Some memories still shine through the mists of time. Seems like only yesterday that I was a young lad, all of 11 years old, complete with scruffy shoes and grubby palms, studying in class 6 in a boarding school where they put you through a regimen that is designed to keep you occupied 24×7. Good boarding schools are, by their very nature, secluded and gated environments with superlative infrastructure and a curriculum that is directed towards giving young children an all-round education.
Physical facilities in most boarding schools are usually top notch and this school was no exception. Sylvan environs, an abundance of playing grounds mostly covered with carpet-like soft grass and earmarked for football, cricket and athletic pursuits, spacious classrooms, decent dormitories, a well-equipped science lab, a large commodious dining hall, a basketball court, tennis and squash courts, a theatre capable of seating 500 students that also doubled up as a cinema hall and an assembly hall, separate residences for teachers and every other facility that a self-contained ecosystem could possibly require, constituted the well-endowed facilities of the school sprawling over 50+ acres.
Life in a boarding school meshes academic and extra-academic activities into a seamless calendar which is designed to keep body, mind and soul gainfully occupied. This school, like others in its comparable class, had an impressive array of extra-curricular activities – musical nights, plays, elocution and debating competitions, social gatherings, boys scouts programs, sports days, inter-school competitions and occasional outings into the external world such as picnics, rock climbing expeditions and treks. The food was simple but healthy and provided all the nutrition that growing children need. In boarding schools, the students do not have the luxury of “tuitions” or “coaching classes” and teachers are expected to teach students during classes in a complete and comprehensive manner so as to obviate the need for such extra academic sustenance outside the classroom. Mottos of 2 boarding schools that I have been schooled at were “Onwards and Upwards” and “Not for School but for Life” – both very powerful statements and ones which defined the characters of both schools. The plethora of extra-academic activities, dovetailed into a well structured scholastic program, was designed to impart true education to young minds and souls.
Life in boarding schools is, however, not regimented to an extent that a young chap feels suffocated. Daily, weekly and term life is designed in a manner that gives ample time for young kids to goof off during free time without any set agenda and generally ‘chill’. The combination of structured activities, free time to spend with class friends and living in each other’s pockets for 9 months in a year is what enables the forging of true bonds of friendship, camaraderie and companionship to develop – ties that usually last a lifetime. Of course, these bonds also lead to unintended consequences – like the time when my mom complained that my luggage, on returning home for school holidays, contained many items of clothing that were originally not mine. This included a few pairs of somebody else’s socks.
It was in class 6 in this very school that my mind, body and soul fused together to focus on a simple but delightful pastime and this metamorphosis seemed to happen overnight. The subject of my fascination were the various games played with marbles by young kids of our time. Little did the powers realise that I had become addicted to playing marbles even at that tender age. This enjoyable pastime involved the hoarding of my stash and putting it to productive use whenever the occasion arose. The addiction didn’t spare even the lunch breaks between exams. My prized collection was a varied and enviable lot – be it the large 1-rupee-coin sized bully or the tiny 5 mm dia sized chintu. The stash was suitably caressed and counted a dozen times a day. It was during that phase that playing marbles became the single point focus of my life. It reached a stage where this passion became all-consuming and every single waking daylight hour was devoted to this pleasurable activity. The flashpoint was reached when I got all of 17 marks (out of 200) in my math paper that term. The inevitable recriminations, ear tweaking and the occasional ruler landing on my baby-like posterior followed in quick succession, as was only to be expected. And I suspect that my ears became elongated at that young impressionable age due to the focused attention of many a grown-up on those appendages. But what pierced the heart of that young lad was a blinding revelation that he was cheating his parents, his teachers, his loving aunts, uncles, grandmom and all the other trusting elders who had bestowed their faith in his young soul.
Guess that was a turning point for yours truly. Marbles were relegated to an obscure dusty corner of the dormitory locker and all faculties were directed to the pursuit of higher learning – much to the delight of the teachers, particularly the usually dour, sour-faced math teacher.
Lo and behold! Math suddenly seemed like kindergarten stuff! The crowning glory was the class 7 final exam. In the aftermath of the exam when the math teacher read everybody’s marks to the entire class, he read my name right at the end. This particular teacher insisted on reading out everybody’s marks and he used to read the lowest marks first and work his way up the list. And the high point of my day was reached when he finally asked me why I had missed out on the remaining 3 marks that yours truly didn’t get (out of 200) in the math test! Apart from the joy, the exuberance, the pride, the self-esteem and the glory that the event brought, it changed my very outlook towards studies and I became a model student after that – though I did become wayward once again in later life but that is a story for another day.
Even to this day I thank those humble marbles. And yes, I was a good marbles player even at that age.
And that dear friends, is a glimpse into the life of a boarding school student of class 6.