Saturday, January 29, 2011

Remembrances of 26th January Past

Last Wednesday was 26th January, the Indian Republic Day. When I was in school, it had another meaning as well. It was our school foundation day and hence the day our annual function was held. It was the day that we looked forward to most as students. We had good reason to.

Immediately after half yearly exams in December, the teachers began selecting students for various programmes that would be put up on the big day. One could either participate in the shows directly or could volunteer for other duties. But it was something like the movies, you know. Acting and dancing were the most glamorous and sought after roles.

Some part of the schedule was more or less fixed. There would be an English play, a Hindi skit and Bengali dance-drama. Then there would be the some song and dance performances put up by various classes. The students who were good at these things were largely ear-marked and were therefore automatic selections (the taller girls always played the male roles, much to their chagrin). Yet there were some surprises every year when auditions for various parts were held. I used to be a part of the function in the junior classes through the dances and in the senior school as the narrator.

We also had exhibitions – Art, Craft and Science. The last I particularly enjoyed and took active part in. it comprised various experiments that were conducted in front of the visitors. Some of the most memorable ones that I had seen / conducted included an Orange crystal tree, a mini volcano that actually erupted throwing up green ash and a skeleton that we had made out of thermocol. When were making the skeleton, we could not make the teeth stick. Ultimately somebody came up with the idea of using chewing gum strips as teeth and it worked! Fun times, those.

While the actual function was plenty of fun and excitement – I especially loved the cute little dances that the tiny tots put up under the direction of my house-mistress Mrs. Bethe (rest in peace, ma’am) – the nearly two months leading up to the big day were plenty exciting themselves.

For these two months, most teachers were engaged in organizing rehearsals and quite a few students from each class were part of them. So, in essence the classes were left to their own devices and boy, what fun we had. There were day-long antaksharis with our own Deewane, Parwane and Mastaane (take a bow Team Close-up Antakshari), dumb charades, dancing and what not. I remember once in class Seven, we had run out of songs so we had a challenge about inventing the silliest and funniest of ads. The class monitors, school prefects and house captains were all eager and active participants. The teachers turned a blind eye to all the madness and mayhem running through the school corridors, giving a building full of young girls the license to go as wild as they could within the school perimeter. And to top it all, the lovely winters reign in the city during those months. Even those who were frequently AWOL made a point of not missing school during these days.

The intensity of rehearsals built up and climaxed in the penultimate week. The morning assembly would also be suspended and those extra twenty minutes put to use in rehearsals. There were frenzied costume fittings, the detailing of sets (cardboard trees and the perfect vase), the frantic and mad dash to claim the sole tape recorder before any other show team could lay its hands on it, the catfights between teachers over girls who participated in multiple shows. It went on and on as if it would never end. The adrenaline surge and just a hint of hysteria. The desire to put up your best performance because your parents would be sitting in the audience. The attempts to check out the books that would be given away as prizes and hoping that the ones you want are the ones that you would get. Minor disciplinary transgressions were pardoned but every dialogue had to be clearly enunciated.

Finally, the big day dawned. The school was all decked up with flowers, flags and welcome signs. The participants were asked to come in as early as 6.30 in the morning so that they could be ready at the time of flag-hoisting. The teachers looked resplendent in their best sarees, with barely a sign of anxiety on their faces until you looked into their eyes or you were the one they holding onto tightly while explain their instructions. The whole atmosphere used to be charged and electric and beautiful.

The programme for the day would kick off with the part I hated most – the long winded speeches by the school Secretary, the Chief Guest, the Principal and the school manager. This was followed by the prize-giving ceremonies. I clearly remember the slight knocking of my knees as my name was called out to go up on stage to receive the prize, mumbling my thanks to the guest, walking down the stair and searching the audience for my parents. Finding them, raising my prize high in triumph and then rushing back to my friends before tearing off the covers and discovering the treasures underneath. Every year it was just the same and the feeling never grew old.

Then the entertainment began. The English play was generally the first performance of the day and I always was in awe of the beautiful things that they put up. My favourite however was a modern interpretation of Cinderella, told in flashback style by one of the step-sisters. The Hindi drama more often than not highlighted the social issues and the Bengali dance drama revolved around some mythological story or the other. We clapped and cheered every performance and on one memorable occasion, all the students actually stood up and provided the chorus to a dance celebrating national integrity.

When the day was finally done and we trudged back home with the sweets and confectionary, there was the triumphant joy of a job well done and of a yet another beautiful memory made. I miss those days. I miss those 26th of Januarys.

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