Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Tvisha – 1st Grade, Age 5

(Appa, and his good friend from that time, Mala)

Dear Tvisha,

The year when I was in 1st grade was a very eventful year. There were quite a number of changes that I had to go through in school.

I had to wake up really early since the school bus that usually came in around 9 am for kindergarten, came in around 7.30 am for first grade. Getting me ready daily to make it to the waiting school bus was a ritual in itself, with the neighbors from the nearby buildings looking forward to it. I had to be up for this challenge since I now was in the big league, I mean, first grade :-).

It was a time of great adjustment with longer school hours which wasn’t that much fun to begin with; there were new uniforms that I loved – white half sleeve shirts, navy blue short trousers, and pure white canvas shoes and socks; then there were the new teachers, more classes, lots of daily homework, and exams too.

One thing I will tell you about schools in India is that they are really competitive and crammed with schoolwork right from the beginning. It must have only gotten worse now.

The school timings were from 9.30 am till 4 pm, with a 5 minute break at 11.25 am and lunch break from 1 pm to 1.45 pm. School ended at 4 pm and the school bus would drop me off by 4.30 pm at home.

Most of the time, I would come home to the aroma of hot dosas (Indian crepes) being prepared by my mom. I used to eat the dosas with sugar and butter, or with coconut chutney. I loved dosas. In South Indian families dosa is a staple item to prepare during snack time, just as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be.

Then it was time to go out and play with the few friends that I had at that time, mainly with a girl named Mala who I was fond of. She used to live in the same apartment building as we did, a level above us.

There were a lot of children in our apartment building, which was great, but most of them were elder to me. There were others of similar age but their parents wouldn’t allow them to go out and play much, instead making them focus on their studies I suppose?

After playing for a couple of hours, it was time to come back home at my mom’s beckoning for a shower and homework, dinner and then off to sleep. I would get quite an earful from my mom if I didn’t come back home in time.

The one thing that was different with Don Bosco High School compared to other schools was that we used to get Thursdays off. The other catholic schools would have Saturdays off and the rest with no such weekly days off except Sundays. Due to this, it wasn’t much fun since I had no one to play with and as the years went by the homework would increase since we had a break mid-week.

The biggest event during the year that I can’t ever forget was the war between India and Pakistan. Since I only had few lucid recollections of the same, I asked your uncle Krish to reminisce about it. He wrote this:

December 1971: War breaks out between India and Pakistan

Government imposes black-outs in the evening

Following the rules, we glued black paper on the windows, did not put on lights even late in the evening and through the night. Dinners used to be candle-lit, and at around 7pm.

Appa used to come home pretty early. Once he was home, he would follow radio news intently and update all of us, and our neighbors, who somehow preferred to hang around in the building compound. Many would stand by our verandah and discuss the latest situation; we were in the ground floor, remember?

Thankfully the war soon got over – it lasted around three weeks, if I remember correctly.

Appa and amma were at their protective best, giving us courage and confidence that everything would be okay soon. We somehow needed that.

You were very curious about what could go wrong, puzzled by the darkness all around, about the candle light. Appa and amma used to field your questions without scaring or worrying you.

When the sirens blared…

Families would step out on to the building compound, to escape easily in case an air raid caused a bomb to explode near the building and damage the building.

We could see the bullets fired from Indian ack-ack guns (anti aircraft guns) to discourage Pakistan’s airplanes from coming near the city - the tracer bullets, a moving stream of red dotted lines against the dark night sky.

Our hearts thumped – we used to stay indoors though; Appa still thought that safer, given that we were quite small and could get lost due the commotion outside.

This was a scary time indeed for all of us.

- Appa