12 August 2016. Radhika and I planned to meet in the school at 3:00 p.m. The whole day was planned around this. I reached the school gate at 2:40 p.m.
I decided to wait for Radhika outside the old school office, where I met a little Baldwinian and our conversation went something like this:
Nahomi: Which class are you in?
Little Baldwinian: Fifth standard
Nahomi: Are you waiting for someone to pick you up?
Little Baldwinian: Yes
Nahomi (with the air of one about to reveal a rare secret): Forty years ago, I would sit here and wait just like you.
Nahomi: A lot has changed. This area in front used to be a garden.
Little Baldwinian: I know. My friend told me. Her mother used to wait too.
That put me in my place somewhat. I was one among thousands who had passed through this school. For many, their time here represented a glorious chapter of their lives.
I studied in Baldwin Girls from 1974 to 1978, from Standard IV to Standard VII. It was a time when I had very little control over my life. Not all of it was bad. But then not all of it was good. I did not even know that I had rights and that I could object when my rights were being impinged upon. I am referring to the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination that some of us experienced in school life, not being given equal opportunities to participate in extra curricular activities and being despised by my Hindi teachers. I am sure my Hindi was absolutely despicable, but I was only a child with no other way of learning the language except from said teachers. Then, there was the year I was a member of the Library Squad; slogging it out under the tyrannical Librarian of the Senior Library, I could easily have ended up hating libraries and books for the rest of my life. In those days, how I longingly remembered the gentle soft-spoken Librarian of the Junior Library.
Sitting outside the old office near the front gate, the scene that had looked familiar suddenly changed. Like an anthill that had been disturbed, all of a sudden, 100s of yellow buses started to leave the school, full of children. It was a sight to behold.
Although no fault of the school, school life in BGHS for me also included bus commutes to and from school. These buses were not the benign yellow school buses you see today. I am talking about overcrowded public buses, where child and school bag disappeared into the bowels of a bus filled with adults displaying many of the traits of our fallen race. Each bus journey was a struggle to breathe and live. I had to change buses in Shivajinagar too.
Although my father did not know the half of it, and although I was by and large a happy child, he sensed my unhappiness in the school and took me out of this prestigious school. The rest of my school days were spent in a smaller school, that I could bike to, where I regained my self confidence and grew, even excelling in public speaking. I felt vindicated when Mrs Gadhadhar an English teacher in Baldwins was on the panel of judges for the annual Elocution and Public Speaking competition in my next school. I tied for first prize that year and Mrs Gadhadhar approached me to congratulate me. “I have seen you somewhere; were you in Baldwins by any chance?” Her very next question was, “But why did you not participate in Elocution competitions in Baldwins?” I had no answer to that question, and I suspect she did not expect me to know the answer anyway. She was one of Baldwin’s most-loved teachers, and I’m sorry that I left school before I could be taught by her.
So do I hate Baldwins? By no means. Some teachers like Mrs Samuel, Miss Fritchley, Mrs Hunter, Mr Kirkwood, and Mr Mitchell gave me as much as some others took away. I have even written a separate post about lovely Miss Fritchley.
Moreover, school is not defined by the teachers alone. The children with whom I spent those years are a part of my past. Thanks to Facebook, some of us are connected today. Although we have all moved to various parts of the world and although our lives may not have much in common, everyone of us can recollect many a pleasant memory shared in the confines of BGHS.
One such friend is Radhika Shyam, who I remember as a kind and sweet girl who always had a welcome smile for everyone. She was someone who couldn’t care less whether her friends were wealthy or poor or what strata of society they hailed from. She loved to talk. She loved to tell stories and did so very well. One time, our school took us to see a Hindi film called Rani aur Lalpari that starred Asha Parekh. It was a wretchedly sad film, but had it not been for Radhika telling me the story before the film began, I might have spent a horrified two hours without understanding. This would have been much worse than the heart-wrenchingly sad two hours that I spent with understanding.
Radhika loves Baldwin Girls dearly and continues to serve her Alma mater by being on the school board and so on. Naturally, one of her favourite teachers is Mrs Gadhadhar the English teacher, and it is no wonder that Radhika went on to become a writer. Bangloreans have all probably read her work for she has more than 400 articles in Deccan Herald to her credit. She is also a poet. She has even written poems for children in a book called “Once Upon A Funny Time.”
After Radhika arrived, we greeted each other and it felt as if the intervening years melted away and it was the mid 1970s again. We even seemed to look like we did all those years ago.
We walked around the school. Many things were new and changed around some very old and familiar buildings. For instance, our old Standards V to VII were all Standard II now. I was dismayed to hear that they had up to Section K now. 11 sections! Surely it would be nigh impossible to hold the old-time school assemblies and House assemblies, where so much of our character building must have happened. But the city of Bangalore has grown and people must still want to admit their children in the wellknown schools. It must be a very complex problem for school managements today.
When we were in school, somehow Radhika and I had spent PT (Physical Training) periods together. We even spent Sports days together, sitting on the stone tiers watching the various sporting events taking place in the field. This, in spite of the fact that we belonged to different houses, she to Fisher and I to Benthein.
“Two four six eight / Whom do we appreciate / Ya -ay . . . , the cheer leaders must have shouted, and Radhika and I would have loyally yelled out “Fisher” and “Benthein” respectively with great gusto before continuing most comfortably with our conversation. To be fair, I don’t remember this happening exactly, but I’m pretty sure this was the way it happened; I can almost picture it. We had to sit on those same tiers and take a selfie.
We made our way around the school, reminiscing and chatting about various things, till we were back at the front gate. This was a precious meeting and well worth the effort to make it happen. I wish Radhika great success in the years ahead and true and lasting happiness.