Saturday, April 27, 2013

A New Beginning

My ICSE examinations ended on the 20th of March. It has been only over a month now, but it feels like another lifetime. 20th March was the last time that I went to the school that I had been going to under duress for the past twelve years. Unsurprisingly, there was not even a twinge of remorse in my heart. I was hugely relieved to be leaving that accursed place at last. Wild horses will not be able to drag me back there again, once I have collected my ICSE marksheet.

As soon as ICSE ended, I had to get busy with my admission in class eleven. I had applied to one renowned girls’ school in Kolkata, and their admission process began right after ICSE. During that period, we had to run back and forth between Kolkata and Durgapur half a dozen times. I had applied only to one school, and fortunately I got admitted there itself. After returning to Durgapur, mother and I packed our bags for the final time, and went away to start our new life in Kolkata on the 10th of April.

This was the first time that I was living away from home, away from daddy. So one can imagine what a hard time I had adjusting in the new environment for the first few days. But there were a lot of things that needed to be done, so I could not spend too much time being sad. We have a flat in Kolkata. It is a new flat, and had been quite bare and unfurnished. The first week or so was spent only in buying furniture and tidying up the house. Naturally, we found that we had brought more books than anything else from home!

Then we had to buy new school books and the new uniform. My new school has a very smart uniform. Side-pleated blue skirt, pink striped shirt that does not have to be tucked in, and laced black shoes with white ankle socks. I was lucky that the regulation shoes were actually of a sort that is worn by boys, because, big-foot that I am, back in my old school I always had to get those girly buckled shoes especially made for me by the shoe-makers! The new books were exciting, and also a little intimidating. There is this common belief among idiots that students of Humanities and Commerce do not have to study much. For them classes eleven and twelve are basically fun and games. I always knew this to be a myth, yet it was only when I got my own books that I realized just how big a lie that is. For someone who only wants to scratch up a pass-mark, there is not much of a load. But if someone wants to do well, studying the Arts involves putting in lots of effort and out-of-syllabus reading. My school offers a wide range of elective subjects for the plus-twos. My own electives are not strictly Humanities-based. It is in fact a cross between Humanities and Commerce. I have opted for History, Literature in English (that’s besides compulsory English), Business Studies and Economics. My third and fourth electives are mainly theory-based, so learning by heart covers most of the syllabus. But with History and Literature in English, I am increasingly finding myself looking up all sorts of reference works and background detail on the net and in books. I know I am one of only a handful of girls in class who are doing this, but I’m sure we’ll get the reward for our extra effort in the form of wider, more in-depth understanding of the subjects and better results during examinations.

My first day of school was 16th April. My mother accompanied me to school, because I didn’t know Kolkata roads, but also because she knew that I was apprehensive and nervous. Till class ten, my schooling experience had been nasty. So naturally I went to my new school expecting the worst kind of experience possible. But thankfully, I was proved completely wrong. From day one, I have been having a lively experience there. Only eight girls from other schools have been admitted in class eleven, two for Science, three for Commerce and three for Humanities. On our first day, the Head Girl and her assistant, both of whom are in class twelve, took it upon themselves to familiarize us  with our new surroundings. We were first taken to the Principal’s office where we were told our sections and our Houses. There are eight school houses named after eight flowers, and I have been put in Gulmohar House. We were then taken to our classrooms and introduced to the old girls. My class teacher, who is also our Economics teacher, warmly welcomed us to the school. Later, the entire class eleven was taken up to the MACE hall, which is an air-conditioned assembly hall, for a back-to-school talk from Mrs. Dutt, our Principal. There, the new girls were called to introduce themselves in front of  the entire class.  After that, it was a cake walk. The old girls made conscious efforts to make us feel at home. After returning to class, they asked us about our old schools and friends. They were especially curious about me, because I was not from Kolkata. In fact,  I am still answering some question or the other about Durgapur and my old school every single day!

My new school is very different from what I have seen in the last twelve years. Till now, I had known school to be a place that should be avoided as far as possible. Here, I am going to school of my own will every day. The school is a huge building, and it has five stories including the ground floor. My classroom is on the third floor. We have single chairs with one broad arm as a writing desk. Each classroom has a computer, a projector and a screen. The rooms are hot, but since we have only forty five students in class, fifteen girls less than what we had in my previous school, the heat is not unbearable. We have different classrooms for different subjects. There is no unpacking of bags; we roam about with them all day. It is more similar to college that way. The MACE classrooms on the fourth floor are air-conditioned, and we have History and Literature in English classes in them. It is a relief to enter the cool rooms, but we have to pay the price for the comfort. I am going around with a perpetually sore throat and a runny nose, thanks to the constant fluctuation of body temperature!

The school has a good library, from which we can take books of our own choice, unlike in my previous school, where just half a dozen books were given to us from which we had to take one! Another plus point is that we are allowed to use the library even during free periods, with permission from the substitute teacher. There are also endless after-school clubs and activities, ranging from social service to book- and movie appreciation to public speaking to cookery! A number of games are also played in the school, and the basketball team, the badminton team, the football team and the soccer team have won numerous prizes in and around Kolkata. I have not yet joined any such activity, but will be auditioning for the book and movie appreciation club this Monday. The school has a canteen which serves lip-smacking (though strictly vegetarian) food at surprisingly low prices. In fact, these days I have almost stopped taking my lunch from home. The canteen also has an ice-cream parlour which is certainly contributing to my perpetual cold!

More about the school later. Kolkata, as I am increasingly find out, is very different from Durgapur in some ways, and totally the same in others. I travel by bus mostly, and all sorts of people travel with me. There is no ego issue about using public transport among people there, unlike in Durgapur where parents are horrified at the thought of using and letting their children use transport that are for the masses, because apparently that undermines their ‘status’ and ‘position’ in society! Also, people here seem to be much more helpful in general. Being new to the city, I have often had to ask people around for locating the right buses, areas and whatnot. Till now, I have been willingly helped, sometimes even without asking. In school, I see that the students and teachers alike have a much better grasp of everyday English than in Durgapur. Daddy says that it is so in every metropolitan city. It is not that everybody speaks refined and poetic language, but at least they are fluent and can get across with ease. I have also found something which is a personal relief; the number of tall girls is much higher in Kolkata than in Durgapur. In school itself, there are many girls almost or as tall as I am. There is even a girl who is taller! In Durgapur, I always stood out uncomfortably because of my height. Even in Kolkata I stand out in a crowd, but at least I am not stared at like an unusual specimen from the zoo!

But the mall-culture is virulent here. It is there in Durgapur too, but in Kolkata, especially among the girls of my school, malls seem to be the reason why they are alive! They see me as a weirdo of sorts because I have made it clear on the first day itself that I do not like malls! They rolled their eyes in disbelief when I said I do not enjoy shopping. I read in school all the time, and just like in Durgapur, they think that I am crazy. One girl actually told me not to read so much as I would die if I did! Even in Kolkata, ‘having a boyfriend’ is considered a very exciting thing, mainly because it has to be done in secret! And just like their contemporaries in Durgapur, they are looks and gadget-obsessed. Spending money (earned by their dads, certainly not by them) seems to be a favourite pastime. I have noticed another very disgusting habit among the girls: it seems to be the ‘done’ thing to get boys to pay. If they are going out with their boyfriends, it is understood that the boy will bear all the expenses. Even if it is just a friend from school, he will have to pay for whatever the girl is doing. When I expressed my disgust at this custom, they gave me one of their pop-eyed stares again. Anybody who knows me well will know that I will never have someone else pay for me without giving something back in return, girl or boy alike. I wonder why they find this shameful practice ‘cool’!

Another, and perhaps the biggest difficulty in my present life is living away from daddy. Ever since I had any consciousness of my surroundings, I had been used to seeing him at home. Unlike most other daddies, he is a stay-at-home dad. His not being physically around all the time is quite unnatural to me. I don’t think I have taken in the full import of the situation yet. Now, I am coming home to Durgapur every weekend, so I am away from him for only five days a week. Also, we talk over the phone and chat over the net numerous times each day. But two years from now, I will be going much further away, and we’ll probably meet just twice or thrice a year, if not once! I wonder how both of us will cope then…

Anyway, my days are a mixture of nice and not-so-nice experiences. Having been brought up in a small town, it is not exactly easy for me to adjust in a metropolitan city. But thankfully I am not doing too badly, and I have had a lot of help too. My thanks to all the dadas and didis and classmates who are constantly writing to me and calling me over the phone. This strong reminder of home helps me overcome the periods of homesickness and loneliness. This is the beginning of a long and arduous journey, and it will be many years yet before I can settle down and make a home for myself again. But with the amount of care that I am receiving, I am not afraid to face life. So, thank you again, all my well wishers :)