Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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In school

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General Sundarji’s weekly column in Hindu was not the only reason why I was fascinated by the Army. I read every single of those columns that appeared in The Hindu. I liked the name, Generally Speaking. I liked the wordplay in it. The Week magazine had the Colonel’s column. This gentleman was anonymous. He still writes, I guess. Or he does not. The style and content were different, but at the end of the day both were columns by men in uniform.

A dog-eared Oxford dictionary at home had the defense defence hierarchy listed in the Appendix. I memorized them much before I started going through the words. In it, Army was the Royal Army. But a Manorama year book was always there to cross check. Ranks were almost the same. Apparently, they were similar across the world.
Through half of my schooling, my classes were held in Army barracks converted into classrooms. The new campus’ construction went on for ever. The entrance had a Howitzer captured from the Pakistanis. There was a Hanuman temple inside the campus and a peepal tree in front of it. Probably the first Peepal I saw in my life. We had unit-tests every month. On such days,  we prayed at the temple before the morning assembly. More than anything religious, praying in groups was a lot of merry making . Either we did not understand religion or we did not care much. Syed prayed. So did Sanish Jacob.
The Howitzer induced pride. And lots of it. We would go near that and read the plaque, touch the gun and feel proud more and even more. By then, the smartly dressed Military Police manning the gates opposite to the school would ask us to get off. We did. That guy could shoot us down. He had a gun, that too with bullets.
There were trees all over the campus. The kind of trees painted till their ‘knees’. You know the typical maroon(-ish) paint along with a white band? Or something like that. Amidst the groaning and moaning fans, classes were held. Sometimes, teachers took classes in the shades of trees. A drizzle. We would all run back into our classes. Having classes outside continued even when we moved to our newer premises. Must have been class 7. Prasanna teacher was teaching Science and her chair just toppled. She was alright. I mentioned this to her recently. She was embarrassed. If she reads this, she’ll still be.
I used to take a short cut to school. Walking through a stretch of paddy fields brought my school closer to me, literally. It was like getting into the Cantonment area through the backyard. The fence was always broken. Either they wanted to get out or someone wanted to go in. Good for me.
When the school moved, the buildings were classy. Classrooms were large and wide. 8 fans, 12 tubelights including 2 for the black boards. Yes, that’s luxury, but we had a long wait for this. Next to the new school was the MH(Military Hospital) and the Gurudwara opposite to it.
Prestige should have been some brand of whiskey. XXX Rum can only be a rum brand. Old faujis would buy their quota of bottles from the canteen close by and sell it clandestinely, not really. The bottles’ cartons would be lying all over the road from MH to the school. Some of them flew into our play ground.
Another nearby ground had an old abandoned tank in the middle. It was more like a landmark. It never moved. It was rusting away. So it could not have been a Pakistani tank. I still don’t know. There was a Tamarind tree in this ground. Raw tamarinds were yum, I tell you.
There was an SBT branch close by. It was here that Manjula teacher made us open our first bank accounts. My five rupees should still be there. I never went there.
There were jails. The high-walled buildings with only ventilators and no windows could not have been anything else. That was our conclusion. We did not dare to ask the guards there. While walking past the jails, we would only whisper if not stay mum. What if these people arrest us! Actually there were some teachers who should have ideally been in these prisons. Not just that squinted Chandrika teacher, but even that John sir who took SUPW for us. Padma teacher also. Or we should have locked these people inside a that abandoned tank. Would have been real fun. Hope someone does if they’re still like how they were back then.

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June 21, 2010   15 Comments

Signs of the times

Nelson Mandela would never know that I had signed on a paper to free him from prison. I did not know how to sign. Nor did I know Nelson Mandela. No. I actually did know him. He was all over the newspapers then.

The whole class assembled under the shade of a tree. Someone started a song, “Mandela Mandela, Nelson Mandela..”. We shouted those words at the top of our voices. Manjula teacher, my class teacher in Class III asked all of us to write our names against the numbers. That was a signature campaign- the first I participated in. Empowerment, ego massage and such happened. You may call it by any name. It may not have been willingly; I did not have a choice. That was the first time I put my signature.

No. Not really. Two years before this,the same teacher had made us start savings a/c in the nearest SBT. All of us had to give her Rs.5. She did the rest. Signatures were ours. That passbook is still a prized posession.

We were growing up. Writing with pen was no longer a luxury and was officially permitted. Hours were spent testing every Hero pen. Signature was used heavily to smoothen the nib and also to kill time. Going back to signature campaigns, I tried one such along with Sajith. This was to impeach a friend who was then the school deputy pupil leader. We managed signatures of many kids. We were in XI. VI or VII class kids were very sweet. Signatures were just chocolates away. That campaign had a premature death. Rather, was killed by Jaggu, the acting Principal. We failed to understand why she could not be impeached. Jaggu did not believe in democracy. What other reason can I think of for threatening to suspend us?

1989 was marked the centenary celebrations of Nehru’s birth. Our text books had a few lines on(by) Jawaharlal Nehru. His initials were my favorite. The J and H connected by a loop and an inclined line that fell backward. Many a bottles of Chelpark were spent on these initials. There was Gandhiji’s Talisman too in our books. I had no clue what a Talisman meant. His signature was tough to copy.
I didn’t have to forge dad’s signature to get Progress Reports signed. Throwing tantrums after dad left for work was enough to acquiesce mom to signing. In fact, there was one instance when I had to put dad’s signature. It was the last day to send the CBSE Medical Entrance application and dad was out of town. I had to.
Apart from this, I would have practiced a lot on RN Malhotra’s signature in Hindi. During the times when I started noticing RBI Governor’s signatures on currency notes, it was this gentleman all over. Ra Na Malhotra was an interesting signature to attempt in Hindi. The lower denomination notes (Re 1, Rs 2) had Finance Secretary’s signature. Manmohan Singh was still in circulation.


From simply writing my name to finding the best N from calligraphy books, the sign has come a long way. Deciding between dotted and circular tittles or the choice of using my second name or part thereof, confusions have been plenty. This change can’t be done overnight. If you do, your next credit card purchase may be annulled for suspected fraud.

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February 21, 2010   8 Comments

Asato Ma Sat Gamaya

11 years is a long time, but the memories of school are still fresh. Every day started with the assembly. It was part obligatory, part duty, to attend. Through the years, the liking for it grew down exponentially. Whatever, it had a fun element which I miss now; the discipline, the order, saavdhaan and veeshraam, the pledge, the prayer…I miss them all.

Half the time during a year, assembly would be washed away by the rains. Then, the PA systems took control and brought order in chaos to the classrooms where the sounds of Asato Ma Sat Ga Maya wafted through the rooms filled with wet umbrellas.

I never realized the purpose of singing these songs, the prayer, the patriotic songs, the National Anthem etc. Leave the purpose, most of us did not understand the meanings of these songs.(The national anthem’s English translation was there in the school diary, but who would read that. :D)

Why was taking the pledge or singing the National Anthem mandatory, that too daily? Come to think of it, most of the school assembly was aimed at building one’s love for the nation. Why else was I taught patriotic songs in many languages? No, I am not complaining. I still can sing the Assamese song Ye Matire,moro mote… :-) It doesn’t end here.

The melodious Tamil song Odi Vilayaad Paapa, Pillallara Paappallara, the Telugu song with extended hums in between lines….the Kannada song Cheluvina Muddina Makkale, with mmmmm Cheluvina, ooooo Muddinna after every line…aah! writing this I am taken to a different era. No day was complete without the daily dose of news that was read out in the assembly; those days where every morning a new thought for the day was fed into our brains…book reviews and what not!

The Marathi song Aata Udhao Saare Rann, with its conspicuous na sound in Rann… I must have memorized the Sindhi song Muhijo Vatan years before I knew where Sindh was (Okay,I knew about Sindhu Nadi Sabhyata).The Gujarati song, Aakasha Ganga Surya Chandra Taara Sandhya Ushaaa koi na Nathee had to be sung in a tune that could be replicated easily by a tape moving at 0.5X, while the Sanskrit song was Om, Sanghajatwan Samwadatwam…..was very prayer like.

Old KV Logo

Old KV Logo

The set of Hindi songs from the classic Saare Jahan Se Acha to Hum Honge Kaamyaab(and it’s English version, We shall overcome) and Yeh Waqt Ki awaaz hai milke chalo to the very very slow Hind Desh Ke Niwasi Sabhi Jan ek hai…were not as interesting as the non-Hindi songs, to me at least.

The school anthem, Bharat ka swarnim gaurav Kendriya Vidyalaya layega was another song that crawled through the assembly,once a week.

The main prayer song was Daya Kar daan Vidya, which I realized was in Hindi much later. No wonder I created newer words and unwanted pauses in the already badly tuned song. You won’t believe, Paramatma, word in the song was always Para…maa..tmaa for me.

There was the Malayalam song Janmakarini Bharatam which was sung rarely. What about Kashmiri, Bengali and Punjabi?…I don’t even remember if we were taught them in our Music classes.
I can go on and on, I can even start singing.No, I spare you :D

Update: Pages from a KV school diary(with these songs) can be found at [ZIP FILE containing the images]

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July 1, 2009   101 Comments