It is ironical isn’t it, that in our childhoods, the one thing we most hate (discount the thrashing from parents) is going to school, it is a pain, burden, torture somewhat akin to slavery to a despotic teachers who are bent on making another brick in the wall. Imagine, getting up even before the sun lights up the stratosphere, having a bath (skipping it, if none around), getting dressed, burdened by a sack full of text-books, notebooks and a calendar, leaving home as the rather sad tune of Vande Mataram is heard on a neighbours radio set, trudging to the bus stop hoping and praying that the bus doesn’t arrive (tyre puncture, accident, or anything else), dragging inside it when it arrives, smiling at the teachers that get in the bus hoping that they will be a wee-bit more lenient but alas! Morose prayers, deep breathing to classical music and then the real torture starts: Class-teacher taking attendance, followed by stock taking on homework, punishment, remark on the calendar, a rap on the knuckles, kneeling outside the class, etc. etc. The torture only stemmed for some 15 minutes, when the school broke for recess, in which one has to first rush to the canteen when one hears the bell, grab a bite by standing in a long queue, eat and enjoy, sip at water from a few faucets outside the loos on every floor, empty the bladder and rush back to class by the second ring of the bell indicating the culmination of recess and resumption of persecution.
When they are not trying to cram our brains with information and knowledge which is of little value in real world (for instance, I have never had the use of the most famous algebraic equation (a+b)² = a² + b² + 2ab, ever in my life except for those gloomy days in school), they would drag us to the open ground and force us to move our body in rather rectangular fashion at the count of numbers, namely, 1,2,3,4…5,6,7,8 and then for some very inane reason the count will continue backward and we are expected to it match it by doing the reverse of what we were earlier doing. The only saving grace was that last bell at around 1 pm that resulted in a near stampede as everyone wants to rush out of the school with immediacy. Anyone still in doubt over how children feel about school should look at their demeanour when they enter the school, sad, downcast and glum and contrast it with the way they exit the school, boisterous, raucous and happy.
And yet, as the years pass by and grey abounds on our scalp, we recall those ‘tortuous’ days with fond remembrance. School days weren’t bad after all; in fact, they were one of the best times in our lives. The wiles of the world had not yet defiled our minds and the one and only motive we had was to escape studies and have fun, doing precious nothing, playing war with small figurines, deliberately trying to find a puzzle and solve it, hanging out of tree branches, climbing walls only to jump off them, sneaking into gardens and stealing mangoes or black berries, letting air out of tyres with a thin stick and enjoying the sound that it makes. Oh yes! School was fun, only because we were children and at that time anything and everything was fun.
I too have fond much remembrance of my school, Utpal Shanghvi School or USS. Located in Juhu, right next to Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow and near Chandan Talkies, USS started in early 80’s. It mainly catered to rich Gujju kids in the vicinity who did not get admission in Jamnabai or Maneckji. Within a few years of coming into being, USS established itself as a premier choice school, in fact, at around the time I left, the donation required for admission was rumoured to have crossed Rs. 1 lakh, which was a big big amount in those days.
Nonetheless, I was lucky to have got admission in USS thanks to my dad’s acquaintance with the Principal Abha Dharampal’s husband. Prior to USS, I was studying at a rather cosy school in Santacruz (W), named as Little Angels High School. Since, my sister who too was with me at Little Angels and had got admission in Mount Marys Convent in Bandra, my parents decided to shift me to a bigger school, so that I don’t suffer from a complex with my sister (and these were the days before psychiatrist and psychologist existed). Thus, in the month of August, I was sitting in princi’s (hereafter I will refer to Ms. Dharampal as princi as I still don’t have the courage to refer to her by name) office and after a short and snappy interview I was in. It was year 1987.
The reason why I am suddenly indulging in nostalgia is because some days back my mother shared with me a box that I used to maintain as a kid, in which to my great excitement I found yearly class pictures from USS. Looking at those pictures, schooldays memories just kept gushing on like swooning Brahmaputra. I tried to assign names to all those in the photos and to my surprise, I remembered quite a few of them. Since, I was an introvert and somewhat scared of girls, I don’t remember quite many of their names. Fortunately and quite fortuitously, I was present during all these classroom snaps. Looking at all those kids smiling, bored, yawning, posing, stiff, relaxed, etc, I could not help but wonder where all they must be. Probably, married and well-settled like me. Somehow, except for a very few friends, I haven’t been in touch with any of them and even with the ones I did, it was very infrequent. Quite a few years back, I remember going to a reunion at USS and had met a few of them, somehow it did not work out and haven’t been in touch with any of them.
Thus, when my dad got the pics scanned, I decided immediately to put them on a blog as an advert for all my classmates from USS class 1987-1992, to get in touch and get together and share and extend each other memories. Here below I am posting the photos on a yearly basis with a few incidents culled from the neurons that are still storing the memories. It’s better to list them down before they fail or fade or both.
Class 6th (1987)
Class 6th: USS
The names that I recall right now: Gautam, Anil, Ritesh Gupta, Abhishek, Prabhjot, Girish (1st row on the top); Hemant, Gambheer Chaturvedi (that’s me 3rd) Tarun Kashyap, Bikramjit Sandhu, Chirag, Pradeep, Kartik, Gurmeet Dang, Neelotpal Kundu (2nd row); Ami Tanna (3rd Row); Urvi, Amrita, Ms. Rao, Princi, Bina, (bottom row).
As I had joined the school a few months into the school year, I was much under pressure. Also, the fact that I hailed from a much smaller school and suddenly into a much larger and much organised one, I was all nerves. For the first few days, I used to wear normal clothes to school, as my uniforms were yet to be stitched, all the rest students used to look at me in wonder, trying to gauge who or what I am, dressed so oddly. While a customary introduction had been made to the class, I found myself completely by myself trying to deal with all those stares. In such scenario, a rather short-dark boy came to me and introduced himself and shook my hands. He was my first friend in that alien school, and that handshake is well etched in my memory. Though, I can’t recall his name (I think it was Vikram), I well remember his face; he is standing in the 2nd row from top, the first one on the left.
Another factor that most amazed me at USS were the morning prayers. While at Little Angel, we used to read out a small standard prayer everyday in the morning, at USS there were a range of prayers so as to say and derived from different sources: from ai maalik tere bande hum to itni shakti hume de na daata, my favourite was humko mann ki shakti dena. We also had few prayers in English that seemed to have Jesuit roots. These morning prayers were played on the intercom and followed by short piece of Indian classical music, usually a flute piece by Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia or a santoor piece by Pt. Shivkumar Sharma. It was meant to be a yogic sort of break and we were asked to shut our eyes and breathe in and out slowly, so as to calm us down and prepare us for the coming day. I remember during these pieces, some of us would open our eyes, look at the class teacher and in case she wasn’t looking at you; then shift the gaze to fellow classmates to know who else is sneaking around and when the eyes meet, a conspiring smile would be shared. Nonetheless, listening classical music was a very relaxing and harmonious beginning to the day.
The Melodious Marathi Mam
Among the many teachers that I remember, one truly stands simply because of her contrived sense of melody and her poem teaching methodology. The bespectacled teacher used to teach us Marathi and Hindi, and while there was nothing amazing with what she taught, the way she did it was surely unusual, especially Hindi and Marathi poems. Whenever we use to come across a poem in either subjects, she used to sing the poem in a very peculiar tone (which I still strongly feel is derived from some Marathi film) and make us all sing with her. When I first came across this unique methodology I was much excited and was surprised to see morose faces around me as we sang the poems. Slowly and steadily, I realised that for her each and every poem was composed on the same tune and it sounded not so alluring after a point. One poem that I quite recall from those days is choti choti jal ki boonde. In fact, I can still mouth the poem to the very same tune that she made us parrot. If remembrance is the parameter of success, than she was immensely successful considering that I still remember the poem because of her tune.
Another teacher that I will never forget in my life is Apte mam, she was my music teacher. The bespectacled kind lady was by far the softest-spoken teacher at USS. She used to bring a harmonium in the class and shut the doors tightly, and then she used to make us sing with her. Though, her classes were much infrequent only a few per week, those were the best ones for me. I really used to look out and wait for her classes, and in some ways I had also managed to impress her with my zeal if not my melodious voice. Also, the fact that she used to stay just a few buildings away from my home and would travel in the same school bus; so every morning I would receive one of her benign smiles. Apte mam was truly one of the best teachers, if not the very best that I came to know.
Dogs & rakhis
It is often said that a talent of an individual is often displayed in his childhood days. That was quite the case for a writer like me when I had written a scathing essay on Rakhi in the class. The essay talked about how the much beautiful festival had become rather frivolous these days as girls would ties rakhis by the dozen not really bothering about whom they were doing so. In the essay, I harked to the past, when Humayun had rushed to the aid of a Rajput princess on receiving a rakhi from her, to show how significant the festival was. Finally, I had predicted the way things were going; very soon girls would be tying rakhis to dogs, merely for fun or for protection. A little background would put the essay in context. When the Rakhi festival was upon us, girls in my class would get dozens of these rakhis and tie them up on the wrists of my classmates. This went on for a few days prior to the festival. The result was that a few boys in our class would have multiple rakhis on their wrists and they would show it off as a mark of popularity. Since, I was quite new in the class, no girl thought of me to be good enough for a rakhi. And this kind of made me miserable and the essay was my way of venting this frustration. Nonetheless, the essay seemed to impress my English teacher, as she read it out loud in front of the class much to their amusement. For the first time, people took notice of me in the class. Though, I was not too happy with the bemused and pitiful looks that were heaped on me.
Great Wall of China and the big fart
Another incident that stands out in my memory yet again deals with similar emotions, mainly of me getting noticed. Probably, I was much conscious and wanted to gel into the crowd and become a part of the malleable mass. During one of the geography class, the teacher had asked the class the name of the first man on the moon. Quite a few hands went up to answer the same so did mine, the teacher gave me a chance and I replied Louis Armstrong. The next question was a killer, he asked, which manmade structure was visible from the moon. And this time, I was the only one raising my tiny hands nervously. Since, I was mush interested in stars and planets as a kid, I recalled reading somewhere that the Great Wall of China was visible from the Moon. On being given a chance, I said the same. The teacher was much appreciative of my general knowledge and so was much of the class, as all the students looked at me with awe and surprise, something like “You Gambheer, how did you know this”?
And then there was the case of the big fart in the class, during one of our classes there was a boy who apparently wanted to let out some methane that had accumulated in his intestines. Sadly for him, the gas leak came as a huge and rather audible explosion and we all were stunned by the boisterous noise. Strangely, the boy seemed to be unperturbed as if it was the most natural of things to happen. Nonetheless, we all laughed loudly and through all the years at school, whenever we saw the same chap we used to snigger among ourselves and by ourselves. The poor guy’s personality was adjudged by that one foible. Tsk tsk..
Playing in the sand pit
Just outside the school building, there was a small sand pit that was meant to be a small play ground. The pit had the typical kid’s rides like a slide and a rectangular structure on which we could hang from. This sand pit was especially meant for the pre-primary kids whose classed faced the pit. Yet, we students made much use of it during the recess breaks. The two games that were most popular with us kids, dealt with the rectangular structure and the slide. The first one dealt with the hanging from the rectangular structure, which was essentially shaped like a bamboo staircase with two right-angle bends, and then proceed from one-end to the other like chimpanzees do. This particular game required strength of the upper body, thus any boy who could complete one round, namely to-and-fro without a break was much admired. The other game was more dangerous and not for the light-hearted. It involved sliding down the slide standing up. This was the real differentiator as only a few boys were able to do it and the other few that tried it had a nasty fall. While I was able to hang and travel across the rectangular structure in a few years time, I never could slide standing up. I recall wanting to try it but my courage gave way at the last moment. You could say that sports was not real my forte.
Class 7th (1988)
Class 7th (1989-90)
The names that I recall right now: Valroy Miranda (2nd row from the top); Sumeet, Gambheer Chaturvedi (that’s me 4th from right) Gaurav Arora (3rd row); Prerna Pardiwala (bottom row).
Canteen food and my crazy credit scheme
Prior to USS, I never knew what a canteen was. In Little Angel’s school, I recall an old lady with silken white hair coming every afternoon armed with a round container that would have poha or idli or something like that. But here in USS, there was a proper canteen, which provided good hot snacks and fizz drinks day after day. The menu was rather staid, Punjabi samosas, chatni sandwich, Idli, etc; each plate of these snacks was available for Rs. 1.75. But the highlight used to be Pav Bhaji that was available on Tuesdays and Thursdays for Rs. 2.75 (yeah two Rupees, seventy five paise only). Pav Bhaji was doled out in two plates, one had piping hot bhaji smeared with corriander leaves and the other plate had two pavs with chopped onions. There used to be quite a lot of rush on the pav bhaji days and one had to be very deft and agile to grab the delicacy, as it was a two-way process, buying a coupon and then finally exchanging the coupon for food. There was no guarantee that by the time your turn came, the stuff would be finished and you would be left holding the coupon. Also, I had a friend who was quite smart and use to get away with free food by grabbing the plate and not parting with the coupon in the mêlée, his first name ladies and gentlemen was same as the first name of our school, Utpal.
Meanwhile for some odd reason, I also decided to try out my (non) entrepreneurial skills. It so happens that through piggy banking I had saved a couple of Rupees, namely some 20-30 of them and I decided that I would multiply them by lending it for interest. Since there were quite a few classmates of mine, running on low cash during the recess time, I ventured into retail banking. After making them take an oath of return on their mothers and fathers names, I would lend my creditors a few Rupees. Sadly my business venture met an early end, since due to the high demand I quickly ran out of money to lend and my creditors also ditched me, the oaths were of little effect. After numerous failed follow-ups I realised that one needs brawn to backup brains in this harsh world, and since I lacked brawn (I used to be the shortest or the second-shortest guy in class) there was little that I could do with my brains. So there were no more of such schemes through my schooldays.
Capricious rascal named Gaurav Arora
I never had many friends either in school or college, and yet even if I were to forget all of them, there would still be a name and a face that would be etched in my memory, not because he was a friend but because he for me was the first real rascal, scoundrel, dog, that I came across in my life, let me tell you why. In our small mandir at home, my parents used to keep a shiny silver coin. It was apparently a family heirloom and had the etchings of Britsh Emperor George V on it. One day during a discussion with Gaurav about old coins, I had mentioned about this coin that I owned but he did not take me seriously. To convince him, next day, I sneaked the coin from the temple and took it to school to prove my point. Gaurav was very amazed with the coin and asked me to loan it to him for a day so that he could show it to his folks back home. I was quite naive at that moment and did indeed loan it to him and that was the last that I ever saw of that coin. Over the next few days, I used to anxiously ask Gaurav about the coin and he would feign temporary loss of memory and promise to get it the next day. This continued for a about a week-ten days. Finally, after being quite nice to him, I confronted him and asked the coin to be returned. It was then that he took the winds out of my sail by stating that he had lost the coin and hence unable to return it. Since, I had myself stolen the coin from home, I could not even complain to my folks about it. To this day, I am sure that Gaurav the rascal Arora had conned me out of my heirloom and pray to the god’s above that he pays for it. To add insult to injury, Gaurav had the audacity to offer me a secret recipe to gain super powers, namely crushing iron and steel pieces, mixing them in milk and gulping it down. Post that I could jump off a building and fly, he assured me. Thankfully, I was that aware at least that the recipe was nothing but a charade to placate me.
At around this time in school, another addition was made by the princi to the morning prayers and yogic interludes, namely news on the go. Thus every day, after the prayers and classical music interludes, there would be the latest news read by students. Now, don’t forget this is the year 1988-89, much before the age of the Internet or the 24X7 news channels, thus it wasn’t as easy to read out this bulletin. Every class was supposed to send one team of students, who were to read out the news on specific dates. For one such section, I too was involved. It was a highly tense day for me, and I had taken conscious efforts to practice the methodology at home and work on the content. To read the news, one was made to enter the princi’s office and read it out over the intercom. As I stepped into princi’s office and my turn came, I squeaked through my part and was the last of my newscaster experience.
Class 8th (1989)
Class 8th (1990-91)
Wearing pants, feeling senior
The best thing about 8th standard was that you were supposed to wear pants instead of shorts and use pens instead of pencil. Almost suddenly, you were not a kid anymore and would not be treated like one. For all of us kids, who were often dominated by the seniors, wearing a pant was similar to joining the big league. In the whole school, there were only 3 classes that were allowed to wear trousers, namely 8th, 9th, and 10th. Thus, trouser-wearers were in much minority, hence much sought after. There also other changes that came along with 8th standard, the syllabus became much tougher, maths was segregated into Algebra and Geometry, while science was segregated in Physics, Chemistry, Biology. Also, now we would have to wear lab coats and do experiments in the few laboratories. The parents would too start reminding you at frequent intervals, “you are not a child anymore, stop behaving like one”. But, for us, all this was much welcome, who wanted to remain a kid anyways. School was a tyranny; the earlier it got over the better it was. Alas, if only we knew.
Hooked on to 3 Investigators
Around this time, I got hooked on the 3 investigators series written by Alfred Hitchcock. At USS, we had a small but well stocked library. The library used to have all the large leather bound books, namely the Britannica and the Webster Encyclopaedias. It also had subscribed to kiddie magazines like Twinkle, Target, etc. While most of the leather-bound books were only for reference, i.e., one could not take them home, we all were issued a library card and could take small novels, etc for home reading, a week at a time. Till my 8th standard, I was an avid comic reader and collector thanks to Indrajaal and DC Comics, my favourite super heroes were Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake, Superman, Bahadur, and others. I also possessed some abridged classics, but I had never yet read novels or novellas. Jupe, Pete and Bob came to my rescue then, to help me graduate to reading novels. The library also had a collection of Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie and Three Investigators. For reason I truly can’t recall how I got hitched on to Three Investigator series, but hitched I was. Very soon, I found myself in the Jones (Titus Jones) Junkyard, sitting with the three masterminds and trying to solve various mysteries, like the stuttering parrot, coughing dragon, haunted mirror, headless horse, etc. I must have surely read all the 30 odd 3 Investigator books that were there in the library and that was in some ways the beginning of my ‘reading’ habit.
Getting ‘Sex education’
There is also one experience from that class that I will not forget throughout my life. One morning all the secondary classes were herded to the hall on the ground floor, where we usually contorted our bodies to the wills of our Yoga mam. Bur before being herded there, we were segregated on gender lines, namely males and females. All the boys were taken to one hall and the females apparently (I don’t whether they were, I never asked) to another. We were asked to sit on the floor and once some 100-200 odd of us had settled, we were shocked to find the purpose. Sitting in front of us was a genial and sombre looking gentleman with specs. He was equipped with a huge chart book of sorts and a long pointed stick to highlight various points on the chart. Along with him, there were quite a few of our teachers (all females) and it was one of them that announced the purpose. Apparently the school taught that since we were becoming adolescents, there was one more ‘education’ that need to be addressed along with our curriculum: sex. Honestly, till then I was quite oblivious to the copulatory tendencies of humans and believed that children came out of tummies and when one said birds and bees, the one was indeed talking of the birds and bees. Of course I knew that babies came from marriages that resulted in some sort of union like two flowers touching each other. It was meant to be beautiful and poetic. But that day, all such notions of mine were dashed to the ground.
At the onset, the genial man, presumably a doctor, set about his task of stripping the man-woman union of all its aesthetic strapping’s. In those big charts he showed us diagrams of how children are born and so were we. He spoke about sex, copulation, foetus, child, AIDs, condom, safe sex, diseases, etc. But the scariest thing was when he placed in front of us a monstrosity of a dick made of plaster of Paris complete with two balls hanging by the side. This, he explained, was the male penis when it excited. Then he took out a queer shaped transparent plastic thing named as condom and wrapped it on the model, demoing its usage. I could hear some sniggers here and there and a few knowing glances, but many like me were sitting with our heads down stealing glances at what was happening. Next up, he talked about masturbation, the pleasure derived from it, etc. etc. In flat 30 minutes, he destroyed all that I held dear or was indifferent about, suddenly, man and women seemed so different from each other. I also felt a repulsion thinking of how I was born, most notably on being delivered from where women pee.
After he was done, we were asked to put forth our queries and questions and that’s when I came to know why there were teachers sitting with him, especially the female ones. Though, there were quite a few among us who seemed all knowing on such matters and were sniggering and gesticulating through the demo, were suddenly stumped. As any naughty question that could have repercussions. So a few of the guys asked some inane stuff about AIDs and kissing, and cleanliness, etc.
When we came back to class, something seemed to be lost, as a lot many of us were feeling a sense of dirtiness, a loathing, and disgust to things. Almost suddenly, we had become man and women from just being kids or children. It was hard to look at the girls and not to imagine those diagrams embossed on their skirts and torso. The girls too seemed uncomfortable, but they didn’t seem to be as traumatised. Surely, there couldn’t have been monstrosities made of plaster of Paris hopefully. In that half an hour, we lost quite a bit of our innocence, if not all of it. Yet the education that was imparted that day came handy later on in life. Sometimes it is good to burst bubbles of ignorance and also of innocence, I am just not sure of timing. Could they not have waited till the 10th standard? Nonetheless, my burden was lightened when I spoke of all these repulsive things to my mom. She kindly explained to me that all was right and it wasn’t as gory as it seemed and then pointing to the strechmarks on her tummy, she assured me that we were indeed born out of her stomach. She didn’t say anything about the where we were delivered from and frankly, I did not have the courage to ask.
Around the time, we got ‘sex education’; I had another curious exposure to sex. I quite remember in those times, there was a guy in one of the other classes who was quite well acquainted with me. He was rich alright, because I remember one day he had brought some Rs. 20000 to school, apparently he was going to purchase a computer and showed us how the money looked. But when he saw the looks on our faces, he was frightened. He was scared that one of us might decide to dump him in the nallah nearby or probably steal his money. He clutched his satchel and started talking of how nasty his father was and what thrashing he would get if something happened to the money. Probably, he was trying to invoke sympathy in any mind that was planning on robbery.
Another time, he bumped into a few of us within the toilet. He gathered a few of us together and with much ado went on to show off his new possession. Somewhere from his pockets, he brought forth a dishevelled looking plastic wrapper or sheet; it was in a poor shape and seemed discoloured with some dried looking powdery stuff. Also, we spotted a few hairs around the rim. “This is a condom,” he announced with much glee. The few of us that were there gasped in amazement, and looked at the much discussed and reviled object with awe peppered with excitement. We observed it with all angles, as our instant hero held it out for us, and we bandied him to tell us where he found it. “In my parent’s bedroom today morning,” he revealed with as much pride. We were all agog, and our respect for his father only went up on thinking that he used a condom. It is only now that I smile when I think of my friend and his father’s condom.
In 8th standard there was one more dramatic improvement, we could do away with Marathi. Those were the days before the Shiv Sena and the MNS, and according to the SSC syllabus, Hindi was compulsory till the final year, i.e., 10th and we could choose a second language of our own choice. Usually, it was meant to be the mother tongue of the individual, so it could be Gujrati, Urdu, etc. But there were other hep options as well, like, French, German, Sanskrit, etc. USS offered Sanskrit and French to the students and we were asked to choose. While my mother taught that I should continue with Marathi, as it was similar to Hindi, I was vehemently against it. I just could not cope with long prose in Marathi and since we were all excited to be a part of the hep crowd, I put plumped for French. My mom reluctantly agreed, warning me though, that it will be not as easy as I imagined. But then at that age who is scared of difficulties, I was just ecstatic to be rid of Marathi.
Fortuitously, we were the last batch that had that lucky option, because next year the syllabus changed and Marathi too became compulsory (albeit for 50 marks), and you could choose now a third language for another 50 marks. My sister, who followed me, had to go through the ordeal. While I sailed through in the old syllabus stream. Though, it is another matter that I did indeed come very much close to regret my choice and almost lost a year because of La langue Francais. But that is another story for another day.
Class 9th (1990)
Class 10th (1991-92)