What school life used to be, and how growing up feels

2001: I am eleven years old, and something has just abruptly ended my dream.

The first sound of the morning I hear is my mother’s. Her usual call of ‘Nandu’ with many more ‘u’s at the end is enough to wake me up. I plead for 5 more minutes of sleep and get one.

A glass of hot milk is already waiting for me on the dining table, along with exactly 5 biscuits. As I pick up my glass, I’m irritated by the thin layer of cream that has settled on top, sitting there like it owns the place. Squirming, I remove it with a spoon, wishing the milk wasn’t always this hot. I mean how hard could it be to get the right temperature of milk? For such are the thoughts of eleven year old kids, for whom the size of the world is the room they are in.

However, the moment I taste that first dunked biscuit, all is right again. Oh divine biscuit, for you I could skim milk a thousand times over. And without fail, every morning I end up asking for one or two more.

With hair oiled and combed, and my bag packed the night before (on Mom’s insistence) soon I’m ready for school. I glance at the road from the balcony, and sure enough, a couple of friends are waiting on their bicycles already. We always wait for the rest to join, and only when the fellowship of five gather, we ride.

The school assembly is the same as usual. We pray for knowledge and pledge to be great, and the moment the first class begins I am already counting down the minutes left for recess. The purpose of life is simple, really: have as much fun as possible. Even the minutes that separate two classes are precious, used for having a laugh, or play ‘pen-fight’.

When the recess bell finally rings, a massive exodus runs into the grounds that are made of sand and not grass. Even now, time is of the essence: spend the smallest possible amount of time on eating, so that the rest could be spent playing ‘leg-cricket’.

After spending the rest of school time stifling yawns, it is time to ride back home. I see Mom already standing in the balcony as I enter our colony. Even from fifty yards away, she can tell when I had a bad day.

“What happened, did someone scold you?”

She knows my weakness for aggressive, acerbic words.

“Any test results that were given out?”

She also knows I’m prone to self-pity.

And so I share with her, over lunch. She listens. She remembers the names of all my friends, and the ones I like the most. And I complain about the greens and spices in my food in return.

I get to my homework immediately after lunch to avoid nagged by both my conscience and Mom. Again, I wrap it up as soon as possible, so that the evening is free to play cricket (this time with an actual bat).

The doorbell rings, and I dash to the door: sure enough, my friend is waving his bat in the corridor. My face breaks into a smile, because it’s my favorite part of the day. The troops rally, and our play sees out the sun through twilight to dusk.

Though it’s a day like any other, I am content when I go to sleep.

That was then. Fifteen years later, I guess life has changed more than a bit.

Evidence of getting older

  • This one Saturday evening, I was waiting for my cab after shopping for groceries. As I got in, I saw the girl who I was sharing the cab with. She was definitely younger, and was wearing a sparkling black dress. And there I was, in my tee and comfy shorts, lugging around two huge bags of fruits and vegetables in each hand. If she felt five years younger, I felt ten years older. Oh sure, I could party too. But then who will get the vegetables?
  • A few weeks ago, a friend invited me over to someone’s place a couple of hours away. He mentioned all the people who’d come, and how it’d be fun and we’d drink all night. Much to his dismay I didn’t go, and I only had one question to ask him: “But when and where will I sleep?”

It’s a funny feeling. It’s like there’re two persons within me, the kid (little K) and the adult (Big K). (Freudian versions of Id & Superego)

And lately, Big K has been calling the shots.

For example, they don’t see food the same way. The kid isn’t still past dunking biscuits, and just wants to eat yummy food. Big K however can’t see past calorie content, ingredients, and even prices.

To him, happiness is a pursuit and not a state of mind. Fun is not a variable to maximize, but one to carefully calculate and plan.

It’s not that I hate him. He loves to think about the serious stuff: general health, purpose of life, how to fulfill dreams, relationships worth maintaining. He’s invaluable.

But so is the kid in all of us. He is often the victim of the process of growing up, tired of getting bossed around and overruled by the grownup side of us.

Maybe that’s why I started writing about school. It helps me remember how easy it was to be happy, and the importance of listening to little K every now and then. He reminds me that every little choice doesn’t need to be thought over a hundred times.

He reminds me to fully experience and live in the present moment, whether I’m skimming the milk or dunking the biscuit.

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