Junior School was a visual lockdown. You could stand in the middle of the flat & virtually view the entire premise fenced within iron bars. If you stood in the rightish or leftish middle (or whatever point you want to call it) of a supremely haphazard geometric shape of a playground that it is, you can see almost some part of every part of JS. The dorm, covered shed, far corners of science lab on one end & the slope going to the hospital at the other. The kitchen & window of teacher’s mess at one end and bits of Big Ma’am’s garden and parts of the building over the 3/4th wall-gulley between service hall and store room.
However, once a boy stepped into senior (boys) school there were lockdowns within lockdowns! Yes, there was a time table to follow like the other two schools (junior & senior girls school). Yes, boys had to follow these rules. But most rules were not an agreement so much between the school and students. They were rules by boys, of boys and for boys! Ironically, not very democratic. They were unsaid, unwritten, unquantified, high quality and to be followed rather religiously. Oh, did i tell you, they were flexible and could be amended at any given point, depending on the gravity of the situation. e.g. “if i catch you, i will have you, bastard”; could very quickly turn to, “bugger, don’t move an inch till i come”. These were rules, specifically between juniors and seniors. If by any chance you are able to save yourself on one particular day from these rules and rulers, there was an MOD (Master on Duty) to be navigated away from.
Even weekends gave no respite to the mind, body & soul of boys. There was late rising in the morning. Which meant, many juniors slept late the previous night after washing the numbered, very critical and most decent uniforms of seniors. Saturday morning also meant some juniors had to wake up a little early, fight for a bucket, manoeuvre his way in the hot water tap queue and reserve a bathing box, not for himself, but for the monthly cleansing ritual of his beloved senior. If it was the second Saturday of the month, things could get tense though (Part 5 perhaps). Television was a luxury, allowed only on special days, reserved for semi-final & final matches of Cricket World Cups, and India-Pakistan cricket matches. The only full day allowance was Sundays, right from 630 AM or earlier, depending on someone responsible finding the TV cupboard key from the most irresponsible one, who locked it last Sunday. Well, that does not we were good boys who watched TV only on designated days. There were VCR days when 3 movies were rented, 2 for the entire school and 1 movie meant only for ‘shake well before, during and after use’. On a usual Sunday, common room would get packed by 750 AM for Rangoli to be aired at 8 AM. Late rising was 730 AM. It was a choice between lazying in the bed chatting up with your neighbour (if you not the junior most class of course) or wake up and rush down to the common room to quarrel for the best spot to watch Rangoli or at least find a spot from where TV was viewable. The last few boys could seen hanging on the iron pillars, wooden windows and some in very vulnerable areas, like between the legs of seniors or the elbow fold of another batchmate who is hanging onto a pillar. But all these boys were still the lucky ones watching TV. The worst hit were the boys of class VI who were the shortest and hence would have to sit on the floor in the first row. Sometimes, few excited, TV fanatics of Cl VII & VIII would also volunteer to take the place of these front row boys, but would give up soon after. It was only a Cl VI fellow who could cross this challenge. The challenge was to sit, legs folded, without moving and without complaining or requesting to change his pose, for the entire length of a match, perhaps an entire Sunday Hindi movie (with a break for meals) with some brave and chosen few were specially called in by seniors to sit through an entire Sunday afternoon, bearing not just the physical pain of sitting in that single pose, but also watch News for the deaf & dumb and the regional movie along with the senior, during which the senior even took a nap. But the junior had to be awake and alert. There were some seniors who would actually make use of TV commercials/advertisement breaks with a quick demand of pulling of hair softly and massaging the forehead, converting the TV room into his personal salon for a bit. All of this, without the junior moving his folded legs, or saying even once that his legs are paining or that he is tired. Of course, there were abuses and curses flying across the room with their eyes to fellow classmates sitting next to them. The senior could make out the abuse from the pressure of the tiny fingers during the massage and would smile royally. He had done the same a few years back.
The beauty of such a lockdown pose on a lockdown day in a god forsaken lockdown residential school was that after a point all such acts were comforting. Far away from parents, hiding from teachers and navigating through devil seniors, idiot classmates and sulking juniors, it was times like these when a certain junior may actually get some time to be with so-called favourite senior. Such everyday, mundane and non-negotiable ways of living, working for a senior for which the senior would reward his ‘chick’ on Saturdays when the Tuck Man arrived, is what makes us want to go back and wait, on a sweet April evening like today, for a shout from the covered shed window, “bastards, whoever comes jhak will become murga” !
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)