Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Friday, January 6, 2017

School Days

Today morning while walking up to the location of my carpool pick-up, I experienced something which swept me back to my school days in a strong current of nostalgia. At the first turning on the Botanical Garden Road, there is a school titled Jain Heritage School. I’ve been starting later than usual, at around 8:10 am, from my place these past couple of days, and the moment I passed by this school happened to coincide, in these past two days, with that time of the school which marked the start of the day amid the chatter and babble called morning assembly.

St. Edward's School, Shimla
I’ve studied up till 10th standard in St. Edward’s School, a convent school which was also among the best in Shimla. It was a vast campus sprawling over an area large enough to manage 20 simultaneous classrooms (2 sections each from 1 to 10th standard) and a few 10+1 and 10+2 classes that had started towards the end of my tenure. The school complex was nestled within the tall deodars on all sides and 2 playgrounds out in the front, one larger one the size of a football field, and the smaller one that of a hockey field, and the smaller field at a marked elevation from the bigger field of about 25 meters in a step-like structure. The mottled manner in which the sunlight managed to reach the school premises only in part ensured that there were areas and locations within the campus which were full of bright sunshine, warm and pleasant, while others which were shaded and drafty throughout the day, with an obvious drop in temperature at such places. There were nooks and corners on the campus, all of which I could visit right now if I close my eyes. 10 years spent at a place for 8 hours each day has created a mental map of the entire campus in my mind, so strong that I can walk the entire place and know it like the back of my hand. I realize that some of these memories may have been gradually distorted, for when I visit the campus again today, those very intimate places may appear quite different in reality. But the place in my imagination is sacred and personal to me, much like the characters we imagine after reading a classic novel. It is always a let-down when we watch the movie based on that book and it almost always falls short of the richness we imagined the characters to have.

Morning Assembly at St. Edward's School
The instructions by the PT teacher this morning through the microphone felt eerily similar to those I remember from my school morning assembly. It made me even wonder if the same PT teacher as we had may be working in this school in a corner of a faraway Hyderabad. I dismissed the notion as soon as it occurred to me for its improbability and craziness. “Atten-shun! Stenda-tees! Atten-shun! Stenda-tees!” was what the sounds started with. It was followed by “7th class, check your line. 7th class!”. This made me laugh loudly as even yesterday, 7th class was the one that was being chided for standing in a not-so-straight line. I mused that probably 6th and 7th standard were the classes where the students are the most unruly, speaking also from my experience in being the “Prefect” of Class 6th in my school when I myself was in Class 10th. Ashish, my best and childhood friend, was the one who, along with me, strove hard to manage the undisciplined monster that was Class 6th! We ended up making a lot of chiddi friends (the term that was popular for any junior in school), and quickly realized that standing aside and allowing the chiddis to vent out some of the bubbling energy, if not all, was the best way to keep the pressure cooker simmering, and thus preventing total mayhem.

A view of the school premises
While wondering about this, the voice announced “Okay! Now take one arm distance again, all of you. Yes, and keep the lines straight”. This announcement seemed straight out of our own school assembly, redolent of all the naughty laughs that formed what was morning assembly for us students. The Pledge, which was usually followed the Prayer, had a statement “ -- and all Indians are my brothers and sisters”, which was usually suffixed by “ – except one” in hushed and cackling tones, while trying to hide our giggle behind the head of the guy standing in front of us to prevent detection. With a lot of students in a queue trying to adjust their respective heads thus, one can safely imagine why the “lines” were always anything but “straight”. Once the assembly ended, the black shoes had to be shining and school belts were to be present around our waist, and non-compliance in this regard was penalized while on our way back to the classrooms. Black shoes used to be inevitably covered with a thin layer of dust while on our ground which lacked a grass cover (something that was heard to be made fun of during our school fete by girls from other top convent schools in Shimla) and it could easily be cleaned by rubbing each toe against the back of the dark grey trouser on the other leg. It was a simple ceremony which used to make us feel like geniuses. But there was no easy escape if the belt was forgotten, and one was sent off to take a couple of rounds of the football field as a punishment.

While I was thinking of all this, a loud honk ahead of me jolted me back from my pleasant reverie. School times are undoubtedly the best times, unsullied by emotions like anger, envy and desolation. There are no inhibitions, no self-doubts and no one to tell us we cannot do something. It’s a time of infinite possibilities, and the heartbreaks, the unqualified and unending chatter, the games and the simplicity of it all usually qualifies those times as the most memorable ones in each of our lives.

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