My parents took a bold step of paying Rs 50 in the year 1982 to Bishop Cottons for admitting me to Nursery. Then on, their next 14 years of life was spent on raising money to keep me there.
I was this short, stout mallu kid who never had anything fancy. While my friends brought magnet pencil boxes, I brought an ordinary close the lid box. While they brought pen pencils, where the lead from the front went into the back when it ran out, I had nataraj pencils. They brought erasers that smelled of perfume and mine was an ordinary nataraj eraser. Sharpeners were of every kind on display in class and bore no resemblance to the ordinary sharper, the cheapest in the Shetty stores opposite my house in Sampangiram Nagar.
Their bags were fancy which were often pink or some flashy color, while mine was a brick brown bag without clasps, and only had a buckle. When we switched to pens, mine was a local ink pen. My black shoes wore out completely before I got a new pair. My hair was oiled almost always and plaited with black bands. My lunch was always rice. As I moved to 8th std, I got a pair of big spectacles that made me look even more dumb.
Many girls in my class had everything I didn’t have for school supplies. They came in a car with a driver or with their dad on bikes. I went with the automan or walked back home with my parents. Somewhere in senior school my mother bought a luna. Boy.. It was a wonderful feeling sitting behind the luna and going home. She was probably scared to death to ride with my brother, me, our school bags and lunch baskets on the tiny pillion.
In Junior school at the Christmas party Santa Claus never chose me to handover a chocolate. I waited every year to get that diary milk or 5 star. Each time I was disappointed and I convinced myself thinking that only Christian girls got gifts from Santa.
Girls in my class took to sports, since this was not important at home, I just watched. In the 8th std, I wanted to become a prefect. I thought I had it in me to lead, not sure how. But I was not made one. The girl who was made a prefect from my class was an athlete. So I thought maybe that’s why.
As the years went by and I migrated from one class to the other I grew a sense of inferiority within me. I was not invited to other girls house and I didn’t invite anyone to my bare establishment of 300 sq ft of space that I called home. I felt ashamed. I somehow felt I was out of place. I only had 1 best friend all my years at Cottons.
In the 9th I was made class captain ! Phew so I was noticed and I was someone. I loved the title. 10th again, I was made class captain. Double jackpot ! I was an average student all the while, didn’t fail in any subject, was not scolded by the teachers, did my homework on time, no comments during PTA meetings. But this inferiority feeling stayed with me.
My true moment of pride was when the music teacher and English teacher called me over and asked me if I could speak on behalf of the outgoing students during the graduation ceremony. This was what I had been waiting for, for many years, the moment of recognition. Maybe my participation in the debate competition gave me this opportunity. I don’t know. I prepared the speech and read it out in front of the entire 10th and 12th outgoing students. It was the best moment of my life, until then. I remember borrowing a sari from a neighbour to keep up with the dress code – plain sari, any colour.
I didn’t know that the best had been saved for the last. My 10th results. I was the 6th rank in school, missing the 5th by a mark. That was the highest I had scored in my entire years at school!! I had left behind the prefects chosen, the athletes, the captains.. It sounds really silly now, but what I felt on that day was like I had received a present from Santa on Christmas.
My batch is planning for a reunion after 22 years and these memories came rushing back. I have 14 years of work experience behind me now, an Account Manager at an IT firm, published a book, a wife, mother of two kids… I managed without all the fancy stuff I missed to own during those years. But the things I learnt, living in the meagre 300 sq foot house, the years at school, the scarcity of things are some of the best lessons I learnt in life. It took me a few years to realize, I am a little dumb that way.. so here goes.. “Thank you” teachers and girls for the best years of my life !!