Readers Write In #14: Back to school

Posted on April 19, 2017


“When you’re a little kid, you are a bit of everything-artist, scientist, athlete, scholar. Sometimes, it seems growing up is like a process of giving those things up, one by one.”
The Wonder Years.

When you live in Besant Nagar and your school is in Mandavalli, the one hour trip on the school bus to and from your school everyday, makes you an expert on every bylane, every little nook and corner, of Madras. St John’s higher secondary school was huge and we had several sections for each class. And there was a busload of students in our school from Besant Nagar, which had a lot of residential quarters including the central government CPWD quarters where I lived.

Every evening, those of us who were to board the bus home, would sit in a separate classroom, before getting on. On one such evening, our Principal and the founder of our school (a man we called the Correspondent) came to our class room as we waited for the bus and asked all of us who lived in Besant Nagar to raise our hands. Dozens of hands went up and this sparked an excited discussion between the two. Shortly afterwards it was announced in the assembly that the school was opening a new branch in Besant Nagar from the next school year, which would be a walkable distance from my house.

It was a strange feeling going to school the next year. Instead of setting off on the bus an hour early and picking up students from all over the city, now I could saunter to school just five minutes before the bell rang. It was a little like going to a new school, because the location, the building and many of the faces were new. But it wasn’t quite so, as more than half the students in our class were those with whom we had gone to school before. A few of the teachers were familiar too.

One main difference was that now we had only one section in each class and we in the seventh standard, were the second most senior class, as the school had students only up to the eighth standard. This not only made us VIPs but gave us a close knit feeling that was absent in our previous ‘main school’. I was in the school choir and with other classmates would participate in most of the school stage programmes. We had a very smart English teacher who was only twenty three then and in her first posting. She later transferred to Central school, Thambaram and went on to win the President’s National award for best teacher last year. She was a Jim Reeves fan who was enthusiastic in helping us with our skits, dances and the choir. She would teach us prayer songs for the regular assembly.

During Christmas, she would teach us carols. There would be an Xmas tableau every year where students would dress up as Joseph, Mary, angels and the three kings, with a doll dressed up as baby Jesus in a crib inside a barn. And we in the choir would sing the carols, one after the other. Joining us in these sessions was a fair, slightly chubby, short, sweet-faced boy with a mop of thick, straight hair flopping on to his face, who was in the sixth standard. For some strange reason, he was not a part of our regular choir, but he was the undisputed star of the Xmas choir. He had a very melodious voice, one of the sweetest I have heard in real life, a soprano : high pitched and clear as a bell. He would start off with a solo rendition of “We three kings of Orient are” and the rest of us in the choir would join him in the chorus.

I never registered or remembered his name, but his remarkable voice was the highlight of the Xmas tableau and one of my many cherished memories from this much beloved school, which I had to unfortunately leave after a couple of years, when my father got posted to New Delhi.

I have always enjoyed the columns in the Hindu written by Baradwaj Rangan. What I loved best (apart from the impeccable language and the wicked sense of humour) was how personal his writing was. When he wrote about Madras,

the movies and songs of his childhood or sometimes about something totally random, like a Steve Winwood song from the eighties that I had forgotten all about until his post

reminded me of it, struck chords so close to home, that he was for me, the literary equivalent of the singer in the Roberta Flack song, “Killing me softly”.

Years back, when I joined Facebook, I reconnected with many of the classmates from my old school, and as a common friend commenting underneath their posts, I saw the name Baradwaj Rangan. To my surprise, I learnt that the Hindu coloumnist I so liked, had gone to the same school as I had, and had been one year my junior. I sent him a friend request but felt a little sad that I had no recollection of who he was. I was picturing a pocket sized version of BR as he was right now, in the St John’s school uniform and try as I might, I couldn’t recall anyone who remotely fit that picture. I discovered his blog through the links he shared on FB and started reading the interesting conversations there.

Once I messaged him, trying to jog my memory and I enumerated all the juniors I remembered, to see if he was one of them. To my utter surprise, BR confessed that he was the boy in the choir. He was the boy with the golden voice, the soprano star of our Xmas tableau, whose then unbroken, girlish, perfectly pitched voice, I still remember perfectly. To be quite honest, I still have trouble reconciling BR with that school boy because it seems a little bizarre that someone whose voice as a child I’ve been so mesmerised by, should turn out to mesmerise me later in life for a totally different (but as exceptional) talent.

Authored by tonks, who comments here.