School Stories: Sports Day

A couple of weeks back, in our class WhatsApp chat, we started talking about our school days and the conversation veered towards our sports day. I enjoyed that conversation so much that I decided to take a trip down memory lane to reminisce about those days.

Our school sports day was the highlight of the second term, which happened after the Diwali holidays in the second term. The main sports day would happen sometime in December/early January before the class X students had their prelims.

Our school was divided into four houses and this was only for the secondary section. Unlike other schools, we didn’t have house named for flowers, national leaders or even landmarks. Since my school is a Parsi school, our houses were named for ancient Persian princesses. Selection of students to the different houses was completely random and we’ve tried to think of the various ways they may have done the choosing, but other than randomness, we have never been able to figure it out. In one family, you would have sisters in different houses, as it was in my house and also in my neighbour’s place where all the sisters were in different houses. I was in the green house while my sister was in the yellow house. As part of our school uniform, along with our school badge which was pinned on the top left of our uniform, above our hearts, we had to pin our house badge to the left of the school badge.

For a few months before the actual day, we would have what was known as indoor games as well as sports for which the school did not have the facilities to play and which needed to be played at a nearby gymkhana. These included sports like carrom, chess, badminton and table tennis. We also had some games like square ball and volley ball, which we played in our school grounds, competing with each other. The sports day was held in a small stadium not very close to the school, but in a centrally located area. A month or so before the actual sports day, we all trooped to the stadium for our heats. This was usually a half day and those of us who were not so inclined, used that half day to just chill and gossip with friends and cheer those who are competing. For children in the primary and kindergarten sections, they had their heats in a small garden behind the school.

In the days leading to the sports day, while the other events were held, we would anxiously keep track of the wins of each house and at the same time start the practice for the march past. Usually the class five students will be super eager to take part in the march past and would audition for the same. By the time we reached class eight, it was the other way around – we had to be forced to go down and take part. The march past contingent was made up of one girl who would carry the placard with the name of the house followed by the house captain who carried the house flag who would be followed by the march past contingent made up of 30 girls in 10 rows of three girls each. Every one on the field will be in white shorts and the school shirt which was our PE uniform and anyone representing a house will have a length of silk ribbon in the colour of the house stitched down both sides of their shorts.

The primary, kindergarten sections and any guests and parents sit together, but the secondary girls sit in their houses. This means that we would get very noisy, especially when we are cheering for our team and booing the opposition. The day’s finale was the march past and the house which scored the highest number of points aka the winner for the year had the honour of leading the march past. During my school years, it had always been the green house which led the march past with usually the red house coming second, the blue house at third position and the yellow house bringing up the rear. And usually, it would be the yellow house which would win the march past trophy. I only remember one year when I was probably in class 6, when there was a three-way tie for first position. Green, red and blue houses all tied and there was a toss to determine who would lead the march past and who would walk in second. I remember red house winning the toss and the captain of the house, who later became famous, was screaming and jumping with joy, because under her captaincy, the red house led the march past.

Our sports day would always be on a Sunday afternoon and would usually start around 2 pm and end around 6ish in the evening. We would go home tired but happy that day, especially since the next day used to be school holiday to help us (and more likely the teachers) recuperate from a hectic day.

This blog post was a blast to write as memories all kept flooding in and I wrote this post with a huge smile on my face. For most of us, our school days are the golden days which we remember fondly, with all the bad parts edited out. Maybe it’s our way of keeping our innocent and young years in our heart?

My Singapore Journey

Yesterday was Singapore’s 55th National Day and as I reminisced about my twenty odd years here, I thought back on my journey in Singapore.

I have written about my journey to become a Singaporean last year, but this post will be slightly different. 2020 is my twentieth year in Singapore and as I have mentioned previously, I could have become a Singaporean about two to three years after I got my Permanent Residency given that S is native Singaporean and BB & GG were already born who are also citizens by birth. But I wanted to make sure I was taking the right decision. When I first came to Singapore, I was quite happy with my permanent residency status and had no intention at that point to renounce my Indian citizenship. I was very proud to have been born in India, especially Mumbai (and till today, I proudly call Bombay my hometown) and since I was actually getting some of the benefits which I would have not gotten if BB & GG were not Singaporeans, there was no real hurry for me to take the next step.

As I grew used to staying in Singapore, it slowly started becoming home to me. In fact I remember a conversation with the officer at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority when I went to get my passport stamped with my re-entry permit who was doing the stamping. She asked me why I didn’t apply for citizenship since I am married to a Singaporean and my children are also locals. I should have no problems with my application according to her. I responded saying I didn’t feel Singaporean yet and so will wait before I take such a decision. That feeling came about fifteen years into living in Singapore. I can still remember when I finally acknowledged to myself it was time to become a Singaporean not just in spirit, but officially too. I was returning back from a business trip and when the plane landed in Changi airport, the pilot (or co-pilot) said the usual welcome dialogue which SIA usually has which has something to the effect of “Welcome to Singapore and for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, welcome home”, I realised that Singapore was indeed home for me. I also completed a new rite of passage as a Singaporean recently when I voted in the recent general elections which happened last month.

When the sight of Changi airport’s control towers says you are now home, when Singlish seems as normal as Hindi and Marathi, when Majulah Singapura means as much to you as Jana Gana Mana, it means that Singapore has become home to me now. Even though it took me about fifteen years to come to this realisation, I decided that was the time to take things to the next level and make Singapore officially my home. BB & GG were, I think, the most excited when I took this decision. I have not travelled much, especially regionally after getting my red passport, but I look forward to exploring more countries in the region. I can remember trips to Thailand and Cambodia where I had to rush to get my visa on arrival stamped in my passport while S and the children either waited for me or went ahead to collect the baggage because they had Singapore passports which ensured that they just walk out. Or even work trips where I had to get visas every single time and my colleagues usually had to wait for me before we went to collect our baggage. Pre COVID, we used to drive down to Malaysia, specifically Johor Bahru quite often to buy groceries and shop and crossing the causeway without needing a visa was so convienient.

Happy birthday Singapore! Prosper and flourish for years to come…

What’s a National Day, without a National Day song? I’ve shared my favourite NDP song, Home by Kit Chan last year, so here’s this year’s song sung by Nathan Hartano.

This is Home, Truly

I am not sure if I have ever shared this, but I finally bit the bullet and became naturalised as a Singapore Citizen a couple of years back. Since today is Singapore’s 54th National Day, here’s my story.

I became a citizen after having lived here for more than 15 years and it was a decision that I didn’t take lightly. Of course, having the strong red passport which means easy travel was a big draw, but if that was the only consideration, I could have done as soon as I completed my two years as a permanent resident. Given that S is a natural citizen, and having children who are also citizens by birth, my application could not really be rejected unless it raises some serious red flags. But I waited and when the time was right, I decided to take the plunge.

There are many blogs which have the whole process documented, so I won’t document the process, but I would like to say that it really takes time. It took me six months after applying online to get a slot to meet an officer who would check my documentation, including my educational transcripts, marriage certificate and my children’s birth certificates and passports. Then, after a waiting another six months, I got the letter confirming that my application was accepted. I had to go through a three process orientation which included an online quiz, a visit to some Singapore places of interest and lastly a session at my nearest community centre.

I chose the National Museum plus the NeWater Plant for my visit. Here, I realised that for many people, this citizenship is just a means to an end. At the museum, after going through with the guide provided, we were grouped into groups according to age. I was in the second oldest age group and within our group, we were asked to finish a questionnaire which had questions about the history of Singapore, the answers to which were found in the museum. I knew the answers to almost all the questions, but when I started consulting the others in my group, I was met with shrugs. They indicated to me to answer as I see fit as they were not interested. Out of around 4-5 people in the group (excluding me), almost everyone was from a particular ethinicity and from a single country. I don’t want to take names, but most minorities in Singapore would instantly know which ethinicity and country I am referring to. I was really saddened by this as it didn’t seem to me that they are becoming Singaporean because they believe in this country, but because they just want to live in a better country and have a passport which takes them places. No emotion is involved in this decision of theirs at all. Of course this is true for people across the spectrum of ethnicities and old nationalities (including India), but at least those people can converse in English!

Anyway, back to my motivation to get naturalised. I used to tell anyone who asked when I planned on becoming a citizen (including once an immigration officer when I went to get my permanent residency extended) I used to tell it will probably happen when I stayed longer in Singapore than in India. I had been mulling over this for a few years prior to actually clicking on the application form and for me it when I realised that Singapore is now home for me! When the sight of Changi airport’s iconic tower brings relief that I am now home and most important for me is when I no longer have the deep sadness I used to have when the flight takes off in the initial days of shuttling between Mumbai and Singapore, I knew that my definition of home had changed from Mumbai to Singapore and that was when I decided that to formalise what I felt internally. I had already felt Singaporean and even spoke with the lilt associated with the local lingo and could spew Singlish like a local, so it was just natural that I also decided to call myself a Singaporean officially.

After my orientation, I had to renounce my Indian citizenship for which all I needed to do was submit a form to the Indian High Commission and then a week or so later go down and get the letter of renunciation and my old, now invalid passport. I then booked an appointment with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to go and formalise the process and officially become a citizen. This meant going down there and after documents were checked and after fingerprinting for the identity card is done and S signs some documents as my sponsor saying he is doing this of his own free will and not being forced, I had to take my oath of citizenship in front of a Justice of Peace. Then I got a temporary identity card and also dropped off my passport application at the same time. After around 3 months, I got a letter asking me to head down to a community centre in my constituency whose turn it was to host the citizenship ceremony where I got my citizenship certificate and pink identity card.

That was my journey in becoming a Singaporean! I think BB & GG were the most thrilled as now all of us have the same passport. I just think it was the right time to do, since I already feel Singaporean, so it’s nice to have my identity validated in the form of my pink IC and red passport! I also have the Overseas Indian Card which allows me visa-free entry to India for a lifetime (or until the policy changes) so I can travel to India on the drop of a hat!

Happy 54th birthday Singapore! May you prosper and flourish for centuries to come!

To end this post, here’s one of my favourite national day songs and the one which inspired the title of this post and one I actually used as a reference when I applied to become a Singaporean.

Goodbye and Hello

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No, I am not leaving WP yet! Goodbye 2018 and hello 2019

It’s a bit later than I would have liked, but no time like the present to do this post. I for one believe that at least for the first two weeks of January, you are still finetuning what you want to do in the new year and so on that note, I am not late at all!

I ended 2018 the same way as I started it, with hope that the coming year will be better for all of us. 2018 was not a very good year for us, what with the children not really doing well in Sec 3 (which is considered a harder year than Sec 4) nor with me continuing being mostly a SAHM. I did get some relief in the form of some freelance work which I have been doing for the past few months, so I am grateful for the that.

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2019 is a crucial year for us as both GG & BB will be sitting for their O level exams at the end of the year. This will then mark the end of their school years and once the results are out, will start their tertiary studies. What that will be, I don’t know at this point. They both have ideas, but these will be translated into reality only when the results come out. So my nagging mode is super on these days, so much so that BB just sighs in frustration all the time. But it is for his own good and he knows that, so he just grins and bears it!

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This year, I decided not to make any resolutions which I will inevitably break a month or so later. Instead, I decided to use a couple of words to guide me this year and not stress out when I slip up. My words this year will be ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Productivity’. These words will guide me to lead a more simple but productive life this year. The words will also help adjust my goals and resolutions as the year goes by.

I also decided that I will try and change habits instead of trying to fulfil resolutions. I am currently trying to track 10 habits across different areas in my life. I hope I can do them every single day, but if I slip up some days, I am still ok with it. I will come back at the end of the year or the beginning of 2020 to say how I fared with changing habits.

So that’s my plan of action for 2019. I am hoping for a more simple, minimalistic and productive year for me and you!

What have you thought about and planned for 2019? I would love to hear from you!

Train Journeys

indian-railways-2_660_090318041827I’ve always loved travelling by train. I love the feel of the wind against my face and seeing the landscape rush past me!

My first memory of travelling by train is to Delhi. I must have been around 3-4 years old and I remember travelling in a kind of a coupe for that journey. We were four of us then (my parents, my sister and me) and it was this closed kind of a room that we were in. That’s all I remember of this journey.

The next journey I really remember was when I was around 6 years old on a trip down south. We were supposed to go first to Mysore (as it was then known), then a trip to Bangalore and then finally Chennai to attend a family wedding. Those days, there was no direct train from Mumbai to Bangalore and Mysore and so we took probably a Chennai train and got down in a station in Andhra Pradesh called Guntakal and then changed from the broad gauge line to a narrow gauge line which took us to Bangalore. Then another change of train, most likely a commuter train from Bangalore to Mysore. The trip must have taken around 30-32 hours from Mumbai to Mysore with two transits. Then we came back to Bangalore and then took the Brindavan Express which used to be a double-decker train those days to Chennai. I remember standing on my seat trying to look out of the window since we were seated on the lower level and the windows were higher up.

280920132461Around the time I turned 9/10 years old, my paternal grandparents moved to Bangalore for their retirement years and we started travelling there every year on a train that was introduced then: Udyan Express. The first few years, the train left Mumbai around 8 pm and reached Bangalore 24 hours later with the return journey leaving Bangalore at 8 am in the morning and reaching Mumbai at 8 am the next day. After that, they switched the train timings with the train leaving Mumbai in the morning and leaving Bangalore in the evening.

Those were the days before the internet and smartphones were probably just a far-fetched idea in someone’s head. What we had for entertainment was the company of our co-passengers. We spoke and became friends with the eight people in the same bay, shared food and sometimes found common acquaintances and even relatives. Some of these friendships went on to become deeper and stood the test of time, while others were as transient as the train journey. We also couldn’t track the train in real time and relied on our own memory and the ever-present railway timetable to figure out if our train was late or not (more often late than not as it turned out). Frequent passengers knew which station the train would or rather should reach for meal times and what is special about that station. I remember drinking and eating special food at various stations on the way to Bangalore and the frequent cries of the tea vendors during the run at night.

But a train journey was not always nice and rosy. You also had instances of passengers molesting young and vulnerable female passengers, especially at night and of frequent cases of luggage being stolen, especially in the middle of the night. We were also exhorted not to eat or drink anything that a stranger gave you since it could be laced with sedatives and they would then strip you of your belongings when you fell unconscious.

Then when Bangalore was sighted and Bangalore East station was near, it used to be a big rush to gather all our belongings and as soon as the train left Bangalore East station to go and station ourselves near the door. We used to get down at Bangalore Cantt station and it used to be a big rush because the train stopped there just for 3-5 minutes. As soon as the train stopped, we would see our grandparents waiting for us. Then quickly get down and get home for a month-long holiday!

I really enjoyed writing this post and it brought back so many memories of our summer holiday trips to Bangalore. This post was actually triggered when I tried using google maps to chart out the Bombay-Bangalore route and couldn’t find the train and the various stations we used to be so familiar with. I haven’t taken a train ride in a very long time and I am sure any experience today will be significantly different from what I used to experience and have written above. I do hope that one day soon when holidays are no longer rushed, I can once again take the train and relive my childhood and teen years.