First Day in School

April 24, 2010

The first teacher I remember was my Grandfather. I was initiated into memorising Bagwadgeeta at a very tender age. Whenever he was in town, I was required to sit in Grandpa’s bed at dawn, and repeat the lines he recited. If he felt I have memorised a page/chapter well, he would recite half the Shlok, and I had to complete the balance. Other days, he would recite the alternate lines, and I was required to fill in. It was fun and never taxing.

Afterwards, I had a privilege of having a private teacher at the age of 3 to initiate me into elementary reading and writing. This was the custom in most households those days – the British traditions were still intact.

The teacher’s name was Rajabhau Keskar. I do not remember what he taught me, but remember him as a person instead. He was very soft, never scolded, always wore pyjamas and full sleeved shirt (Light Green and Blue were his favourite colours), sleeveless sweater and sometimes a stumpy beard. I had a separate room for tuition and nobody disturbed us for those 3 hour sessions. He must have been a good teacher. Otherwise Rajabhau would not have tolerated me for 3 hours every single day. I do not think he charged any fees for keeping me occupied – at least I did not witness any exchange of fees, neither was it spoken about any time in my ear’s distance.

After I was with him for 6 months or so, while we were deep in to the studies (!) one day, my Grandfather knocked the door, opened it a little and enquired in mime. Rajabhau gestured “Yes” without uttering any word. Grandpa closed the door and left.

I was curious. What is this going on? Rajabhau said – “You have grown up now. I shall not be coming to teach you henceforth. Instead, you will be coming to school. Starting tomorrow”. Rajabhau used to teach in the same elementary school where I was to join.

I did not know what was so special that had I done. I learned later that I had cleared the test for Class 2, conducted by Rajabhau at home, without me knowing. I was supposed to join Class 3 straight, which was then called Double Promotion. A few relatives and neighbours arrived that evening to congratulate my grandpa and Grandma about my terrific accomplishment.

I had a chequered cloth carry-bag, which was very dear to me. It held all my playthings and marbles. Whenever possible, I used to carry this bag, although it was shabby and torn at places, and actually dropped many things than carry. Although she earlier vehemently refuted my idea of carrying this famous bag to school everyday, Aunty finally relented. Evening that day,  in between their cooking tasks, Grandma and Aunt emptied and basted the bag and stuffed then with tomorrow’s sundries,  saying, “This is how you will pack every day. You are a big man now. Be orderly in school”.

The school timing was 0730 Hrs. But I was bathed, clothed in ceremonial clothes and fed in earnest, ready to depart, at around 0630.

Grandpa was a lawyer and he used to have mock sessions for his clients and witnesses for the day until 0930. He used to go to the court at around 1030 in a Rickshaw. Grandma had reminded him at least twenty times yesterday that it was his responsibility to take me to school on the first day.

When he was not ready until 1000, Grandma sent me –a hundredth time since morning – to remind him of the most important task of the day. He then quickly dispersed all his clients and said smiling, “I totally forgot about it. I have no cases today. Are you ready to wait until I take bath and food? Or should we go immediately?”

He had never asked me to decide on my own before this day. I must have taken a lot of time in deciding, because he got up and said, “I must freshen up and eat. Come; join me for food in 10 minutes.”

But 10 minutes became one hour, and food took another hour. In between, Satish uncle arrived to check on my progress, and I doubt had a good look at my school-bag. Grandpa told him that he has to fetch me from school today when it was over. He agreed readily, saying to me, “So, grown up or not?”

Grandpa’s Rickshaw had already arrived at 1000, its usual time, and Babu, our rikshaw-wala was waiting patiently.  He was thrilled to see me with my cloth bag and two size better clothes.

“Are, how grown up you look in these clothes!  And Bag? Are you also coming to court with us?”

“No, Babu. School instead. And I am NOT grown up.” I said.

I was supposed to be in a Marathi medium school. The Urdu school was next to it in a separate building. Both were government schools.

We went to school and Grandpa (and I) was well received by the Head Master in person. He was carrying his famous rule- a wooden, two inch diameter cylinder. This teacher, as I would learn later by actual experience, had “Rule by Ruler” motto. Next instance, he grabbed me by my shirt collar and requested Grandpa to go, assuring him not to worry. He dumped me in a class nearest to us and fortunately vanished. There was no sign of a teacher nearby and this classroom was utter chaos. While I was appreciating the dated ambience, the war-cries, the tiled roof and the sun filtering through, Rajabhau came running from somewhere.

“Who let you stand here? This is Class One.” As if it was my doing!

Again I was collared, this time by Rajabhau, my good teacher. I was carried like a floating Hanuman hanging by neck to nearby Urdu school. Here? Where I was not able to comprehend a word of what was coming out from the classrooms? Where teachers were wearing Turki topi’s and some had beards? One of the teachers peeped out and asked – New kid? Rajabhau answered in affirmative.

Our flight landed in a very very small class room. Half of the students were reciting tables in Urdu, half in Marathi. I was given a front seat on a carpet, much to the annoyance of those already there, and was asked to “Just Sit”.

Rajabhau departed, and the Urdu School Head Master materialised.

“What is your name? and what is the cast?”

I told him the name. He appeared to be pacified, and asked me to join the pupils in reciting Marathi tables. I barely tried since by this time, I  had discovered that my dear cloth bag had gone missing. I did not remember whether I forgot it at home, in Rikshaw or in Marathi school.

Should I start a ruckus? My dilemma continued for barely a few minutes when Satish Uncle came to my rescue. He called me from the window and with a broad smile enquired the teacher if the school was over. I said I have just now arrived. But the teacher took me by arm and hauled me through the window in to uncle’s arms, saying,

“Enough for the day. Take him home. Bring him back next Monday to this same class room, if he is all right”.

Although I urged Satish Uncle to help me find my Bag, it fell on deaf years. Later, enjoying my freedom and fresh air, bobbing up and down on uncle’s shoulders, I became slowly but acutely aware of how bad it can be to be grown up.

When I complained to Grandfather, suddenly everybody in the household started a big show of searching my bag. They accused each other, Babu, Rajabhau, the headmaster and everybody in town and kept laughing, I did not know for what reason. But they did not accuse me for the lost bag, which was strange.

Before Monday, I got a new canvas bag to carry my books. Grandpa even had a word of praise about my bravery on the first day in school.

However, I missed my favourite cloth bag very much. It was never found.


From Left : Jayant Dada, Rajeev (Author, Age 3) and Satish Kaka.

Date : 22-03-1953 , About that time.

About that time - Date 22-03-1953


7 Responses to “First Day in School”

  1. You have exceptional memory of your early childhood events! The way you write those experiences makes for some great reading. Also the way you’ve intricately linked the story of the cloth bag in the bigger scheme of things is nice.

    I liked the “I was carried like a floating Hanuman hanging by neck” analogy 🙂

  2. Rishikesh Says:

    Excellent.. Can’t wait for the next bit..


  3. Nice picture 🙂 I don’t know how you feel about it.. but for me old photographs and the memories pouring out of them are worth their weight in Gold!

    The gentle crease running across the picture too says a lot about its age. Have you scanned all your (and families) old pictures? I’ve tried scanning a few of my old school pics.. I guess the digital form is inherently volatile but still better for retention.

    I remember seeing a few pictures on Facebook where you were tagged.. in a ‘bearded’ avatar.. and you looked so different from the time I saw you when I had come to meet Ranjeet before he left for Sydney last time around!

    • rajeevelkunchwar Says:

      Now you know why I needed BarBar visits.
      We are trying to preserve these photos.
      Some are now on fb under uttara.

  4. Ranjeet Elkunchwar Says:

    @ Pa,
    I was wondering about that too. Your exceptional and vivid memory. But yeah, can understand how the aunts would have reiterated it. Great that you still remember it. I have a faint recollection of my first day. Not what actually happened, but what Ma told me happened ! And a faint one at that. All I remember her saying over and over is that when she came to pick me up, I was she asked me .. “What are you crying bala?” and I said ” I am crying as everyone was crying, I didn’t want to or anything”. LOL…classic.

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