Friday, April 10, 2009

Totto Chan and my school days

(This picture is not of my school..I have taken it from Net and worked on it through Photoshop .This is nearest to how I remember my school chapel . )

Perception is a strange element of mind . Things and events that make part of our memory , may often be perceived quite differently as they actually were. Yesterday afternoon I watched a movie 'Fireflies in the garden’ where a son perceived his relationship with his strict father in a very selective way. He had childhood memories of being afraid of him, his disciplines and his bad behaviour but he failed to remember the happy moments they spent together . Its not always like this. In our childhood memories, many of us often remember only the happy parts while deleting the embarrassing or bitter moments . Perhaps it has to do with our overall frame of mind, what those times made us feel...and what touches our heart and goes to permanent memory is a mystery most cases it is unconsciously selective. For example I have been thinking about my old schools . I had 5 in all . I remember different things about all five . Last week I was reading this cute little book ‘Totto Chan :The little Girl at the Window’ by Japanese writer Tetsuko Kuroyanagi . Tetsuko Kuroyanagi writes about her childhood in a unique school in Japan. I finished rereading the book last night. This beautiful book about author’s school days and unconventional schooling reminded me of my own. Let me confess . I hated schools….all of them . Resisted going there for years and finally as an alternative plan decided to clear them off at the earliest. I always believed that I am better with my story books at home rather than sitting in the class of 25 and doing what I am told to do. I liked the Totto Chan book because I too was rebelling of the school discipline….of studying the subjects in one order…as per syllabus and not doing what you want to do. Incidentally, the book begins with Totto-chan's mother coming to know of her daughter's expulsion from public school. Come to think of it, how many schools give freedom of expression to its pupils? Many children are looked as indisciplined and somewhat 'abnormal' when they show their independent mind or are simply hyperactive like Totto Chan . It was lucky for Totto chan that her mother realizes that what she needs is a school where more freedom of expression is permitted. Thus, she takes Totto-chan to meet Mr. Kobayashi, the headmaster of the new school , Tomoe Gakuen. The book goes on to describe the times that Totto-chan has, the friends she makes, the lessons she learns, and the vibrant atmosphere that she imbibes. More importantly the book is about what she remembers about those days . Her perception of things and people around her .
The book brought back memories of my five schools . My parents unlike most parents of today, were totally cool about schooling of their kids. My father believed in sending his children to the nearest good school and never went competitive in search of the Best one. He was confident that once a basic school structure is there, he can take care of rest of learning outside the school . I like the way my parents brought us up. Without religion. Without tradition. Without the dogma of being good and doing right . I am grateful to them for letting me keep my mind the way God gave it to me. For being proud of their children when there were no reasons to be……for loving us so unconditionally, so freely… helplessly…for so many other things. And so it was for all three of us. We were never barred from reading any book, magazine, paper available in our house. I used to read my elder sisters’ books(specially literature text books) from elementary classes. We invented weird games and of course there was no TV/DVD in those days. To top it all, we had friends of all types. There were no bars on being friends with people elder to us or with children living in servant quarters. When I see children around me these days, I find them very conscious of their class . We were most carefree lot.

Most unconventionally I started my schooling from a university. My father was at that time posted at Pantnagar Agriculture university and in the Home Science Department an experiment of learning behaviour of children was going on. Me along with few other kids of the campus were enrolled as Guinea pigs of the project and started our nursery from a university . It was an interesting ‘school’.There were two teachers (PG students of Home Science) per students. We were not taught writing but encouraged to learn orally .The hypothesis which was being tested says that children who spent initially two years of schooling without learning to write pick up information much faster and greater details ,later on. So while we were told everything about colours, fruits and things around us ….we were still illiterates as far as writing was concerned . In the end of that year instead of one page report card….my parents got a thick file on my behaviour, learning and other characteristics. Later on reading this ‘performance report' - in my teenage days , was hilarious. Interestingly , they judged my strengths and weaknesses in various subjects quite accurately. But then, dad got his transfer . In the new city when I went for an admission test , the teachers were shocked to find my level of enlightenment when they tested me . I am told I spoke in complete sentences about how apple is good for health and what vitamins it contains.(The question was to identify apple from its picture.) Impressed by my performance they decided to put me in 1st standard directly…but then someone thought of testing me on writing alphabets . Now there I proved to be a total failure .I did not even know how to hold a pencil. They were dumbfounded by this strange profile of their future student . But instead of giving me up as abnormal, they decided to work on me ..and they did. I hated the forced education but loved that school .
Now looking back….At times I feel I must go for a pilgrimage of all old schools and universities of mine . I need to know how they fared with the test of time. Those lovely places which I used to hate . I also want to complete my memory of these places, specially my school at Jhansi ( H.M Memorial School -in the mission compound) with its huge Chapel and a church on a hillock nearby . This school was built in 1926 by the Canadian Presbyterian Church to offer education for daughters of the poor.We had many tribal girls studying with us. All I have now is hazy memories of places and people. I remember attending midnight mass in the school, there are memories of a ‘jail’ inside the school and I can recollect some faces- e.g. Ms. Wordsworth, our school manager . A tall Canadian lady worked extensively for tribal children of Bundelkhand . I wonder how are those places now? Where are those people ? Sometimes I also doubt whether my memory of my early school days is factual or not ? I need to check out the real places to ensure that .

Memories of old days coming back like floods…A desperate urge to live back the happy parts of past ....a sure sign of old age .


Radhika said...

Where can I get this book? Unable to find this book in Bangalore :(

Atoorva said...

It is a national book trust publication and is also available online (please check