I spent 8.5 years in DBPC, or to give it its full name Don Bosco, Park Circus. My last day there was the 17th of March, 1978, and I well remember rushing down the stairs after the last ISC-12 exam, excited at finally finishing with school. But I’ve also never forgotten my first day there.
Shortly after I came to Calcutta, chronicled here, I was told that I would be starting in Grade 4 in Don Bosco. Back in Ahmedabad, I’d been in St Xavier’s, Mirzapur and then the new branch at Loyola Hall, so it would have been more natural for me to go to St Xavier’s in Calcutta too. However, my dad was taking over the Calcutta office from Mr Chavda and Mrs Chavda happened to be the Headmistress at DBPC. She had a son my age, Kersi. Given the connections, my admission into the school was easily accomplished. We lived in New Alipore, in the South West quadrant of the city and the school was in the North East quadrant, 15+ km away. The uniform was grey trousers / shorts, a white shirt with a DB monogrammed over the pocket, a maroon cotton tie, which came in handy as a pen wipe. Every kid went through a daily inspection to ensure he was fully compliant with the uniform.
1969 was a terrible time to move to the city of Calcutta. TheNaxalite movement was just starting up. Already apprehensive of the new language, styles, culture and the mood swings of this very vibrant ex-capital of India, I was made even more aware of the violence that existed as the police fought the armed leftists who were trying to bring about a bloody revolution a la Russia 1917. As is usual in such cases, people took sides and the opportunity to settle old scores. There was no accountability for deaths on the streets and gory anecdotes exist of that time in Calcutta’s history. Some other time …..
But! Back to the 9-year-old, headed off to his first day of school. I hadn’t quite got the hang of the name, sometimes mispronouncing it as Don Boxo. I started at DBPC in June, in Grade 4. I’d finished Grade 3 in Ahmedabad, where the academic year ended in April. The Calcutta academic year was ran from Jan to December. This meant that I got 6 months less schooling than most kids. ( See? I knew there was a reason I’m weird and un-understandable! I never got my full schooling! )
At St Xavier’s Ahmedabad there had been no assembly. Students came to school, and went to their classes as the bell rang. Unfortunately, for me, DBPC had morning assembly where the entire entourage of students and teachers lined up by class, recited “Our father who art in heaven.. etc etc “. Then class by class, neatly and quietly the entire school was led up to the classrooms. Very organized. This also allowed each kid to pass under the eagle eye of Mr Rozario, who was quick to haul out anyone not completely in uniform, with the wrong shoes, or hair that did not match the unwritten Code of Haircuts. Once inside, we were all stuck inside, unable to venture out without a previously issued “Pass”, applied for by parents and granted, with some reluctance, by the school.
Me? I wasn’t so organized. I’d been sent to school, with no adult company. I entered the school through the front entrance, past the hall that had offices on the right and the school store on the left. Through another door I came upon a corridor and a decision to make. On either side of the door, the corridor ran away towards a flight of staircases. Directly ahead of me the corridor was open to a pair of badminton courts paved with little tiles like extruded chocolate, except that it was concrete, white and inedible and no, I did not try it, ever…
On one edge of the court was a large hall open on the length and it met the corridor I was just before the base of the stairs. Boys ran around wildly in the hall, playing, throwing balls at each other or just chasing each other around, spilling onto the muddy quadrangle ahead of me as well. I made up my mind to pick the staircase at the other end, as it was quieter.
When the bell rang, I expected hordes of kids to rush up and I’d follow along. But a deathly silence fell. All the boisterous boys had vanished as if into thin air. I stood there, my bag in my hand and flask of water around my neck. And waited. After about 10 minutes a stream of boys walked past me up the stairs. Boys much older than me. One of them hissed at me as he walked by “What’s the matter, Charlie?” I did not know. Once the streams had dried up, I was left standing, alone and forgotten. Then a teacher came up to me and asked me my name and class and wanted to know what the hell was I doing standing there. I managed, through my almost tears, to explain that this was my first day and I was supposed to be in Grade 4B. I was led across the corridor to the other flight of stairs and up to my class room, a large, with 2 large doors opening onto the corridor with a large window between them.
On the opposing side 3 large windows opened out into the school front entrance. Desks were two-seater integrated benches and I was parked down next to a certain Amit. The walls were painted green and yellow, with a glossy green paint upto 4 feet high and yellow plaster above it. This striking motif ran around all the public areas of the school including all corridors and bathrooms.
I was asked to stand and tell the class who I was, where I’d come from. I was reminded by Miss M Tapp to call her “Miss”, not “Teacher”. “Yes, teacher, uh miss”. Amit was told to hand over all his books with class works etc to me, so I could catch up on the 6 months. I took the books home where my older sisters were co-opted into copying them all out into my books.
There was a break at 11am for 10 minutes, where I was able to visit the toilet and then a larger recess around 12:30 for lunch, where I was quickly introduced to the game of marbles, played on the muddy quadrangle.
So ended my first day at DBPC, home to many later adventures, including my days as The Flash.
Yes, I know! The SloMan was The Flash?
True! I cannot tell a lie! 🙂 🙂