There was discrimination, gender discrimination to be precise. There was racism. There was xenophobia. There was . . . everything. I don’t know what name to give to that atmosphere of acrimony, animosity and hostility. It happened when we were 16 years of age. And all that we knew about hostility was from textbook material on Gandhi and Mandela. However, that was the first time we were experiencing it in real life. Leave aside handling it, we didn’t even understand it fully. We were so confused, so helpless! But it solved! Well, it would be incorrect to say that we handled the problem, and in that way though the title of this post is correct, it is not precise and accurate. Fact is that the problem solved itself. Of course, we did play a part, but we were just flowing with the tide. Let me narrate the whole story and you yourself decide the rest.
Up to 10th standard, we studied at the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV). However, that school was only till 10th standard. Though 11th and 12th standards had just been started, they were still in infancy and one was not sure of the quality of education that would be given in those classes. In such cases, there is always a fear that if sufficient number of students don’t enroll or if sufficient number of capable and willing teachers are not available, the administration would have to close the classes and leave the students nowhere. So parents were hesitant in keeping their children in that school. Had it been junior, or very senior classes (e.g. college), one could have taken a chance. However, intermediate is the time when the future career of a child is shaped and decided to a great extent. So nobody wanted to take any chance, and parents migrated their children to other schools. This is the background to our narrative.
The first and foremost choice for the most of us was the neighbouring intermediate college, which was a U.P. government (now Uttarakhand) run school with Hindi as the medium of instruction. However, teachers didn’t have any objection to students choosing English medium for science subjects, for which parallel English edition books were also available. KV being a three-language school, we never had any problem with communication throughout our school or college lives. So, everything was fine from administrative, technical and practical point of view.
The problem was elsewhere. It was in seating arrangement. There were 6 sections in 11th and 12th each, categorized mainly on the basis of subjects — Arts, Commerce, Maths and Biology. Physics and Chemistry were common subjects, which both Maths and Biology students had to take. The ‘native’ boys were kept in E and F sections, whereas all of us ‘immigrants’ were placed in D section. And now the most important point. All girls were also accommodated in the D section! The rationale was simple. The teachers and administrative staff knew all too well the native boys, so didn’t want to put the girls at risk. And KV students had a good reputation of being very civilized, cultured and everything like that. Our own KV teachers might disagree, and I don’t argue. However, the fact remains that we always behaved well in public and never brought bad name to our school. Nowadays we hear ministers and celebrities urging people not to hurt country’s image abroad; however, we had already been following the same philosophy three decades back.
Besides, we were still adjusting ourselves to the new environment, and planning and preparing for different competitive exams, all of which never left time for anything else. All in all, it was a wise decision, and nobody disagreed. But the girls didn’t think so. I don’t know whether it was gender, racial, or language based discrimination. There was no logic and our analysis led to no conclusion. And how aggressive these girls were! They would reach the school before time and occupy all the seats. When we reached the school, there would be no place to sit! They would have scattered themselves around, leaving empty seats in between. And cultured as we were, we couldn’t dare to sit between them. We would ask politely to move aside, but they would shout and scream. And we would be left standing. Sometimes some boys would come early and take seats. But then the girls would complain to teachers that we were teasing them, which was one thing that we were all scared of. It was hell! Teachers for some reason were completely biased in favour of the native students — be it girls or boys. The good performance of KV students was taken as a sign of superiority of KV teachers, which hurt the pride of the teachers of the new school. Oh! It was all so complicated!
On some days, the boys did manage to occupy seats, but it was temporary and then next day it would be the same problem all over again. One cannot fight every single day, and definitely nobody wants to start the day in a tense mood.
But then fate smiled. Wise men say – if a thorn pricks you, take it out using another thorn. One problem is solved by another problem. So here was our solution, which was in all means a divine blessing!
In our old school, we had a very intelligent, kind, and extremely good looking classmate named Sambhav Sharma. He was very bright, handsome, healthy, and jolly-nature boy. Due to certain technical issues, his high school marksheet didn’t reach KV. He had also applied to this new school, but as he hadn’t submitted his marksheet, his admission was withheld temporarily. After about one month or so, he eventually received his marksheet, and finally got the admission.
The day Sambhav came to the new school to submit his marksheet and complete all formalities, after coming out of the school office, he felt like meeting his old classmates and friends and say a ‘hi’ and a ‘hello’. So he came along the corridor and peeped from the doors to identify which class his friends were sitting in. When he reached our class, first he peeped from the back door, recognized us, and rushed to the front door to enter the class. On the other hand, the back-benchers saw him too and exclaimed, “Sambhav has come!” The message spread in a low whisper to the whole class and finally reached the front row. In fact, when the message reached the front row, by that time Sambhav had just stepped into the classroom.
There was a double excitement in the front row — one of hearing the message that Sambhav has come, and the other of seeing Sambhav in person. A little confusion and chaos, you can say. It must be someone from central U.P. (there was no Bengali student in our class) who couldn’t hold his excitement and shouted, “Sambhav dada aa gayaa!” (Sambhav dada has come!)
Now, you know, dada can mean mean brother, grandfather, and . . . well . . . ehem . . . a goon . . . The girls suddenly turned their heads and looked first at the boys and then at Sambhav. Sambhav himself had been very happy to see his old friends after such a long time. For some unknown reason, Sambhav never smiled — he either stayed serious or burst into laughter. And what a terrible laughter he had! The girls suddenly became tense and serious. We didn’t notice it first; it was perhaps Abhishek who first noticed it. His mind worked fast; he analysed all the parameters, solved the equations and had the immediate solution. He continued shouting loudly –
— Sambhav dada aa gayaa! Sambhav dada aa gayaa! Ab sab theek ho jayega!
(Sambhav dada has come! Now everything will be fine!)
He whispered something to Ashish, who was sitting next to him. And Ashish has the loudest voice and laughter in the world. So both of them rushed forward, hugged Sambhav and kept saying –
— Where were you? Sambhav dada aa gayaa! How we missed you!
Others came too, some became emotional (of course, fake), and everybody surrounded him. On his part, Sambhav was surprised and amused. 10 years . . . for 10 long years these students had been his classmates, and some of them had been friends, some rivals, some enemies, but absolutely nobody ever showed such a high level of emotion to him! He was deeply touched and moved, and thought, “Oh! How much these friends love me, how nice of them! And fool of me, I never understood them, not even knew their feelings!” He turned emotional too. Now, when Sambhav gets emotional, he laughs loudly! So he laughed loudly and consoled all his friends –
— Haan, Sambhav dada aa gayaa, now everything will be alright. We all will be together.
When teacher arrived, Sambhav took leave from us, and left the classroom.
The next day, he came to the class in formal school uniform, with textbooks and notebooks. As he entered the class, he gave his trademark laughter and said –
— Mai aa gayaa! (I have come!)
Everything was the same as the previous day — same excitement, same happiness and friendliness, except one thing. All girls had moved to one single row near the door, which had originally been assigned to them, a rule which they had never followed till that day! It was only then that they began watching us more sensibly, and understood that we were not ‘invaders’ who had come to rob their wealth, knowledge or culture. Instead, we were also children like them, just with a different background and education, and mutual interaction would only benefit everybody.
One seat had already been left vacant in the third row for Sambhav. He didn’t know of the whole affair; he was never told. Nobody felt the need to narrate it. Let it be so. And to this day, Sambhav didn’t know the reason behind sudden surge of emotion and love among his friends. As I lift the curtains from that exciting episode, now he knows it too. He had rescued us from that predicament, unknowingly, without even doing anything.
In any case, Sambhav had always filled our lives with excitement and adventure of one kind or another. And we all hope that he continues to live an equally exciting and adventurous life himself.
Happy Birthday Sambhav! — From all of your old classmates and friends!