I first heard about Oak Grove School from a neighbour of mine in a place called Chakradharpur. They were two boys whose last name was Malhan. Unfortunately their mother committed suicide one winter and they left school. But the first school I went to was St. Patrick’s school, Agra. Some friends I had there later I met again in Jhigs…… but that’s another story. So, in 1967 my Dad decided that I should move to Oak Grove …… why? Because he thought the hills were a better place to grow up in.
So anyway, Dad escorted me to OG the first time. And guess what… we met an OOG on the train who had come from Canada to have a look at the school. I cannot remember what his name was. He would probably be in his nineties now, as even then, he was a bald mid-aged man. So we arrived in Dehra station from Lucknow and took a taxi and went to school…. Uh hun… the roads were all done and ready by then…..and we paid Toll tax….
The first person we met was Miss N.C. David who seeing us arrive very graciously came out of her office to greet my Dad and me. My father was so impressed to note that the Head Mistress of the school cared enough to welcome a new student, that he was convinced he had made the right move in changing my school. It was the last day of February and a day before the actual reporting day so not all students had reached school by then. Miss David called Dorinda DeCamp, and told her to take me inside. I still did not know which class I would be in as I had to write an admission test.( I did get into ClassVII). Anyway Dad went away. I was ok as this wasn’t new to me having been in a boarding school before. I was however, awed by the beauty of the mountains and the green surroundings. …the chirping of the birds and the silence of the hills…… all made a lasting impression on me. Even today when I think of my childhood the mountains are my best memories.
The only thing that bothered me in the first few days was the cold. As it grew dark it got colder and God, was it cold!! I don’t really know how we all managed to stay in that shivering cold with no heating! But except for the first few days I cannot remember ever minding the weather whatever it was……. The clouds in the monsoons months blew right into the class, the mist was forever filling the rooms, the dormitory was a ice box……. but we lived through it quite happily. I suppose we were so busy living life that we didn’t notice anything else…….
A lot has been said about Mula Bux, so I shall not repeat the same except to say that never have I been able to buy stick-jaws, éclairs and buns like that anywhere else. I do however remember with great pleasure the many Socials we had. These were special occasions because boys were invited to come for the party. And we girls planned and planned endlessly what we were going to wear as we were allowed to wear ‘colours’ on those evenings. We exchanged clothes, tried out hairstyles and shoes and the Class-in-charge of the show also had to plan on games, music and food. Miss. Bibi, a cute looking house-keeper, arranged the goodies. The juniors were sent off to the dormitory early so they didn’t get in the way.
At one Social I wore a black saree……. and oh my God……. how embarrassed I felt all evening as some boys complemented me. In one such Social we had a fancy dress competition and Shubh Mehta of my class wore a maroon counterpane around her and had to announce herself as a ‘beetroot’ in case the judges failed to make out her costume. Of course we had to be very watchful of the teachers…. . particularly Miss Lyall. If she ‘imagined’ anything we did or say to the boys we would be given a very long lecture from her. When she read these lectures she often used the phrase ‘boy crazy’. And when she said that it was the ultimatum. How we hated the lectures. Oh then of course the Socials were reciprocated and the BS also hosted them and we girls went there all decked in our best clothes again. Another occasion that comes to mind is the Janamashtami celebration. ….. that was a high point as it was celebrated at night and we trooped all the way to BS (or was it JS?) to sing bhajans and do Puja and Aarti and get back way past mid-night…..
The regular fortnightly movies were another occasion. We had one movie on the screen and another going on in the hall…….. boys and girls passing chits to each other……. looking back, its all so hilarious… …. but back then it was serious business. Oh and before I forget…… . chocolates and gifts also went back and forth along with letters….. Those who were grounded stayed back in the dorm and loudly whispered goodnight to the boys when they returned to BS passing the dorm windows. On one day Mrs. Mathur, our Senior Dorm Supervisor, stood right behind the girls as they waved good night to the passing boys…….. but luckily she didn’t say much. Her disapproval was enough….. more effective than Lily’s lectures…. ..Lily was Miss Lyall’s nick name in case you have forgotten!!
The girls went down to the Flats to play in the evenings. Oh how we loved that! There were 3 flats. The first was where we played tourniquet, throw-ball, badminton etc. The next flat was larger and we played basket ball, volley ball etc, the third and lowest flat was a small field and we played hockey there……. …. you are right Carolyn we girls did play hockey!! The games teacher was Mrs. Siddiqui. But unfortunately we did not have many days in the Flats as the weather was not always good. And in the monsoons we hated the leeches….. .
Speaking of leeches….. Ms. Kohli was a weirdo. She had some problem with her gums and she would stick leeches to her gum to suck the bad blood out of them…… or so she said. In my class, which was large by OG standards being 17 of us, there were only 2 girls who chose maths for ISC. Chitra Kapoor and me. And Ms Kohli was our teacher. She may have been an intelligent person herself but she had no idea about teaching methods. Oh how we suffered at her hands……. . she just didn’t care about our classes. Sometimes she took the class on the pushta outside, sometime in the dining hall…….. and till the end we did not know what to expect in our exams.
That reminds me…. dining hall. I hope the girls remember the stage in the dining hall? It used to be our dance floor. The late Ranjana Lall, knew all the dances and we learnt to do the jive, cha cha and fox trot from her. Oh how we danced to Binaca Geet Mala songs and the 45rpm single records (recs, we called them) we played on the record player. Primrose Raikhan was in charge of the music. There were two very distinct groups….. the Elvis fans and the Cliff fans, and there was no compromise between the two. It had to be one Elvis rec and one Cliff rec…….. else all Hell broke loose.
Our class teacher was Miss Joshi, who taught us Biology. Miss Tandon taught History, Miss David- English Literature, Miss Bhattacharya -English language, Mrs. Joshi- Hindi and music, Miss Lyall-Geography, Mr.Verma-Art. Mr. Verma used to give us work to do in the Art Class and sing all the Mukesh songs……. he had a good voice!!
Once we represented OG for the inter-school Rotary Debate Contest held in Muss. In the English section I got the 1st prize and a SGC boy got the 2nd. When it was over the SGC boy came over to congratulate me and I almost fainted with fright in case someone reported me to Ms. Lyall…. so great was our fear for the lady! And as we walked back to the school bus, the late Anil Bhakri, a fair and lanky guy then, walked up behind me and passed me a chocolate in front of the Chic Choc shop……. I was sure I would be reported …… couldn’t trust being lucky twice….
I could go on endlessly… ….. I have a head full of memories of all my years in school…… .. and I loved being there. The best years of my life I have spent in OG with friends who I can still count on today……. ..All I can say is a big Thank you. All of you have made my life so much more meaningful.
– Jayashree Banerjjee (1972 Batch)