrangement to place your book (basically, "benches", not "desks"). In 10th standard, when finally it looked like we would get desks, suddenly it was decided to give desks only for girls' division. We, boy students, had to go on a strike to get desks for us too! (more on the strike in "the good" part). Did I tell you that for half a year in sixth standard, we were made to sit in a room completely made of galvanized metal sheets, on the outside of whose walls, all the kids would go and pee? A stinky, smelly oven it was! By the way, that reminds me to point out the total non-existence of toilets in my school (back then)!

Library and laboratory? Oh, those two words sound nice. Must be some cool stuff, I won't know. There, apparently, was a one foot high pile of books as our school library. Laboratory equipment were meant as exhibition pieces to be shown to the inspector who comes to school for yearly inspection.

Teachers
You would be wondering by now, "this school must be having top-notch, best quality teachers then. or else, why would one ever want to be there?" I did have a few very good teachers, that was the exception, not the norm. We had specimen as rare as a science teacher who is confused whether ice-cream is a compound or a mixture. English teacher mispronouncing more than actually speaking and history teacher reading out the textbook in the class. There wasn't a day when I didn't spot and point a mistake in what was being taught in the class, and no, I am not exaggerating. Nothing, nothing at all of what was being taught could be taken for granted to be correct.

Topics of discussion
Found some concept very interesting? Sorry Mr. Sujeet you are the only one to do so. Caught a teacher teaching something wrong? You are on your own Mr. Sujeet. All my wishes and prayers of having someone with whom I could discuss studies, someone who liked maths and sciences and not just merely mugged for marks' sake went unanswered. Sometimes, I could strike conversations with people about history and politics, but that was about as good as it could get. Most of the times, in my class, during recesses and lunch time, the topic of the talk would invariably be "girls", don't get too excited, you would puke right away if you heard the kind of vulgar language being used and remarks and comments being passed. Some of you might wonder where those cheapo, eve-teasers come from... I wouldn't have to look any further than my own classroom. People catcalling their own classmates when they passed by the window, a routine sight here!

Politics
Yeah! Now we have come to the main point of it all. It seemed like the school was all about politics and not about education. Teachers had their own groups and would indulge in politics for as petty a thing as "who would chair the annual debate competition" While we can't really call it politics, it is more like hooliganism, students were no less. Can you imagine people carrying daggers and brass knuckles to class on a routine basis? Fistfights everyday? Outside goons coming in school and beating up people? Yeah, all this masala was at its best in my school.

The good
The good aspects, ironically, are just offshoots of the bad and ugly aspects! It was a good feeling to top the class all the time and that too with a huge huge margin in marks. It was an ego boost that despite my constant nagging and corrections, I was still "the best student" for almost all the teachers. So much goodwill that I could be rude and arrogant! Once, the class representative wrote down my name for talking in the class or something like that, which I hadn't actually done. When time came to punish the students, I stood up and said "I haven't done it and I won't accept the punishment. Do whatever you can!" If it were anyone else, he would surely have gotten severely caned. I? Nothing. The helpless look on the teacher's face... I still can't forget!

Remember I was talking about boys not being gives desks while girls were? It was in my tenth standard that we got the chance to "upgrade" our benches to desks. For some reason unknown, only the girls' division of tenth standard were to be given desks. It was outrageous. I was furious. We decided that we won't enter the class unless we are given desks too. We, the whole class went out and sat on the playground. A teacher approached. Something was afoot. "Sujeet, could you come here for a minute?" "Yes sir, sure." "Why are you wasting your time doing all these things. This is the year when you will have board exams. You have to do well in them. Jobless, rowdy people will keep on doing such things, you should not take part in such things." "Which jobless and rowdy people sir? For your information, this idea was mine. I led the class to come out and protest. And I don't know what will happen to others, I won't come back to class until we get desks!" He was shell-shocked. He was speechless. He didn't know what to say! Needless to say, within an hour, we had our desks!

For the first time ever, because of me, our school had figured in the state merit list for Maharashtra Talent Search exam. Heck, I had topped the exam. It was the first time in the 15 year history of MTS exam that the state topper from the rural merit list had gotten more marks than the state topper from the urban merit list. In a school like mine, the power (or the illusion thereof) that comes with such an achievement is tremendous. Once, my science teacher was teaching something totally wrong. Starting the argument in a controlled manner and politely, I soon lost my temper because of his attitude. It turned into a bitter argument in which he ended up calling names to my parents. That was it! I would have no more! Enraged, sad and obviously crying uncontrollably I had decided I would have him no more teach my class. A word of mine and detailed account of the incident was sufficient for the Head Master to reassign a lower class to the teacher!

You know when unfairness hurts? Only when you are on the wrong side of it :P I must admit, many a times, I had an unfair advantage. There's this thing called NCC (National Cadet Corps). I was made the student chief of our batch in it solely because according to the teacher, I was sincere, good natured and "worthy". Agreed, who is saying no? But, I think, that's not the criterion to apply for selecting student chief. What about one's excellence in whatever things NCC expects you to be good at? Parading skills? Physical strength and abilities? A good, loud and clear voice? But nonetheless, as I said, I liked, rather enjoyed the unfairness, not that I didn't try to put this whole point across.

As I said earlier, being in a small school, you are heard very easily. Especially if you are as extraordinary as me, you are taken notice of, you are pampered and your word and your actions wield unexpected amount of power. Just as Andhra Pradesh dominates IIT-JEE results, Maharashtra, for the past decade, has been dominating the National Talent Search exam with a big huge margin. Thanks to the privately conducted exam called Maharashtra Talent Search. One appears for the exam in eighth and ninth standard. When I was in sixth standard, my father came to know about the MTS exam. To create a healthy atmosphere, my father spent a lot of time spreading awareness about these exams in nearby schools, in my school. My father made the teachers in my school take interest in MTS, guide students for the same. Next year, so many students appeared for it that my school was one of the exam centres to conduct the exam! So much drama for me! If it were any big school, one person could never have been able to move the machinery the way my father did. The way the whole school got stirred, everyone took it onto themselves to do something in MTS, the amount of enthusiasm the teachers put, it was simply something out of the ordinary. (It is a different story that now that enthusiasm has died, after I and then my sister, we haven't had any good results, but you know... that's another thing I can brag about. :P) This is just an example, there are quite a few others. Many exams, and competitions were such that my father made my school to participate so that I could. Many initiatives were taken solely keeping me in mind. Such a thing, in my opinion is only possible in a small school.

Was it worth?
The ugly parts are too ugly and downright disgusting, the bad parts are quite sad. What was it that kept me there? Home! Being at home, being with my mom dad and sister meant a huge deal for me. And so it did for them. Leaving home for education, at least till tenth standard was thus never an option actually. Only now, in retrospect, sometimes it looks like I could have had better. Those ten years were marked with intense incessant craving for like minded peers (which my sister kinda sorta tried to make up for), an excessive sense of pride, which will eventually be done away with when I joined Ramaiah and of course, a high level of tolerance for pure hatred.

As they say, you can't have the cake and eat it too, it was a trade-off I am quite content with but the fact remains that it's juts five and a half years of student life I could ever say I truly enjoyed...

2 comments :

  1. You have come up well. I think, people from rural are always doing better than people from cities in the long run because they have seen more of what life is truly about.

    Reply Delete
    1. Haha! Sir, now, that's plain flattery!

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