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Shyam 's Story > Chapters > My Entire Life

Brown Saheb's School Days 

Date Range: 1934 To 06/14/2014   Comments: 0 Views: 424
Attachments: No    

Brown Saheb’s Schooldays One day Lalji Mama took me on his bicycle, for admission to the Huddard School. Why this school was chosen, I do not know. The children of the Englishmen working in textile mills of Cawnpore and brown babalogs used to study there. It had a sprawling compound and a huge double story mansion. The English family running the school used to live on the ground floor, and all the classrooms were on the first floor. We were met by the kindly Principal, Miss Dutton and there was no problem in getting me admitted. Even well into my college days, I had not heard of Birth Certificates. Mama filled in my date of birth as 12th December 1934. This was not a historical fact, but a mix of failure of memory and a trick to give me the advantage of appearing for maximum number of times for the Indian Civil Service examinations. There was a sheen about I.C.S., which today’s I.A.S. does not have. Often while doodling, my fond uncles and aunts, in overestimation of my future destiny, used to write I.C.S. with a flourish, after my name. Anganua, our washerwoman’s son, used to accompany me to school and bring me back. Sometimes, when he was late or did not turn up, then the kindly Miss Dutton used to ask Kanhai, the school peon, to drop me home on his cycle. The playground was huge and cricket, hockey and football could be played by different classes, all at the same time. Kanhai and his family lived in the school compound. His wife and sisters were ayahs to all of us. When we were on the field, Kanhai and the ayahs saw to it that we kept away from mischief and also did not hurt ourselves. They were very caring, just like Miss Dutton and Miss Peggy O’ Flynn, our redheaded Irish class teacher. But they had one more very important task. We were not supposed to speak in Hindi within the school compound. Kanhai and company were entrusted to watch out for any offenders and report to the Principal or the class teacher. Later when I read English History, I found that there was also a period in England, when the common man spoke English and the royals and the blue blooded spoke French. French was also the court language of England, then. Their children were also spied upon, while playing cricket and duly admonished and punished for speaking the language of their land! So it was with us too. Any one of us caught speaking Hindi was reported to and one had to see the disbelief and horror written on Miss Dutton’s face, when I was caught speaking Hindi. The punishment was a dressing down. “No matter how much we care and teach you, you babas will never improve!” Miss Dutton would say in despair. Besides this, the offender had to stand outside the class for the rest of the day. All this notwithstanding, I always stood first in the class and beat all the English classmates in English and Scriptures, in spite of being a non-Christian. Our first class every day was Scriptures. It would start with Our Lord’s Prayer, which I know by heart, even today. Then would come stories from the Bible about Creation, Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, David and Goliath and so on. Miss Flynn would also relate parables, and what morals we had to draw from them. When I once asked her, “Miss, what is the meaning of ‘parable’?” she replied, “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning!” Her definition has still not been improved upon. I quote this often, to so many Gurus and philosophers and they marvel at the simplicity of this insight. Miss Dutton and Miss Flynn took kindly to me, as I used to stand out in the subjects closest to their heart, Scriptures and English. During lunch time, one or both of them would come and chat with us and look at our collections of stamps, coins, rocks and matchbox labels. They were themselves keen collectors. However, I had something to show, which no other student could. At that time my father was doing his Ph.D. in London, a fact enough to impress all the Englishmen in town, except possibly the erudite missionary teachers at Christ Church College. The rest were mostly textile technicians. Dad used to send me picture postcards of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Parliament, etc. Whenever I received a new card, Miss Dutton used to revel in explaining to us the details, and how she herself had seen all these places, and used to express her homesickness. Miss Flynn, born in India had not yet been to Old Blighty, and showed a very keen interest in the pictures. She was very wistful about England and Ireland, which she had not yet seen. One morning, I was particularly looking forward to going to school, as I had just received from my Dad picture postcards from Paris and Rome. Even Miss Dutton had not been to the France and Italy! I had taken my whole collection of cards and was proudly showing them off, during lunch. Sure enough Miss Flynn zeroed in after a while and started flipping through the cards, no doubt very impressed. As she was in the act, all hell broke loose. She was red in the face and threw my entire collection on the floor. I just couldn’t make out what had got hold of her. Then she picked up one card from the floor and thrusting it towards me shouted,” How dare you bring this to school!” I was in total daze. Then through my watery eyes, I could make out that she was holding a picture of Swami Vivekananda, which also my Dad had sent me. Possessing pictures of our national leaders like Gandhiji and Tilak or our holy men, and bringing them to school was a total sacrilege. Nani and all my elders were perplexed, as to what they should do about my schooling. After all it was a very caring and a good school. But the decision about my schooling didn’t have to wait long. During one lunch period, Miss Flynn came towards us all beaming, to see what new things we had to show from our collections. But it did not come to that at all. Enraged like a bull which had seen a red rag, she tossed my lunch on the floor and all my aloo ki sabzi, purathas and achar lay scattered. I was horrified. What had I done this time! Miss Flynn held between her fingers, as if it was a dead rat, a torn page from the Hindi newspaper Dainik Pratap, in which my lunch had been packed. Normally, I used to bring my lunch rolled in brown paper. That day brown paper was not there and my mother had torn a piece of the local Hindi newspaper, and wrapped my lunch in it. But for Miss Dutton and Miss Flynn it was as bad as treason. From his framed coloured photograph, King George the Sixth, in his full regalia was looking down on us. I was made to stand outside the class for the rest of the day. So that very evening the elders, equally horrified, decided to take me out of that school. That is how midterm I was pulled out of Third Standard in Huddard School, and admitted to the Seventh Class in B.N.S.D. Intermediate College, near Meston Road. B.N.S.D. stood for Bishambar Narain Sanatan Dharma, a far cry from the very British and fiercely Protestant Huddard. The transition was rough going for me. For a start, neither the teachers nor the students understood my anglicized accent. They jeered at me and called me a lackey of the British. Many teachers wore khadi kurtas and dhotis. Some also had clean-shaven heads with a pigtail. Now I had to read Seventh Class Hindi, which was impossible for me. I could talk Hindi but I could not read and write such difficult Hindi. Consciously I had to indianize myself and unlearn the English accent. Today, if I still love English Literature, it is because of the loving manner in which Miss Dutton and Miss Flynn taught it. If I speak English the way Indians speak it, I have to thank B.N.S.D. Intermediate College for it! Today if I love Kalidas, Bihari or Jaishankar Prasad as much as Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Dickens, I have to thank B.N.S.D. for it too!

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