I went to an Indian school and my experience is in no way a ‘Mean Girls’ one. We did have popular girls dating the popular boys, but we didn’t have a group of people sabotaging the popular girls’ lives, we didn’t have Christmas shows with girls dressing up as sexy Santas (even the notion!), nobody split the tiara into five pieces so that everyone could be ‘Queen’ at our prom, nobody got hit by a bus, and nobody’s mother was a cool mom providing condoms and snacks to their popular daughter. Not to my knowledge, at least.
No, my school’s motto was Parampara, Pratishta, Anushasan. Meaning- Honour, Tradition, and Discipline. I am kidding, of course, my school wasn’t Gurukul from the movie Mohabbatein. Although, ten points to Ravenclaw if you got the reference there.
Even though I turned out fine in the end and everyone I know from that school also essentially turned out fine, here’s why I will never miss my school:
- Nothing was ever more important than academics
The focus on academic excellence was almost nauseating. It was drilled into our heads from a very young age that in order to be a success in life, you need to be successful in school, and in order to be successful in school you need excellent grades. That’s understandable. But the way that we were graded in school was ridiculous. Anything less than 90% was frowned upon. Oh, you got a 95? And someone else in your class got 97? Where did you lose the 2 marks? Oh you got a 79%? That’s a C. You need to buck the hell up or you are never going to get anywhere in life. You got a 75%, we need to speak to your parents. Parents, your child is in need of urgent support. They will be a failure if they don’t get this urgent support.
When this is drilled into your head all the time and you scare easy, you forget about everything else and focus on academics. When I was 17, I started getting involved in the Quiz club (I didn’t say I was a hip child); I had always enjoyed dancing so I decided to participate in the annual ‘Talent’s Day’ where you dance and try to win; and also somehow there was a bit of a surge in interest from the boys in getting to know me because of hormones and shit. Amidst this, my grades in Physics took a setback. It wasn’t a direct outcome of being involved in other activities; no, it was just that I was never particularly interested in Physics and it showed in the grades (by the way, when I say it showed in the grades, I mean that I once got 57/70 on a Physics exam, so it wasn’t the end of the world that the teacher made it out to be). However, my teachers and parents refused to accept that fact and insisted that I was suddenly taking a larger interest in extra curricular activities (code for boys) and that needed to change.
2. Random Checks
There was a routine ‘random check’ that usually the PE teacher or a particularly disgruntled, disciplinarian of a teacher would undertake of the kids’ possessions, spitefully looking for illegal items. I don’t know what they were expecting to find, to be honest- where we live, drugs are sort of hard to come by and alcohol wasn’t that easily available when we were growing up. The worst that they could have found would have been cigarettes. Maybe a mobile phone. But what could kids do with mobile phones? Why was a mobile phone such a bad thing to have on your person? Who are you expecting the kids will call? Their boyfriends perhaps? Is that such a bad thing? For a culture that wants their kids to get married ASAP you sure have an unexplained objection to having kids contact their significant others via phone. I was once pulled out of the assembly during a random check because I had blue nail polish on. When they didn’t find anyone else who had committed a crime of equal measure, the PE teacher took me aside and said, ‘come on, school is not for these colourful nail polishes, take this off before you come to school tomorrow’. And you know what I did? I took the blue nail polish off and changed it to purple because the next random check wasn’t going to happen until at least next month so nobody would find out. The purpose of the random checks remained unfulfilled.
3. Why do we need sports?
I won’t go so far as to say that the reason I was a fat kid was that school never promoted sports, but it was one of the reasons. Some of my friends were part of the basketball team and played table tennis and whatnot so it wasn’t non-existent but outside of the team nobody was encouraged to play any sport. My only memory of PE is of our exceptionally nymphomaniacal teacher flirting with the 17 year old boys passing by during PE period. Nothing PE related ever happened during PE periods, especially as we went into secondary school because our Chemistry and Physics teachers thought it was more important for us to work on those subjects instead of physical fitness, because apparently, half an hour every week dedicated to physical health was too much of an ask.
4. The Girls’ Shift and the Boys’ Shift
Girls and boys could not study together because apparently being in the same room would lead to babies. This one hurts me a lot because as a child of an all girls’ school, interacting with men was a challenge for me up until the age of 19- at which time alcohol had come to my rescue. But it shouldn’t have had to be like that. Why were other schools allowed to have boys and girls mingling with each other? Why was dating almost criminalised? What were they expecting would happen if the girls and boys mingled? Why was there a rumour that the school nurse was going to test all the girls in secondary school to check if we were all still virgins? Why was there a second rumour that one of the girls didn’t pass? If both of these rumours were true, how come the nurse didn’t test me? Did the school nurse think I wasn’t hip enough to even be doubted?
5. My Chemistry Teacher
A few weeks ago I was clearing out a box of old school notebooks and I found one with a list entitled ‘People I am Going to be Mad At For a Long Time’. There were seven people on it, two of whom were Lord Voldemort and Dolores Umbridge, four of them were girls I knew in school (they claimed to be in love with Jay Sean and in my head I was the only one allowed to be in love with Jay Sean), and one was my Chemistry teacher from when I was 17. She taught my sister back when she was 17 as well and then she was blessed to have another one from the same family. But within the first week of teaching me she realised that my sister and I were different.
‘Your sister was very humble’, she said to me one day. ‘You are outspoken. That’s why she was successful. She got 95% in the final exams.’
The Award for the Most Motivational Teacher goes to this lady right here. For the entire year she spoke to me almost patronisingly. It was evident that she didn’t think I was going to be upto any good at all because I was getting involved in extra curricular activities (not boys), despite having been a classic nerd throughout school. When the final exam results came out, however, it was different to what she had expected. I ended up getting 97%. That week as all the now ex-students from my batch went into school to celebrate with each other and the teachers, I dropped by at the staff room to tell her about my Chemistry score.
‘I got 97%. My sister got 95%’, I added with a small smile.
‘This is a result of my prayer’, she said with a wide smile.
In that moment I wanted to grab her by her collar and shake some sense into her.
Despite all this we did turn out fine so I guess I shouldn’t complain. But I will.