On 2nd of June – A Day of Small Joys
A lot of Oakgrovians would write about the significance of 1st June. So, to write about the 2nd of June, falls on me. Unlike the hallowed significance of the former, the day when our prestigious alma mater was founded, the latter is quite insignificant. Except for the fact that it was the day the school closed for the summer vacation.
As any kid torn apart from the family for months at a stretch would do, I looked forward to 2nd of June. If truth be told, I looked forward to it more than I did to the 1st! Yeah, sure, this was the Day the school was founded, and, well, we had the functions, where I used to be in the awardee list, and we had a special dinner. However, for the homesick minor that I was, Founders’ Day was joyous only because it was a harbinger of the summer vacation.
Truth be told, it was a travesty of a vacation. Our counterparts in our rival schools enjoyed 3 to 4 months of vacation (so we were told). We managed with measly 2 months and 22 days. And since the Winter Vacation accounted for 2 months, it fell on the lot of the summer vacation to be 22 days long. We left on 2nd June and rejoined on 24th. Since most of us were from Bihar or Eastern UP, by the time we reached our homes, it was late 3rd June, if not the 4th. So, in effect, we got a little less than 20 days home-time, and it rankled me till my last summer vacation in 2003! (I remember sitting with Railway Time Table, trying all permutations that would somehow make us reach home early. One theoretical option, Shatabdi to New Delhi followed by Purushottam Express made us arrive by 3rd June forenoon. However, the change-over time at New Delhi was just 10 minutes, and we never risked that.)
The 2nd of June was in many ways, an extension of the 1st. Many parents, who had turned up to attend the Founders’ Day, would be moving along the campus from the early morning. Affluent few would be coming down from Mussoorie hotels, while the majority would have stayed the night on the campus itself, at Boys’ School covered shed, probably. So, a lot of students would be with their parents from the daybreak. While the morning would start the usual way, with a late-rising day bell schedule, there was that pleasant anticipation that it would end outside the rigid discipline of the school. As the day progressed, we would have more parents arriving, those who did not attend the Founders’ Day. The pristine mountain air would get tainted by the noticeable odour of diesel fumes, for it was on such rare occasions that we had such multitudes of vehicles on the campus. In the Boys’ School, we used to pack up our things for both vacations, while in Junior School, it was not required during the shorter vacation. Hence, for the latter 7 years of my stay, even the chore of packing, which went across the midnight of Founders’, made the 2nd an extension of the 1st.
We were officially allowed to leave after lunch, after taking the exeat slip from our House Masters and informing all concerned. Boys of Classes IX and above were allowed to take exeat themselves, but for junior students, the arrival of a parent was a must. I never had the experience, as by the time I was in Class VIII, my younger brother had joined, and my parents had to come anyway for him. After collecting our belongings, we moved to the road above the front pitch (The Mall), where the taxi would be parked. It was pricey, the taxi service, and usually two or more parents shared. So we had to wait for all concerned to pick their exeats before we could move. The journey downhill the Chuna Khala road was bumpy (it was kachcha then), and from Jharipani fork onwards, it was quite smooth. Those congenitally cursed with motion sickness had a hard time there. We used to stop at a few places – there was the Prakasheshwar Mahadev Shiv Temple, which served free lunch and tea, and highly subsidised ice cream as prasad. In the earlier years, Universal Book Depot on the Rajpur Road was also a must stop spot for me, where I bought too many overpriced books which my folks let me indulge in, out of affection which had been dammed artificially for 4 months straight. Thereafter we hit the city of Dehradun.
It is not without reason that our School Song mentions “we leave the plains and heat”. While we did feel hot at school, in as much as we gave up even the sleeveless sweaters, and slept in a blanket, instead of a quilt, at night, nothing prepared us for the sudden blast of hot air as our taxi hit the city limits. Hot, and noxious – for we had been breathing too pure an air for 4 months, and the everyday smell of motor fume laded city air overpowered our senses. While there were many errands to be run in the city – folks shopping for woollen wear on sale, or walnuts, for example, most of us would first converge on that biennial pilgrimage – Dehradun Railway station.
Built in the 1890s, the Dehradun Railway station was never meant for some 500 plus parents and students using its waiting halls simultaneously. The extras spilled over to the platform benches, and onto the platforms themselves. Trains were scheduled all along – Link Express in the afternoon, to board which, special leave to depart from the school before lunch was needed. Then there was the Gorakhpur / Raxaul train that left around 3 to 4. It was followed by the Shatabdi to New Delhi, by which departed the hip Delhites, and the pretend Delhites of Ghaziabad! My train, like that of most wards of Eastern Railway employees, was the Doon Express. The train was perennially late, but since it was the originating station, we faced no problem in boarding, around 8. Getting a confirmed reservation on that was a miracle that my father accomplished more often than not. He had learnt a hard lesson when they had come to pick me up on 2nd June, 1994, and could not find a reservation. We had to board a wooden tiered III Class compartment (Indian Railways would insist on calling it II class) on which some enterprising parent had painted “Reserved for OG students” with Blanco shoe liquid! The journey was much uncomfortable, and hence, thereafter my father kept a reminder in his diary to get our berths reserved at 8 o clock on the first day of the Advanced Reservation Period, a habit which I have inherited!
Since our train departed too late, we made do with the station life, as best as we could. It was a microcosm in itself. While some of us would spend the late afternoon to departure time in the city, shopping, running errands, or eating and getting food packed, I, along with like minded folks, would simply live the station life. We would saunter along the platform (there was a lone platform which forked into two at the southern end, and the far-off platform was built in our last year), and indulge in train-spotting. It was a delight to watch the shunting operations, the to-and-fro movement of train rakes across the yard, the minutiae of points and crossings switching, coupling and decoupling. Only a train spotter, or a dyed in the wool railwayman can appreciate all this. Then, in our younger years, it was a special privilege to mingle with the seniors in a relaxed settings. Those unapproachable and quite dangerous seniors were much docile in the presence of their (and our) parents. We could be frank with them in ways we would dare not in the school. We could shop at the same ice cream cart together, share comics, walk together, sharing anecdotes, almost like buddies. In the older, senior years, the platform also was the stage for something much more colourful.
I must digress about this point, since the tale of the platform would not be complete without it, but quite a lot of it transpired outside the platform (hence the digression) It so happened that 2nd of June used to be the date when the newly promoted students of Class IX, of both genders, were let loose, in a common area, sans matronly supervision. (Since our promotions happened in late April) So it was the setting for the blooming of socially accepted puppy love! While senior boys were likely without parental presence, the members of the fairer sex had to dodge the same by moving in groups of friends of their own kind, who just happened to wander along to that deserted end or nook of the platform, where the rendezvous had been planned. All above the board, nothing hanky-panky. In our case, on 2nd June 2000, there was a clear reluctance on the part of newly senior males, despite enough hints from the counterparts. Both sides moved in packs, circled each other with wistful eyes; but the side, that is supposed to make the first move, did not, despite the desires of many individuals within the pack, because of the general peer pressure. That peer pressure was on account of the rather acrimonious parting between the girls and the boys in 1997, which the latter had nursed as a grievance over the years. As it transpired, the failure of the dalliance effort, of 2nd June 2000, led to some serious deliberations between the members of both sides (who moved together on the train homebound, and later, school bound), and it led to the unique concept of “Class letters”. Yes, the first ‘love letter’ received by our class was addressed to all the boys, from all the girls of the class across the valley. The gist of it was, why were we being so ‘bashful’ (that specific word was learnt by us in our Class IX English text book), and why not let bygones be bygones. The reply was also all to all, and brimming with the issues that would do any Truth and Reconciliation Committee proud! Bygones vented, there was the genuine question of the future – what if this was a classic bait and switch operation on the part of wily females. The reply to that contained apologies for the bygones, and a sort of guarantee, that no individual advances would be rejected! The railway-layers of British Raj could not have had such guarantee. For we tested it, and the guarantee was worth its weight in gold. All offers were accepted, such was the effect for peer pressure. A middling scholar sought out the class topper – accepted. A guy proposed to girl who was very much acknowledged as committed for another classmate – accepted. Many guys jumped multiple rungs above their league – all accepted. To take it further, the proposal of one of the guys, who sent it based on a prank taken too far, to a girl with whom he had had an unfriendly argument a few days back (which actually set off the prank), also got assent! Well, none of those romances survived the real world, and more than half unravelled by Class X itself. Still, the ritual mating dance of the Thies and the Thaas is a part of sweet memories of 2nd June.
The talk of 2nd June would not be complete without the mention of the ‘mug festival’. In Junior School, a lot of toiletry was used communally – toothpaste, hair oil, shoe polish, face creams etc – in the sense that the biennial supplies brought by all students were pooled together, and then one tube or pot was opened and used by all, before opening a new one. So only a few items were kept in private use – the tooth brush, tongue cleaner, comb, soap in a dish, and all of the above kept neatly in a water mug. The epitome of order. Perhaps a bit too much. It was quite inviting, like an assembled wicket, with stumps and bails. Inviting one to throw a slipper at it, which led to its disintegration in quite a spectacular way. In our senior most year in Junior School, mug blasting was raised to an art form. We did not have to pick our slippers to throw them; we could aim and launch them straight from the foot, with deadly accuracy! Not just the mugs resting on the floor, below the cots, but also mugs on window-sills, and on the shelves! So in the buildup to the Founders’ Day, mug blasting was pretty much an in thing. Somewhere down the line, it was decided that on the vacation day, 2nd June, 1996, a grand ‘mug festival’ would be played. I still wonder how that idea came into being. Still more astonishing was the fact that the matrons did not take an adverse notice of the rising frequency of the mug blasting incidents, which obviously emboldened us that much. Truly, on the morning of the second, it was a pandemonium of flying mugs, slithering soap bars, and mixed up toothbrushes and combs. It was eventually stopped by one of the matrons – the kindly one, not the other, I-cannot-think-of-a-polite-adjective one. We were not there the next year, and had quite forgotten about it all, when, very recently, someone from a very junior batch told me about mug festival on June 2nd! I guess we had birthed a tradition, that may have lived on for years, if not decades!
That pretty much sums up our 2nd of June – a day of small joys, etched forever in our memories. Written this June the second, 2021.
– Raveesh Gupta.
1990s Founders Day Raveesh Gupta