Between my little-known village school and IIT Kharagpur, there was a stopover of five years that I must speak about. I got a scholarship from the Orissa State Government to study in Rajkumar College ( RKC), Raipur , then in Madhya Pradesh. As the name suggests, RKC was established during the British time primarily for the sons of rajas. I had the choice of joining schools like Doon, Scindia and Hyderabad Public School, etc., but my father chose RKC as it had Oriya as a subject under Modern Indian Languages. This was so because RKC was set up by the kings of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh mostly.
Coming back to the school itself it gave me cultural, physical…in fact shocks of all kind imaginable. It had classes from standard 1 to standard 11 ( I.S.C. syllabus) with about 20 students in each class. To cater to this small student population the school had a sprawling campus of 140 acres. The main building was a brick coloured one with a majestic clock tower. There was a lily pond with a flower bed around it in front of the building.
We had the routine for the day fixed. Get up at 6.30, get into your white shorts and vest and get ready for PT. Before that a cup of tea two biscuits. The smell of those ginger biscuits baked in our own bakery still wafts in my mind. After PT, bathe and get into school uniform for classes. There was the assembly around 11 am, where we sang Saare Jahan Se Accha and the principal read out his message for the day (Like “Where the mind is without fear”.)
After classes around 1 there was lunch. Time for a short nap and then get into your sports uniform. After an hour or so of self-study it was time for games. The school had facilities for virtually every sport – football, hockey, cricket, basketball, badminton, tennis, billiards, even baseball, cycle polo (replacement for horse polo of olden times) and rifle shooting. There was of course an international quality swimming pool. There was a weekly timetable allocating different sports for different days.
After the games we bathed again and got into white pyjama-kurta. Time to visit the temple ( You could avoid this against your parent’s letter.) At the temple, Shastriji, the Sanskrit teacher took over the proceedings, selecting the bhajan we had to sing that day from a printed book of bhajans. On special days like Holi, he would give a short discourse on the significance of the festival and narrate the story associated with the festival. On Saraswati Puja / Vasant Panchami we all had our white kurta-dhoti dyed orange. The dorm servants helped us tie the dhoti. (They also polished our shoes, whitened our canvas shoes and Brassoed our NCC belt buckles. )
After the temple visit, those with any complaints could visit the dispensary. Mostly it was tincture iodin for wounds acquired during the games, or some purple mixture for cold and cough. Of course there was a six-bedded hospital where I spent 3 weeks during my chicken pox bout.
There was self-study again for one hour and then dinner. The Dinner on Wednesday was special…because it was Western dinner, one of the tastiest fare I have ever tasted. There was soup, pie, cutlets and bread. It was also the day of the Binaca Geet Mala, so we tried to finish off the dinner quickly so we could go for a walk listening to the songs.
Some of the events were really special, like the old boys meet. All the erstwhile kings would come in their Rolls Royce and Chevrolet with their state flags fluttering proudly (The Privy Purse and other royal privileges were not abolished yet. It happened sometimes during our school years and was the topic for debate in our debating society.)
Then there was the Raja of Kanker, a small state in what is Chhatisgarh now, who was a teacher in our school. Every year he would invite the students of Class XI for a cricket match with the state team. Before the match day we all went hunting with the Raja’s brother who was a good shot. He managed to shoot a peacock which was cooked for dinner.
To make people from different income groups comfortable everyone was allowed to have pocket money of ten rupees per month, for which we were issued a cheque book. On Sunday we visited the Tuck Shop where we wrote out cheques to buy cadburys, Coca Cola, Fanta or chewing gum. The chewing gum was bought for collecting stamps of our favourite cricketing heroes. Saturday evenings they screened old , B&W Hollywood movies like Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges. Of course some evenings we were taken out to see the latest Bollywood blockbuster. These Saturday evenings we were allowed to wear our ‘private’ clothes. That is when it pinched – the income class difference. These rich boys had all fancy clothes ( Guru kurtas during the Rajesh Khanna days, drain-pipe trousers inspired by Jeetendra and so on.) while I had just one pair of trousers and a couple of shirts. It was the case with most scholarship students.
The fact is, except for the scholarship students, academics was no one’s focus. Even for these scholars the focus was not engineering or medical, but joining one of the Delhi colleges and clearing the UPSC. No wonder I had never heard of the IITs and I sat for the test only because my father had applied for it.
Ain the middle of this bleak academic scenario, there was one bright beacon, Miss Das, who taught us English. Never having married, she taught with dedication and passion. She made us love the prescribed texts – Julius Caesar, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Chips with Everything (a play by Arnold Wesker). Miss Das was also the Vice Principal and had a huge bungalow. She used to give us an essay to write and call only two students at a time to her bungalow to assess the essay. She had a scientific way of marking, 20 for substance, 20 for style, 20 for originality, 20 for language and 10 for spelling. She deducted 2 marks for each spelling mistake. I can give full credit to her for inculcating the love for English language and literature in me and my proficiency in it.
The other big learning at the school was fine arts. Apart from the five mandatory subjects, everyone had to take a sixth optional subject, choosing between Fine Arts and Music. I had my preliminary introduction to the old masters like Da Vinci here. The fine arts building had in its front a sculpture created by our arts teacher. It is supposed to depict Dronacharya and Arjun. Apparently Arjun’s pecker which was clearly visible was modelled after the pecker of one of the students who was still around. We teased him about this to no end.
Hindi films. Yes, it is impossible to imagine the hold that Hindi films have over the people in the Hindi belt without seeing it. Rajesh Khanna’s ‘Aan Milo Sajna’ released with 6 shows a day with the first show starting at 6 am! Our school was not free from this influence. The most eagerly awaited item in our cultural evenings was two boys lip-syncing and dancing to a Bollywood number ( like ‘ Kaan mein jhumka, Chaal mein thumka), of course one of the boys was dressed as a girl. Apart from Bollywood, there was the bullying and the homosexuality. Not much was made of these, being treated as coming of age.
I enjoyed the five years at Rajkumar College. But we had long holidays – two months in summer and a month in winter – and every time I went home during these holidays, it was a total shock that took me quite a few days to recover from. I did this with the help of the fattest books that I borrowed from the library and programmes on my rickety transistor, especially BBC parlour games like Twenty Questions.
But I often wonder what all this rigmarole was worth? How much complete did playing baseball and cycle polo make me? Maybe they did in some subtle, subconscious way. But what bothers me is the sense of alienation that I developed during these five years. Playacting my way through, pretending to be one of them. It really has taken a toll on me – a heavy toll.
( Note: I am there in the black and white photograph, sitting to the right of Miss Das.)