Skip to main content

Scattered Pearls - "The Story of an Old School"

Posted in
The Story of an Old School: an Epiphany
 
Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”- The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce 
 
As I sit down to write the story of my first elementary school, I realize, I would be reliving an unknown error, my very first tryst with lying and deception. The secret chamber of my mind had buried it for long, for it was rough-hewn. In later years, I discovered it sparkling, giving me a new perspective, insight into human life. Today, I latch on to it and chase it to explore moments of radical change. 
 
My early memories of the school are the memories of my petty delinquencies. There were days when I had loved skipping the morning prayer because the discipline and repetition of the same songs, the same gestures of silence, of submission irritated my playful soul. I had loved scribbling rhymes, sketching flowers and discreetly showing my artwork to friends during our Maths class. I was a champion in whispering in Bengali, while speaking in our mother tongue during class was strictly prohibited by the school authorities. I took considerable pride in revolting against the regimen, and my partner in crime was a Bengali friend. We chatted and smiled, strolled along the school campus, floating in our cloud of words and merriment. Both of us enjoyed egg noodles, Indian flatbreads and other delicacies at lunchtime cooked by my mother, the culinary Goddess. 
 
To my mother, the story of my first day at kindergarten was not only of joy and pride as I wore a beautiful yellow frilled dress which she had sewn for me, but also of embarrassment. She had vivid memories of how I came home without the pant that I had worn along with it, which I had lost while I went to the restroom. I remember the day I was initiated into the mysterious world of human sex, the graphic pictures of a man and woman in coitus that a boy of the same class had shown to two or three girls including me. I remember how the library teacher had caught us and threatened us with dire consequences, how I being the least vocal among the group at that time, never had a chance to prove my innocence. I remember the silent agony that crushed me when, in grade four and five, I came close second to my dearest friend of those days in elocution contest where we had to recite The Solitary Reaper by Wordsworth or Kubla Khan by Coleridge.
 
 At home, coming first in class became a prerequisite, something I had looked forward to during the results of the terminal exams. I don’t remember if I had my father’s constant company during this period, and I don’t remember if I cared much for that. Or, maybe I did, but whenever he was not away for his office trips, his presence was intimidating, as he kept reminding me that I need to come first in class. It was a prerequisite in exchange of gifts, and a generous display of affection and acceptance. It was an antidote to the thrashing that I sometimes got from him and the silent tears that welled my eyes, when the Maths, Science or Social Studies grades were not acceptable. Getting up on the huge school podium to the claps of peers, teachers and our principal to receive the first prize, the gift-wrap of books and chocolates was something heady, divine those days, as I knew another such wrap awaited me at home, as I would go home and give the news to my parents.
 
In grade four, before the summer holidays, my world had crushed while I got fourth rank in a terminal exam. I loitered along the classrooms and corridors, wishing to burn away the report card, wishing the world would have ended that very moment, as I contemplated telling lies at home about my grades and betraying my enthused parents. This, at that very moment of leading astray, came across as the easiest route to my salvation. The house, decked up and noisy, was swarming with guests and festivities of my uncle’s wedding. I drifted away in nooks and corners, erased the original grades in the report card, and scribbled the grades according to their acceptable standards. I remember how, with trembling hands I erased the page where the fourth rank was announced in the report card and the secret temptations that worked inside me when I masterfully scribbled first rank in that place, so that I could skillfully lie to my parents. I remember the silent terror of committing the first real crime of my life that was consuming me from inside out. My spine chilled during the entire day of my uncle’s wedding reception.
 
My heart skips beats as I remember the deceitful act of erasing and scribbling again in the report card with the original grades I got in that term, the shame and guilt of the entire act as eventually the class teacher and our principal caught me and demanded an explanation, while beckoning my parents in the principal’s room. My heart harbors them all—the slaps from my father, the tears of shame and disgust my mother shed for the first time in a room full of teachers, the excruciating agony of being caught, the mental dilemma and agitation of myself struggling with my first sin at an age when I didn’t even fully know its implications. I still remember how I wished the world would break to pieces while I was made to confess my lies in front of a statue of Jesus Christ in the principal’s room. I remember how our principal advised my father not to impose the pressure of ranks on a little girl who had just started out on her life in academics, how the administrative committee decided not to excuse me, keeping in mind my age, my previous track record. I owe my heartfelt gratitude to my principal and my teachers who gave me a fresh new lease of life as I struggled at home with my parents who could not easily forgive me after that event, with my peers at school who kept on teasing me as the news of this unforgivable act of delinquency spread quickly as wild fire. I sketched and scribbled all alone in the rusty corridors of the school’s hallway and contemplated about joining another school, one where these known faces would never come to bother me again. 
 
 I did that after some months, shifting my base to a Bengali medium local school where I first learned Bengali poems and the intricate act of wearing a sari, where I first learned to admire Tagore’s songs in prayer time. It was here that the common crowd of girls teased me again for I spoke more in English than in Bengali, where the cultural orientation was hugely different from the school I had left behind forever. As years passed by, I improved my Bengali linguistic and writing skills and focused on my skills in language and literature. At home, where my parents gradually realized they could not impose ranks on me any more, where my father still slapped me from time to time upon any act of disobedience, where my mother sometimes regretted that I could not continue my high school in a convent background, the thought she had once cherished, I had gradually come to terms with the lone road I would be traveling for a long time now. I never again came first in class till the end of high school, and never envied the girls that came first in class and scored extremely good grades in the sciences, arithmetic, algebra, geometry. I never again met my old school mates who went to other high schools later.
 
I look at the pictures and messages of those very friends today, write to them periodically, as the lure of camaraderie has yet again overwhelmed my mind, fuelled by time and geographical distance. They have sought me out among the multitudes of people in the virtual world of social networking. I so wish when I visit my country, my old town today that I could sit under the shaded canopy of trees that once adorned my old school, call those child faces I knew back then and tell them how I would want to surrender to the lessons that the unknown error of childhood has taught me —the lesson of acceptance, of fortitude, of truthfulness to my own self in the direst of circumstances in a life that bestows more upon us than it takes from us. The act of lying then, a playful, impish scar, brings me close to triumph and discovery, to the ineffable realm of change.
 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About the author : Lopa is a freelance writer, poet, blogger, wife and mother of two beautiful girls, Srobona and Sharanya. She is also in her final year of studying creative nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has just completed her memoir, a book-length collection of personal essays and stories on her childhood, motherhood and her internal journey titled 'Thwarted Escape: A Journey of Migrant Trails and Returns'. Besides, she writes poetry, reads classic, romantic and post-colonial poets as intimate voices that echo her own helplessness, pain and anguish.
 

About her column : "What are words, anyway? They were there, my first milky blabbering's that delighted my parents, they were there, my first attempt to construct a sentence with meaning, they were there, in every step of my way, in my rhetorical journey to womanhood. Like scattered pearls, I have collected them, internalized them, nurtured them and put them down on paper, in my quest to understand the tapestry of creation. With these scattered pearls, today, I contemplate and reminisce, with them I have come to know of my little moments of epiphany which I may share with you in this little space. They have remained with me all the way, while growing up in the outskirts of Kolkata, India with my small family, as I witnessed the world in its simple, every day paraphernalia. They have chased me every day, as I have passionately sought my creative forces and the true significance of my femininity. Today, working my way as a wordsmith, these scattered pearls are helping me define my self-identity as a writer, an artiste, a partner and a mother every single day. In this column, I will unfurl them, one at a time, for you to discover their truth, beauty and mystery. "

Image Courtesy : Google Images

0
Your rating: None

Thank you so much!!

Ruby,
Your comments encapsulate the essence and objective of this short memoir so beautifully and effectively! I thank you wholeheartedly for your analysis. Do keep reading my humble work!

Thanks again,
Lopa.

Thanks!!

Joyotee di, thanks a lot for your heartfelt appreciation! Really means a lot!

Lopa.

Enjoyed reading about those

Enjoyed reading about those petty delinquencies. But what impressed me the most is your candid depiction of issues that one usually prefers to bury with the past and never revisist, at least publicly.  

Apart from that you have rightly highlighted the average mindset of the generation back then- convent education and the emphasis on grades. 

Overall an 'undisguised' memoir. But these are truly the scattered pearls of a rich neckpiece that you can proudly wear and say,"Yes, this is me". You have an apt quote  up there in support, "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”

Lovely!

Ruby

Its a beautiful and honest

Its a beautiful and honest piece of writing which deals with such delicate emotions in a child's psyche. You have handled the morphing into a more assured being, very well with your flow of language. Looking forward to more such pearls :) Keep gathering.

Thanks!

Thank you, Saloni and Ananya, for your kind, encouraging comments!

Enjoy this gift of appreciation immensely,
Lopa.

Beautiful. Loved it.

You are a gifted writer. Loved gathering the pearls...,
Ananya

Oh My! what a gift you've

Oh My! what a gift you've got!. It's not possible for everyone to express so easily and beautifully.

Kudos!! Loppa,please keep writing. 

loved it

How beautifully written. Loved it. PARAMA

You are a fabulous writer.

You are a fabulous writer. Loved reading your column. Keep writing.
Surabhi

Thanks!

Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comments!!
Much love,
Lopa.

Profound

Finally got time to read this today, Lopa. So beautifully and lucidly framed. Truly a lovely string of pearls. I want Raya to read this too. Deep lessons of life to be learnt here.

thank you!!

Thanks so much for reading this, Asha!

Love,
Lopa.

Very beautifully

Very beautifully written.
Brought tears to my eyes

Asha