As my mind’s eye travels across the years of pre-independence India, it1 comes to rest in the Verandah of a primary school where the children are squatting on a jute patti with a ‘Takhti’ on their laps, and a slate lying nearby. They have just finished their morning mass prayer singing:— Hey dayamai hun sabon ko … … It is a long verandah with no physical barrier between the two primary classes, and the two teachers with the ubiquitous cane or ruler in their hands. The ‘takhati’ had been pasted with ‘multam’ and dried in the sun to the accompaniment of a song:— Sukh Sukh Gatti, Chandan Gatti, Aya Raja, Maha China, Mahalon ke upar Dhoop padi, Meri Takhti Sookh Padi — On the Takhti the teacher would inscribe in dots the Urdu alphabets with a reed pen, which had been expertly shaped and incised for the children to go over by connecting the dots and thus master their configuration. Then on the ‘state’ children would be writing 1,2,3 etc with a ‘slatee’ correcting the mistakes by their fingers which are wetted by their spit — even as the modern cricketers are seen polishing the ball with in a similar manner.
It would be a noisy place with the sound of teachers and taught travelling across from one side to another, without any noticeable interference or disturbance in terms of communication or understanding the cane in the hands of the teacher was the common object of fear in the hearts of all students – and that kept some of them at home or absconding from the class on one pretext or another. Anyhow the day would end, but not before the whole school was lined up to repeat the ‘ginti’ Ek ku Eka, Do, ku, doua, Tenn ka teena…..and then the ‘paharas’ Do aikam do, Do Dooni Chaar… whereas one came walking with hesitating steps to the school — the return would at least start with a 100 meter dash.
As one qualified to the middle school one got a desk with two inkpots – red and blue – a chair, and a classroom with a blackboard on which the teacher – still with cane or rules– will be writing the sums or sentences or whatever with a chalk-stick, which the students would take down or work upon in their ruled notebooks with G. Nib penholders dipped in the ink on their desks. The commitment of an error or the ability to answer invited harsh rebuke or punishment from the teacher. This on occasions amounted to the victim being slapped on the the cheek by the whole class, sometimes being kicked by the teacher, made to stand on the bench, or obliged to bend up the form of a cock. Some teachers were terribly cruel and abusive, even as some students were no less slothful and cunning. And yet there were those teachers who were dedicated and patriotic, emotional and loving who would spare no efforts in imparting some knowledge into the skulls of their wards.
What were the highlights of the Middle Level and High School education:— Passion for Urdu poetry of which the students would memorise large chunks for use late in ‘Baet Baazi’. Then the passion for sports of which ‘hockey’ was the most preformed game. Minor matches, even between classes were hotly contested and cheered or booed, and the merits of various players discussed with visible signs of envy. Then there were contests debating, recitation, problem solving, drawing, map making and one looked forward to the prize distribution function where one hoped that ones name would be called time and time again and be the cynosure of all eyes. The examination did not generate so much fear or tension. One went through then with reasonable composite, no matter if one scored a 1st division or the royal 3rd. One did not look forward to a high career later on, for there was the spectre of mere ‘clerkship’ at the end of matriculation or any higher degree. Most dropped out at the matriculation level or earlier. Thus there was no mad rush for admission to any college – which were few and far between. If one had scored a 1st division one hoped to be granted a scholarship or at least a freeship.
One entered a college with a sense of achievement for here was a place which offered freedom from the rigorous discipline of the school. Here one could bank clause without fear of reprisal or punishment. One could be attentive or sleep in the clan. No one seemed to care. The persons would come to deliver then lecture and then retire to their rooms secondly without any course of care or responsibility to their charge.
If one was able to go through to the B.A. or B.Sc degree one was considered to be an achiever. Very few went for masters degree. But cynosure of all eyes were those who got selected for an Engineering Degree or some such professional selection course like Railways, or Public Accounts, or Civil Service.
There are a few undercurrents of the education of those days which need mentioning:— One was arousing the feeling of nationalism. Teachers would go out of their way, while teaching history or English; we have been enslave, what our faults to were as a nation, and what we should do to require freedom from foreign rule. Second was the religious fervour intermingled with the building of character. Depending on the religious leanings of a school, regular rituals like havan were performed. There used to be one period reserved for ‘Dharmik Shiksha’. Third was somehow, looking up to Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders, students would throng in full strength to listen to their speeches of mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Basic Education’ one had heard and wished that it would be introduced in the schools, at any rate one imagined, a day would dawn who they would be free to follow what the Mahatma would teach them!
- 1. DELETED: “I travel across those years”