My siblings and I love to argue, no matter how stupid the topic. I am sure such is the case with all but sometimes, I feel we fight over the dumbest matters. Just yesterday, I was having a heated discussion on whether or not we should send our children to a boarding school. I was for the motion while my sister was against it. This discussion went to such a level that her five month old child had to interfere; we ended up banging our phones. I call this stupid as I am yet to have kids while hers is just a few months old, so I don’t think there was any reason to fret over this.However, this discussion sent me back to my memory lane where I loved to wander huge stone walls, long corridors and giant oak trees. I was in the 3rd standard, complaining to one of my friends ‘yaar yeh bhi kaisi life hai, ghantiyon se bandhi hui? Bell baje toh utho, bell baje to khao, bell baje to padho aur bell baje so jao. Is this really the way of life we are going to follow for the next 8 yrs?’ Then the bell rang, we laughed as there was not much we could do about it and headed to the dining hall for our evening tea.

We had a schedule for every minute of the day; even our personal time was scheduled. How I used to crib about it back then and how deeply I miss it now. Those 8 yrs of my life were the best ones and I look forward to when I get the chance to relive those days in my dreams.

I remember my first day at Oak Grove School, Mussoorie, it was the 21st of April, 1995. Although, the entire batch of the 3rd standard had joined on 20th April, I was a day late. I had not cleared my eye-test so my parents were going to get me a new toy. The next day, I joined with a fat pair of spectacles. Oh! it was fun, the floor looked bouncy from behind the glasses and I definitely felt like the doctor I wanted to be when I grew up (No, I am not a doctor! When I finally did grow up, I ended up into Hotel Management. But that’s a story for another blog).

The day I joined, there was a hail storm and it was too chilly for April i.e. as I came from a town in U.P called Tundla, anything beyond Holi meant summer. My parents, siblings, grand-father, uncle, aunt and myself sat under a covered shed of the Junior School. All the joining formalities were completed, now they were going to hand me over to my class teacher. I don’t recall feeling scared, but my parents didn’t seem overjoyed either; I wondered why! I was the naughtiest one amongst my siblings and assumed that getting rid of me would make their life easier but I learned that such is not the case with parents. They were going to miss me, this realisation gave me a strange feeling in stomach. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t want to cry, not in front of everyone, not just yet.

Papa held me close, ‘achche se rehna aur padhai karna, teachers ko takleef mat dena. Mein har week letter likhunga,’ then he led me to my class. It was getting difficult to hold my tears further but I was going to be strong. I had been all headstrong past months on going to a boarding school, I couldn’t cry now, could I?

The first day went by rapidly. There were so many new faces to register, I got tired of it and went back to thinking about my siblings, who had been excited for their tour to Haridwar after dropping me at school. ‘So selfish of them to go visiting places without me,’ I murmured in jealousy. Could I cry now? No, no, not yet, I didn’t want to be the crying one.

By the end of the first week I was all set with the new routine. A bell would ring at 5:30 am to wake us, then we would freshen up. Ammajis would assist the 3rd standard girls, standards 4th and 5th were old enough to do it themselves. We would line up for bath and by 6:30 am, we would be ready in our sports uniform to go down to the field for physical training (basic exercises). The bell at 7:30 am would signal the end of the session, we had half an hour to freshen up again and change into our school uniforms. 8 am was the bell for breakfast, when we would line up and move to the dining room; till date the aroma of porridge gives me nostalgia. A bell at 8:30 am, meant morning assembly, post which were the bells for different subject classes, then lunch, followed once again for classes. Evening snacks were at 4pm after which we were done with the school hours, but not with the bells.

Then, came the bell for playtime, a bell for self study, a bell for dinner, a bell for self study again, a bell to freshen up at the dormitory and finally a bell to sleep. On weekends, when we didn’t have classes, the bells still signalled us for afternoon play and sleep.

I had not cried yet but sudden bursts of this emotion would come up regularly. I had to constantly push it down, I was settling in so well, making new friends, I couldn’t be stupid to spoil it all.

One day post breakfast, a newly made friend came to me and said, ‘hey Pandey, where is your other earring? Have you lost it?’

‘What?’ I touched my ears, one was indeed missing. I never removed it, where could it go? Did it fall while I was having bath? What would I do? Mummy had told me to take good care of my things. The hole in my ear might close. Oh no! What now? What do I do? Who do I tell? I would speak about something like this to mummy, but she wasn’t here. WHO DO I TELL? I couldn’t control it any further.

It took them 11 days but my tears finally made their way out. I was crying, crying bitterly. Few seniors came to my rescue, they tried asking me what went wrong. My friend explained, ‘she has lost her earring didi’. I could hear everyone consoling me, telling me that they would look for it, that I was a strong girl and shouldn’t cry. Well, maybe I was strong but not strong enough. Not yet.

My life at school had started getting better, more fun actually. Weeks turned into months and then years. We would go back home for vacations every five months. Parents could visit and take us out on weekends too. Since my home town was not really closeby, more than an overnight journey; my parents would make it once in two months, to take me out for a day or two and that felt good enough. I always looked forward to it. We started learning to deal with our emotions, to confide in friends, solve our own problems and most importantly adapt to any situation.

I moved to Senior School in the 6th standard. It had its own set of challenges and its own set of fun. Our relationship with bell continued. How quick the 8 yrs went and then, there was a final goodbye. It felt like leaving behind a part of my life. All I had ever known was to live in my school, with my schoolmates and my teachers; now I wondered how life outside the stone walls would be. Would I be able to settle there?

The leaving formalities were completed, I was waiting with Papa at Dehradun Railway Station for our train which would take us home and into the world I felt I had never known.I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t want to cry, not in front of everyone, not just yet.

– Priyanka Pandey (2005)

This piece was first posted by Priyanka Pandey on her blog. It was shared with us by her on May 29, 2020 via an email. This is her first contribution to Oakgrovians Young & Old


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