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I was schooled under the mullberry tree!

(pic-1) A down load from net… this image of a school from semi-urban India brought memories from the first school I attended in 1947.)

My class room could boast of four brick walls around but no roof; me and fellow classmates sat on wooden boards with black slates on our laps. Writing chalk was supplied by our school teacher.

If I were to eyeball my class room today I would say it was around 12-ft by 12-ft in size within the four brick walls with no plaster on them; each wall standing 8-ft high. Two of the walls had openings without window frames and the entry door was 6-ft by 3-ft with a wooden door frame with no doors; a small piece of iron railing with holes in it hung from the door frame.

Corrugated zinc (aluminium?) sheets to cover wooden roof beams supported on the brick walls were on order for my class room but had not yet arrived; they would not for another year either because someone had messed up with the purchase order for my first school or they were taken away to build military barracks in east-Bangalore to house returning WWII soldiers from my home town.

(pics-2,3) Whitish & Greenish Worms Chomping Mulberry Leaves (image is a download from the net.)

There was a mulberry tree going through my roofless class room. A blackboard was nailed to it and my first teacher had a wooden chair to sit by the black board.

When it drizzled we just put the black slates on our head to protect ourselves; when it rained it was a prickly storm of silky worms dropping on my head from the mulberry tree wanting to pick my brains. They too wanted to learn I guess for I would see them ready every morning doing their push-ups on the lowest branch of the tree.

We would enter the class room to the sound of an iron peg hitting the iron railing piece hung by the front door frame. My tallest classmate with her impressive height of 4 feet on bare feet could reach up to the railing piece, tip toed, to ring-us-in and out of our class room every day.

Only thing I remember about my class leader, the tallest girl in class, is that her red skirt came up to her knees; she had red ribbons on her parted hair. And, her skin color was lighter than mine; she had fish shaped eyes with pupils that were grey. She always wore a black dot on her forehead.

My class mates comprised of 14 girls usually dressed in colorful skirts and white petty coats for tops; I remember going to school in khaki-shorts and white half shirt; we all squatted on 8-ft long wooden boards, 5 each per board, placed in 3 rows flat on the ground. It often drizzled in the morning in my hometown keeping the ground moist throughout the rainy season; the wooden squatting boards were the best furniture we had in school.

Name of my school was ‘Stree Samaja Shale’. There was no other school near our home; my parents had no choice except to admit me to the ‘Stree Samaja Shale’; I was under 5-yrs of age then.

Soldiers who fought in WWII from my hometown had probably returned a year before I was even born to bring about a baby-boom in my town during years 1941 to 1942; there were more girls than boys born in my town; almost 2-girls to a boy (not sure why;) hence there were more KG and primary grade girl-schools than boy-schools in our area.

We used black slates and hard chalk to copy the alphabets that our teacher wrote on the blackboard. As I was the only boy in my class I had to sit on the front wooden board under the watchful eye of my teacher with 2 girls to my right and two to my left who often bullied me to show what I was writing on my black slate; I was a year younger than most of them I believe and skinny; I was a little kid with a running nose on most mornings.

At times, a tiny greenish or whitish caterpillar, chomping in merriment with eyes shut, would loosen its grip on a mulberry leaf above my head and fall on my head as I wrote my alphabets on the black slate.

If I ever yelled because of the worms falling on my head when it rained, my teacher would extricate them from my unkempt hair alright, but would punish me by sending me to the back of the class room for disturbing the rest of the class. She would ask me to ‘stand still’ facing the back wall of the classroom for yelling when all were copying from the black board without complaining. I would stand there rest of class-hour wiping my running nose. The tall girl squatting on the last row of wooden squatting boards would often turn around & giggle at my plight!

There were many mulberry trees around my class room. The entire school comprised of 3 such class rooms and one office room; my first school had been hurriedly set up in a mulberry farm to accommodate the bumper crop of 5 year age kids, some older too, as the fierce WWII fervor was ending in my city.

My city had contributed a lot to that war effort too; city had no funds to build better schools. My parents were told that all corrugated zinc sheets meant for our school roof had been used up to build the housing complex of Madras Engineering Group (MEG) Military Barracks at East Bangalore area and the Bangalore Cantonment that boasts today the famous MG Road, Field Marshal K.M Cariappa Memorial Park and Parade grounds.

On the last day of my first year at school I took my 1st grade final exam. We all had come prepared with clean black slates ready for the finals just before summer holidays. All 52 Kannada alphabets had been neatly written by our teacher on the black board before we walked-in for the exam. Whoever completed copying of the alphabets neatly could leave early on that final day of my 1st year at school even before the final- tann, tann, tann… sound of the iron-peg hitting the iron-railing-piece hung by the door frame to serve as a bell!

I wanted to beat the tall girl, my class leader, who often giggled at me. She was eager to finish first too to retain the class leader title I guess. I scribbled fast… for I knew the alphabets by-heart by then; remembered how to write them too since my big sister Sharada had made me practice them at home before the final exam. The tall girl may have struggled a bit I think, because her mother tongue was not Kannada; it was Marati.

Before I could copy the last few alphabets she had already finished. She stood up abruptly from the squatting board in the last row… rushed to the teacher to show her finished work before me. In that frenzy her newly starched skirt tied to her slim waist dropped below her waistline exposing her panties to the five of us squatting on the front board!

The front row of squatters, 4 girls and myself, giggled; worms on the mulberry tree stopped their push-ups and stared too… some lost their grip; some fell on my head as usual and I yelled loud. I was sent back to the back wall to stand still till the entire class finished the exam that day. But the other girls who giggled were not sent to the back wall! My first school teacher was a sadist, did not like me… one odd boy with a squint, in a class full of girls!

I graduated alright from that school only because those worms growing up to become caterpillars and butterflies picked my brains often on rainy days!

My tall class leader was not to be seen in my second year at that school. I guess either she joined a private school or her parents got transferred to a different city.

I have not seen her after that year. If she meets me today wonder if she would recognize me!

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From my archives: old stories reborn@ http://creative.sulekha.com/old-stories-reborn_636730_blog

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Suresh Rao

Mellowed out and enlightened septuagenarian. Tech savvy. Social writing is just a pastime to kill time. I keep contributing to several developmental projects in the area of engineering education, IT and Healthcare projects launched by my kith and kin. I am too lazy to write a book, 'cause I think my life itself is a book! I am also at www.facebook.com/sureshnrao
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RAMARAO Garimella
RAMARAO Garimella
1 year ago

Fantastic story. First, it sent me down the memory lane as my first school also had no roof and was closed at the slightest drizzle. Second, I enjoyed the humor–worms on the mulberry tree stood up to watch the panties of…
I am so glad you pulled this out of Sulekha archives and posted it here.
In 1947, I was in II form.
RRG.

Navneet Bakshi
Navneet Bakshi
1 year ago

Hilarious indeed. I don’t remember if I read it at Sulekha. What should we call a woman who hates men? Misandrist- I just checked and recalled. Wonder why she hated the only boy in the class? That you are a Marathi by descent is a news to me, though I had never heard Rao surname for Kannads but I accepted that could be- if Rajnikant not being a Tamilian didn’t surprise me, why Suresh Rao not being a Kannad should? Btw will it be hard for me to learn kannad if I try it? 52 alphabets of Kannada are double of Hindi alphabets though most of them are the same but the thought is scary. When I made some efforts to learn Chinese, the moment I came to know that their are complex tonal inflections and one word can have multiple meanings and more recently, when I thought of at least finish learning of Urdu I started once as a kid from my father, I stopped when the instructor on youtube said that the words are written without matraas ( vowels), the ae, ee oo aa signs that we use in Hindi- I stopped. Am I being prejudiced?

RAMARAO Garimella
RAMARAO Garimella
1 year ago
Reply to  Suresh Rao

My dear Navneet,
Telugu, my mother tongue has 54 alphabets.

Navneet Bakshi
Navneet Bakshi
1 year ago
Reply to  Suresh Rao

I think many times to try to learn some South Indian language, but wonder which one to try my hand on. Which of them is closest to Hindi? Do Kannad and Telugu have some similarities?

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