School Stories: Memories and an Alternate Reality


As you now I studied in JB Vachha High School. What you don’t know was that my paternal grandparents were strictly against me and then my sister attending this school. They wanted me to attend the nearby South Indian school which was my father, his siblings and all his cousins alma mater. But my mother stood strong and in the face of intense opposition, went ahead and got me enrolled into my school. Amma, my mother, used to see my neighbours and other girls in our neighbourhood wear the blue and white uniform on their way to school and insisted her daughters also should be in the same school.

The biggest objection my grandparents had was that my father’s alma mater offered Tamil as the mother tongue language and this was not offered in my school, which offered French as the second language. They worried, and probably rightly, that if we didn’t learn the language of our ancestors, we would no longer be good Tamil girls. But amma had her way and we started school in the school of her choice.

The other day, I was thinking what if amma did not get her way and me and my sister ended up in the school of my grandparents choice? Actually I don’t have to look too far to see this, as I did have friends in the building and in the neighbourhood who did go to the school. I would say, we would be fluent in Tamil, which today, we can only speak, but can’t read or write. And this in turn, would have made me get BB & GG to take Tamil as their mother tongue language instead of Hindi which they took.

It’s quite likely that we would be slightly more conservative and not have too many friends from other community groups. In our school, we developed a more liberal mindset and because our classmates came from not only different strata of society, but also from different communities, we learnt to be able to have a live and let live attitude.

And the most important thing, according to me is our school is a girls school while the other school is a co-ed school. And if I think back, with the exception of our physical education teacher, a music teacher and some peons in the school, all our teachers and staff were women. This means that while in school, we had no filter! We spoke what we wanted, especially when teachers were not around and because there were no boys, we spoke about things that may have been either taboo or spoken in a hush-hush way in a co-ed school. Remember, this was the eighties India where the country was still in the throes of socialism and liberalisation was still at least four-five years away. The con, atleast for me was that I was unconfortable with boys, until I entered graduate school because my degree programme also had a higer percentage of girls compared to boys and so I barely interacted with them. Being in a single sex school does allow the school to tailor the teaching style according to the students and my school also offered a whole suite of extra curricular activities which in that day and age, hardly any school offered. Of course, the bulk of these extra curricular activities were geared towards making us good moms and housewives, but still in that India, when we used to speak with our friends and family from other schools, they barely had anything more than a library and physical education period. We used to have music, dance, cookery, laundry, stiching, embroidery, girl guides, social service and typing. I am probably missing some, but in hindsight, all these are things that probably would have made more sense half a century back.

If my amma had not had her way, I would not be the person I am today and because we spent a good portion of our early lives in school, we spent 12 to 13 years in the same school, the school and its ethos and philosophy have moulded us. For this I am so very thankful that amma took a stand and ensured she gave us the opportunities going to this school offered us.

So how did your school mould you? I would love to hear in the comments below.

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?

School Stories: Sports Day

One more story from my school days. Last week I was speaking with GG and BB and we started talking about sports days in school. BB’s school usually alternates between sports day and cross country running every other year and so I shared some stories about sports days in my school.

In my school, sports day usually happened in the second term, which would be after the winter holidays (you could not schedule anything before that because of the Mumbai monsoon) so it would be sometime in December/January.

Our primary school races are the standard ones and happen without much fanfare. It’s the Secondary school that has all the fun in my opinion. I’ve mentioned before how our houses are allocated and during the main sports day, one half of the stadium is split into four parts – each section for a house. So we generally sit in our house section and not with friends, because that day it’s house loyalty before family and friends.

The sports day would usually be on a Sunday and would start around noon. Once we reached secondary school, we would go on our own and my parents would come by later to pick us up. It’s usually a festive air there with hundreds of school girls screaming and shouting.

There’s fierce competition to see which house comes first and a blackboard in the centre of the field will usually have the current point tally going on. The prize for the best house, in addition to the champions trophy is the honour to lead the march past at the end of the sports day and this would be fought relentlessly.

The house I was allocated to, Shenaz or the Green House used to always win the championship and we used to lead the March past each year. I can only remember one year we did not. I must have been in grade 5 then and was the first time in the Secondary bleacher when this happened. What happened was unprecedented in the history of the school. Three houses were joint first and since three houses can’t march together, they had to toss and Godafried or the Red House won the toss! I can still see the red house captain coming excitedly to the stands to the house teacher and shouting that they were going to lead the march past while our captain walked by crying. We were second in the march past that year.

In the last few years in school, I used to get pulled into the march past contingent. We used to march wrongly while practicing thinking we will be kicked out, but no such luck for us! Being in the march past meant that we had to wait all the way till the sports day ended and could not sneak out earlier.

But it also meant a month or so of missing the last few periods in school going for march past practise in the garden behind the school. As I type this, I can hear the commands in head and the one arm length we had to stand behind each other. We used to wear a strip of ribbon in the house colour on the sides of our white shorts (we were one of those rare schools at that time who had to wear white shorts for PE and sports) and a cap in the house colour.

I just checked my school website and Shernaz is still continuing to rule, they are still overall champions, though some of the uniforms we used to play in has changed over the years. The march past is no longer in shorts, but in black long pants and they wear a house tee shirt over it, while we used to wear our school uniform shirt. The cap still remains and the school head girls and captains and vice captains all wear black long pants and a blazer (with the captains and vice captains also wearing the house cap). During the the I was in school, they all used to only wear their usual school uniform. And we also have a school band now! That looks so much fun, wish that was there when we were studying too.

The march past would be like in major sporting events. The head would be the school head girl carrying the school flag with her deputies behind her followed by the junior head girl and her deputies. Then we would have the first contingent which would have one girl (usually a small grade 5 girl) carrying the house name, followed by the house captain with the house flag and her deputies behind her. Behind them would be 30 girls marching in three columns. This would be followed by the house which came second and then the third house and the last house bringing up the rear. We would make one circuit of the stadium and the guest of honour would get the salute after which would be the prize distribution ceremony including that for the best march past contingent (which I can’t remember us ever winning). We would go home late evening, tired but happy with the day. The next day would be a holiday from school which was very warmly welcomed by all.

As with other school memories, this post brought many smiles to me as I went back decades to relive my school days. For more stories about my school, click here and here

Yearning for school – Part 2

The other day, GG and I were checking out various junior colleges where she may be interested and we came across the house system there. She was very happy on seeing this since secondary schools here have now abolished the house system and it’s more interclass competitions.

So I started talking to her about the houses in my school and that talk is the root behind today’s post. I have written previously about my alma mater and thought this is a good time to share more about my school.

In the secondary section, we were all divided into four houses. Our house names were very unique in that unlike the traditional house names which consisted of Indian freedom fighters or names of flowers or something else, our house names consisted of names of ancient Persian princesses. I am not sure if I have mentioned it before, but my school is a Parsi school and was quite steeped into the Parsi culture. We used to be quite proud of our houses and were extremely competitive about it. This used to peak during sports day, more about it later.

As mentioned, our houses were named after ancient Persian princesses – green house is named Shernaaz, blue house is Purandokth, red house is Godarfried and yellow house is Faranakh

We were also very democratic in nature, with the entire secondary school voting democratically (just like in an election) to get our Head Girls, Junior Head Girls, House Captains and Vice Captains. If I remember correctly, grade five was not allowed to vote for the head girl, but when I was in grade five, we were allowed to vote for our house captains. For the head girls, the finalists had to give speeches in the school hall to the entire secondary school and also campaign with posters across the secondary school. On the voting day, we all queued up, according to class and cast our votes with one ballot for the head girl and one for the junior head girl. The votes use to be counted in the presence of the principal and winner in each category would be declared as winners. The two runner-ups would then be selected as the assistant head girls in their category.

For house captains, the process was slightly more casual. One day at the beginning of the year, each house would assemble in a pre-determined spot and teachers would start asking for students to either nominate their choices or ask students to self nominate themselves. Once they got a pre-determined number of students in each category – Captain and Vice Captain, they would hold elections.

The elections would be by show of hands and when the teacher who heads the house announces the name of each person, we would raise our hands and a head count taken. Then the winners announced and cheers and commiserations. It used to be a very fun atmosphere, especially since the periods after lunch would become free due to elections. When I was in grade five, I remember one of my classmates had a sister in grade nine and the class was just next to ours. So that class came to our class and literally brainwash us to vote for students in their class for Vice Captain and this trick worked! A few years later, teachers got wind of what the seniors were up to and stopped grade five students from voting. You only voted when you were in grade six and had some idea of the house system and the prominent girls there who may become house leaders.

Our rivalry and competitiveness really came to fore during our sports day. This would usually be held on a Sunday at a sports ground not too far from our school. While the primary and kindergarten students could sit with their parents in another section, secondary students had to sit according to their houses. So when the events started, everyone in the houses section would start cheering and booing. Points from each event would be added up and the house that scored the most points (from events on the sports day plus tournaments of indoor sports like chess, carrom, badminton etc. which would have already been calculated) would have the chance to lead the march past. In my years in school (including in primary school), my house did not lead the march past on only one occasion! And that was because that year something very unprecedented happened. Three houses had the exact same points and they had to toss to see which house would lead the march past and who would follow. Red house won the toss that year and my house, which was the green house was second! We were so disappointed that year. We would also practice for the march past for a couple of months before the sports day and this meant all those of us who were in the march past contingent (around 30 girls from grade five to grade ten) would practise after lunch and miss lessons which were also a bonus to us!

It was really fun writing this post and looking back in time when the most important thing was thinking about school and friends. I wish I could go back to those innocent times.

What are your favourite memories of school?

Yearning for school – Part 1

When I wrote about my school going life earlier this week, it made me nostalgic about my school. So this post is dedicated to my alma mater – J.B. Vachha High School. JBV is it was (and is still) called is the short form for the loong formal name of the school. The name which used to be printed on all our school note books for the 12 years that I spent there reads like this – J.B. Vachha High School for Parsi Girls & The Cawasji Jehangir Primary and Infant School. I can’t find the school website so there’s no link to the school, although I did remember checking it out a few years back!

The school badge

I studied in the same school right from Junior KG (or Kindergarten 1) till I completed my Secondary School Certificate or SSC exams. Most of the teachers who taught me, saw me grow from a naughty 4 year old to a mature 15 year old young lady. The school was a purely girls school and except for our Games master and Indian music teachers, all the teachers were also female. While I was growing up, this was the most popular school for girls around the area I lived in (this would mean the Dadar, Wadala, Matunga, Sion areas, but we did get students from other places like Chembur, Parel also). I also remember seeing huge queues of people waiting to get the admission forms for their daughters and this was at a time when school admission was not as difficult as it is today. My mother used to see the queues and say that they didn’t really have to queue up so much – they just went to the school in the morning, got the form and I was called for an interview, which I did well and just like that I was in! In fact my grand parents were against my joining JBV as they wanted me to go to the same school as my dad – this school was literally a hop, skip and jump away from home and more inportantly for them, was a south Indian school and hence to their eyes, had all the right values and attributes. But I am so glad that my parents, and especially my mom stood her ground and put me and later my sis in this school.

What we called the 'New Building'.

Those days, when it was just education all the time, this was one of the very few schools which had a big emphasis on extra curricular activities. From the time we were in third standard till we graduated these were the extra activities we did – embroidery, needlework, library, Indian music/Western music/Dancing (you had to choose one), cookery, gardening, laundry, girl guides/social service. We also did typing and economics as special subjects in the IX and X grades. We also had one period of drill or PE every week and from the VII grade till the X grade, we had to stay back after school once a week for around 90 minutes of games.

Since this is proving to be a loong post, I’ll stop here for Part 1 and do Part 2 another time.