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The year from 1990 to 1991 was one of the most significant periods in my childhood. We were promoted to 6th grade. The school was big and the playground was a lot bigger. It was the same school where my mom was working and my sister was studying. We would go together in the morning and return at the same time in the evening. The teachers and the students paid more attention to me because I was a child of a school staff member. This unexpected attention, without an extra effort, made me feel happy and gave me a lot of extra privileges, such as easy access to lab, library and sports stuff. My friend, Cnu, would go with me in the evenings, especially to have access to the cricket kit. However, all these extra privileges didn’t last long.
The head teacher from our elementary school sent a message to my mother and notified us about an admission test of a nearby Gurukul – a school run by our state government. These schools were popular for their high standards of education, discipline and equipment. We knew nothing about this school or its background. Cnu and I were well prepared for the entrance exam. Along with us, there were a few more classmates taking the test. The anxiety of competition is made even stronger by the importance placed on succeeding in many Indian families. Many parents would go to great lengths to see their children on top of the cliff of victory. They would run along with their child in a sporting event, would sit next to the child during the exams, and anything else they felt would help. Of course, they would forget the pain they had gone through when the child reaches the top of the cliff. My mother was different. She would sit next to me quietly and advise me to go to bed when I would try to stay up and revise my notes. However, my sister, Sandhya, would bring me the news update of the other folks who were studying harder overnight and waking up earlier in the morning, as an extra preparation for this entrance exam. It was as if her pride depended on my success. She would remind me to finish my revisions each time I took a break. The persuasiveness of Sandhya continued until the day of the exam.
All of us attendees followed the teacher who coordinated this assignment of getting us appeared for the exam. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach the exam center. We had to ride a bus for seven kilometers from our village bus stop in order to reach a local headquarters where the bus routes ended. It was a small town called Devarapalli, where my sister and other girls went to college. The Gurukul is three kilometers away from here. This town acted as a gateway to reach various villages and hill stations. Back then, the only modes of transportation to reach these villages were either on bicycles or walking. We had to walk the distance, carrying our school bag in one hand and lunch in the other. It didn’t feel like a long walk, as we all were excited and the teacher was friendly, too. He would crack a joke at one of us now and then, and cheered us up if one of us got annoyed. He gave us a few good tips to succeed in the exam too.
The school was built on a high ground very close to the Sarada river banks. We could see the river as we walked. The road that led to the school was a mud road with various kind of trees growing on both sides of it: Berry, Hog Plum, Jujebi, Plum, Wood Apple, Custard Apple and Sapota. The adjacent, private properties of the cultivation lands were filled with sugarcane and pulse crops. As we walked by the river, we could see the Gurukul from a long distance, as it was built at the point where the river takes a huge curve, making it look as if it were a peninsula. We saw none travelling in that way during our walk, though it would hardly have mattered to us, as we were focused on the exam. A half an hour walk brought us to the residential school. It had two major entrances consisting of life-size hoardings with embedded text on an iron grille, shaped into an entrance: one led to a huge dormitory building and the other to the main block of the school. The distance between the two was a quarter kilometer. We waited at the first entrance, on the assumption that someone would show up to let us in. There were huge buildings among lots of large trees that had clearly been carefully planted in an organized way around the buildings. A big wall and fencing was built around the school compound, with thick bushes growing along the fencing. After a few minutes, we realized we had to go to a different entrance; so we followed the other students who came along with their parents to attend the same exam. A dignified watchman, dressed in a uniform, stopped us at the entrance gate, and inquired and noted down our details and the purpose of our visit before he let us in.
The exam coordinators guided us to our allotted seats and the exam was all over in two hours. Afterwards, we took a little tour around the school with great amusement and we were awed at the infrastructure and well-planned layout of the Gurukul. All of us were hoping to get admission, hoping that we did well in the exam. Around lunch time, we all sat in the front garden of the school where we had shared a meal from our lunch boxes, and we discussed our hopes and fears about the exam we had just written. Thickly grown lawn grass cushioned us. After a while, we headed back to home and continued our daily schedules, anxious about our results, which would be out in a few days.
After a week, one day in the morning, our postman halted at our home, ringing his bicycle bell rhythmically, as was his usual practice. My sister, Sandhya, took the mail and notified all of us that there was a letter from Gurukul. It simply stated that I had passed the exam and described further steps to proceed with the admission. Apparently, the same postman handed the results mail to Cnu as well. He came running to our home and my excitement doubled as I learnt that he, too, would be accompanying me to Gurukul. That same evening, Cnu’s father came to discuss with my mother about the preparations for our admissions. As we were busy with our celebrations, a boy called Ramesh, who did not pass the exam, got upset with the results and spread a false rumour that we had bought our good results, and so he kept his distance from us. Interestingly, he later became a student union president and then took an active role in rural politics. Now he leads a comfortable life as a local political party convener for that district.
Next Expisode: Gurukul – Let’s Pray