If I sit down to make a list of things, I can attribute the origins of nearly everything I know today back to school. These days, when I am in the position of shortlisting schools for my own son, I am saddened that no school will ever be like what mine was. It was just special, and now, 20 years later, I know just how special. I haven’t experienced any other kid who was quite like the ones from MIS, neither in my own generation, nor in my son’s. There was just something – a different energy, a way they talked, a way they carried themselves – that my mother actually saw from the MIS bus stop right in front of our house, and it made her resolve right there and then, when she saw those kids in their cool white summer uniforms, talking and laughing among themselves – that this is where my kids will go to school.
And this school was such that even while I myself was in school, I knew there would be no other school I would want my own kids in. Which other school had an actual devotional songs competition? Real meditation? Three different genres of songs sung in assembly? Recitation of pieces I haven’t heard since then in any other school?! Every school had sport, music, dance, theater other than academics – but these are only a few of the things that set my days apart in comparison with my friends from other schools, and in comparison to every other education system I have experienced since then.
This difference was in a certain touch of spirituality, a depth of knowing oneself, and recognition of our inner workings, which we may not have thought as particularly cool in ninth grade, but I didn’t have to wait 20 years to know how much these additions to the daily curriculum helped, and how they moulded me as a person.
This is what was clearly visible to my mom even though the gates of our own house – the MIS kids waiting for their bus in the morning – before we knew which school this was, where it was, what its philosophy was. These kids, they just held themselves different, clearly displaying to the world about the standards with which they were being brought up, and where.
This uniqueness is, to this day, unparalleled. Nothing will ever measure up to what I got – and because of our moving pursuits of livelihood, I am unable to give my son this unmatched experience. What I got, was lucky. Lucky that I spent nearly my entire school career here, and how it taught me things I couldn’t have learnt anywhere else.
It’s strange that I remember so much about school even now. I didn’t expect to. Who does? It has been a cool 20 years. But I do, and I suppose it is because of the sheer character of these encounters that they are still so clear in my head. I remember my first day in school, in grade 3, tiny and terrified, and how skillfully my class teacher got me comfortable and settled, that I could easily think of her as a mother figure.
I remember my music teacher and the bond of art I had with her, and her recognition of my capability, but pushing my boundaries that I was able to sing things far beyond my age in grade 5.
I remember grade 11 teachers being genuine confidants, because of the transition that kids go through at that age.
Most of all, starkly and deeply, I remember my Hindi teachers through the years and how they taught what they taught, and I don’t mean just the language. This was taught with a kind of love that I just don’t see anymore in current teaching.
I see kids struggling with Hindi, not able to form simple sentences, not able to pronounce words with their accented English, and I am sad to count my son amongst them. Now that this generation is increasingly from even more multilingual homes, Hindi has become tougher to use in regular conversation, is just not taken seriously enough, whether in academics or reading for pleasure, and is getting downgraded to those subjects which “who cares, this isn’t going to get you a job or help when you are abroad”.
My husband and I struggle, because of our unrooted existence, career-based moving around, not able to pass on our traditions as well as we would want to – that Hindi now represents where we come from, and we want our son to know where he came from, too.
Unfortunately, my son’s Hindi will never be as good as mine. and mine was good for a reason. My teachers – from grade 3 through 10.
English was a mandate – we obviously had to study English or why were we even attending a prestigious private school? Sanskrit was taught for scoring. Students opted for Sanskrit against Hindi, not for the love of the language, but that Sanskrit was a more objective, grammar-based subject and hence would score them more in exams. I, however, was doing consistently well in Hindi, I loved the language, I would devour my course books for the entire year just for the stories, so I didn’t see any merit in opting for Sanskrit. Scoring or not, I had no patience for pursuing something that didn’t give me joy.
My then Hindi teacher, who was going to take Hindi for my upcoming 9th grade – her face, her pride, and her gentle encouragement etched in my brain to this day – asked me what I had opted for, expecting the answer to be ‘Sanskrit’. I gave off that nerdy vibe – like those kids with reasonably good grades, who worry about marks, are generally conscientious about homework, assignments and the like – and expected to pick the subject that was an obvious choice if you wanted to pull your averages up. Hindi was too vague, subjective, vast – without specific rubrics for scoring, every answer would vary from student to student, teacher to teacher – just not a very smart choice for the boards!
I said Hindi, and she was delighted. “We need students like you in the class”, she said. “Those who pick it because they love it, are interested in it, they are the only ones who will take something back with them from this class long term. I am so glad you will be in the class!”
She was right. This is what she taught me, and school taught me, and I took it away long term. Not just the concepts and topics of subjects, but how to love those subjects enough to reach depths that would lead to real understanding, not to remember lines till exams. Not just to learn, but to love learning itself, to find joy and engagement in learning, not know it as a chore or burden. To pursue something not because it would earn me the most marks or the most money, but because I loved it and found solace in it and hence success. School taught me so many things, but most importantly (and not being all scholarly and impressively complicated here), it taught me to reach deep within myself, read myself and understand who I am, what I stand for. That turned out to be the highest scoring subject I ever read.