This lockdown was special in many ways. For one, this was an experience reserved for junior school kids only. Second, it was not a unique occurrence but a weekly affair. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it was not selective. This lockdown applied to all and sundry, without prejudice. And to top it all, all kids, or at least I believe, most kids actually loved it and waited for it every week – Sunday Siesta. Now, at that time this activity was considered as rest or break time for kids. They were supposed to be tired after a week full of activities & indulgences and were supposed cool off their heels! We sure did that. And so much more than that!
Well, Sunday would begin at ease with late rising. Quickly followed by a sumptuous breakfast, where one would be served with hot porridge, bread, butter, some vegetarian portion for vegetarians and for egg-itarians and non-vegetarians there was fried eggs. Cold eggs, of course, with tight rubber-band-esque radius. But it tasted lovely with the soft bread, hot tea and the promise of no classes or study today. There were small prep-time in the interim. But am not sure how many of us actually studied during that time. It would be a slow, easy, smooth and playful day. However, if you were on the ‘hot list’ of Mrs. Mathur, Mrs. Parthi or Mrs. Mohindru, your day was as bad as any other day of the week. You are punished, in a vertical lockdown, where you are supposed to stand under the JS flag post, stand under the big clock in the corridor, many a times stand and have your meals. Typically, these Ma’ams would make a small chit and keep writing names of boys who would be called out just after the breakfast grace and would be escorted to the flag post and watch everyone play while they would bide away time looking out towards Boys School, throwing bajree on the iron fence or targeting the flag post. If you were lucky, you may get to kick the football if it came your way, while you just stood and watched the entire school play. The only respite even these boys would get during the entire day was, the Sunday Siesta.
After lunch, with a quick roll-call done by MOD downstairs, boys and girls would queue up to walk up to the dormitory. As the boys would step onto the last step of stairs and turn left to enter the boys dormitory, the shy ones would put their head down and walk straight to their bed, while the matrons took another round of counting standing on the door. At the door, one of the Aayajis would also be waiting with one the sweetest but a tired smile. She had been working all morning trying to keep the dormitory spick and span. And there arrived the devils to mess it up all again! But she was genuinely happy to see us. The more curious and corny of the boys, would try to take a quick peek to the right side entrance of the portico, the girls dormitory. A matron and an Aayaji would be standing there too. But in a position so as to guard and cover any inside view. But boys being boys, we never gave up. We never gave up trying and after that trying to make up long stories of the nano second sneak peek that we got of serene pink bedcovers, dancing navy blue tunics, soft giggles coming from behind the two ladies who had become human walls and the dreamy world beyond it. The better of the story tellers were responsible to suck up most of the peaceful siesta time of a lot of other passive-curious boys who fell for the lousy storyline. Once in the dormitory, the first thing to decide was to sleep outside on the bed, over supremely creased and almost ironed blankets or take off our shoes and socks & slip into blankets, warm up and doze off before anyone else. The next decision was to strike a quick conversation with your neighbour struggling with the same decisions points, betting the menu for evening tea, half knowing it would be between warm-fried peanuts or warm-fried peanuts with the long-maida-sivanyi-namkeen. Few boys have sneaked in comics and mumbling titles, exchange time, rotation schedule etc. Another few are pointing at boys who have long hair and may be sent for haircut, missing on their siesta. The lucky boys who have their beds near the window are already sitting on the bed, facing outside, and have started their dream flow before falling off on the pillow. Amidst all this, there is always one boy who is waiting for the matron to finish her usual tasks of settling boys. Just before she retires to her room, he rushes to her, and says something meekly. The matron is naturally not interested and points him to his bed. He is sad, he is insistent and he is not sleepy at all. The matron tries again and finally gives up, shouting go back to your bed. I will not go down and request MOD to allow you to play in the evening. You are punished means you are punished! Boys closer to the commotion laugh out loud. Boys who heard the laugh, start whispering on the possible reasons including the boy having peed in his trousers. Anyhow, by now, Aayaji was walked across & pulled up all curtains. Dormitory is mildly lighted now. Sleep is coming. Sleep came. We slept off hearing the heady concoction of the muttering neighbouring boys, soft sound of comic pages being turned, Aayajis whispering among themselves and the afternoon birds sitting on the oak trees outside and lazily cooing lullabies. Before you could enjoy this full, deep sleep unconsciousness, it is time. Waking up from this siesta is a weird feeling. Some Sundays you wake up as energetic and excited as the squirrel waiting outside your window sill. Some Sundays you wake up recollecting, you have already the comic your class mate refused to lend to you. Why were you fighting over it? Some Sundays you fell in such deep sleep that when your classmate shook and woke you, for the first few seconds you had no recollection of who you are, who he is and where exactly you are. That was the Sunday when you lost the football match between sections, you fought and got a hard jab on your chin and were about to go down and watch a Bharat Bhushan movie on TV. Some Sundays you wake cursing everyone. The boy next bed, the Matron, your parents who sent you here and the MOD. Because, you got to wear your socks, tie your laces, make your well oiled hair, walk down, munch on the fried-peanuts and go and stand by the flag post, along with few like-minded, foul-mouthed and still smiling boys.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)
1990s Kanishka Mallick OGJS