Calcutta and St. Mary’s

The only place where I never feel out of place is – Calcutta. Whenever I land at Calcutta Airport and as the aircraft taxies in, I peer out of the window to catch the sight of those familiar busses running across the Jessore Road nearby. Then I really feel that I have arrived.

I am never a stranger in Calcutta. When I come out of the Airport to catch a cab, I don’t have to act familiar to ward off fleecers. I have a sort of confidence in my steps. I know I cannot be conned in this city.

My earliest memories begin from Calcutta. I remember the 1971 war and father pasting newspapers on the window panes and covering bulbs with paper shades. They were done to supress the light so that the enemy fighters and bombers do not detect the habitation. One night we all heard a drone of some aeroplane and my parents were speaking to each other in whispers!

I did almost all my schooling in Calcutta. Till 1985, St. Mary’s School, Dum Dum had majority of teachers who were Irish brothers. The style of teaching and their own personalities were starkly different from the Indian teachers. I don’t want to run down Indian Teachers but the Brothers did have a difference approach towards education. And they were so involved, not only in teaching but also in arts and sports.

Till Class Ten we had a Library Class every week, where we did our readings for one period and also exchanged books. My mates read Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Wilbur Smith etc. I started my readings with Noddy, Tin-Tin and all the Amar Chitra Katha. I continued reading Noddy and Tin-Tin till Class Ten. My friends made fun of me as they boasted how many Hardy Boys’ and Nancy Drews’ they had completed by circling the Author’s index. Once in a while, just to fit in, I too got a few Hardy’s and Nancy’s home only to return it unread.  Frankly, my brain could not scale up to take in the story. I was equal to Noddy. The first novel I read and completed was “Freedom at Midnight” and that was in class eleven. I have continued reading till this day. I can’t say much about my other mates.

The Irish Brothers insisted on readings. I never experiences our Indian counterparts stressing this aspect. Closer home, Father was against my reading of novels or comics. His contention was that children should read only study books. I rejected all his ideas and went on reading but hiding it from him.

Some of the Irish Brothers were good Footballers. After Classes, the brothers changed from their white robes to sports vests. St. Mary’s was also a boarding and an Orphanage with a good population of Chinese expats. Among the players, the Irish and Chinese used to be in majority and mixed with few locals. And most of the locals were those boarders and orphans who couldn’t escape but play.

Actually, as soon as the closing bell rang, all the day scholars almost ran out to catch a bus and go home. I was also one of them. Well, playing sports was never a part of the majority. St. Mary’s had a swimming pool, a basketball court, a skating ring, Table Tennis and two huge fields and not to forget, very enthusiastic Irish brothers. Almost all were under-utilized or un-utilised.

But nobody could escape the annual sports day. Its preparation began a month or two ahead and all the classes had to take part. Whether it was sprint, running or relay, the Chinese were everywhere. We Indians took part in PT (Physical Training) exercises where we were required to move our hands up and down and sideways on the beat of a drum. There was one year when we were made to mount on the shoulders of a stout companion and do the same. So much for Sports !

Well, doesn’t it indicate about our own sporting culture? My parents and others too were of the opinion that sports will not bring in the bread. The few weeks of compulsory PT were considered as inescapable evil to be endured. Well, I believe, it will take a generation or two for these kind of thoughts to fade away. Till then, we can catch the drama of CWG on T.V.. The best we have learnt to do is – Clap. Or is it – Yap.