Previous Episode: Gurukul – The Beginning
My excitement of joining the Gurukul doubled as my friend Cnu accompanied me. My mom packed my stuff, along with the list of items recommended by our Gurukul’s warden. Those were precisely – clothes, toiletry and homemade snacks. Additionally, I brought in my cricket ball, magnifying glass and India post cards. One may ask why did I carry a cricket ball as I never played seriously. It was just to make sure that I would be a part of a team and be along with other students.
As our admission process was completed, we were given two pairs of school uniforms, a set of sixth grade class books, steel lunch set, bedding and an aluminum trunk to keep all of our belongings. It appeared as if we were prisoners who had to give up all of our belongings and take the customary stuff while we served. Each class and section had a teacher who would take care of the new joiners to walk them through the disciplinary induction classes. That day we were just put up with our warden as no teacher was available.
Cnu and I happily went along with our belongings as the matron showed the way to school dormitory. That was the first time in my life I was separated from my mother and as far as I could remember, I never stayed at anyone’s place without my mother, not even at my grandparent’s home. As we were going away, my mother quietly wiped her eyes and waved at me, little did I understand the emotions of that moment. Years later, I realized what it would feel like to let our child go and live at some other place. Then, I had no idea how long I would spend there in that Gurukul. Maybe I was too young to have my life planned by that time.
The school was a two-storied building designed in a horseshoe model. It had a long veranda that joined all the classes that ran from the ground floor. To enrich the beauty of the school compound, there were tall eucalyptus, asoka trees next to the veranda, grown carefully in an interleaving fashion. In the open area of the school, there was a concrete dais; from this point, one could see the complete view of the school. The school dormitory was not so far from the school and it was followed by a large life-sized kitchen and dining. There was a little play area between the school and dormitory where children could play volleyball and badminton. Across from the kitchen, there was an entire open area which was a huge playground that was almost as big as the parade grounds. A part of this playground was filled with dense bushes and trees which covered the view of staff quarters. Among these quarters, there were sections meant for the school staff and the hostel staff, including chefs, watchmen, plumber, and electrician, etc. There were beautiful lanes developed that lead to these quarters and the paths were interconnected. One could notice the beautiful short steep hills and slopes while walking around the school premises. The whole school was safeguarded with a fencing around it. Once we reach the fencing, the view from there was green hills on one side and the beautiful Sarada river on the other side, which left the other two sides of the compound next to the main road. Overall, the layout of the school was well designed and beautifully maintained.
We followed our warden as he walked us through the school on the way to our dormitory. He was a tall, dark-complexioned, heavy man with a medium-sized pot belly; he walked briskly and remained serious all the time. Maybe he developed such a serious look over time while handling the students in order to keep them under discipline. “I should never get caught to this living giant for any fault doing”, I thought to myself. As we walked, I quickly noticed that each class had high standard of independent chairs and desks allotted to each student, starting from 5th grade to 10th grade, without any demarcation, and each class was precisely limited to thirty students.
The dormitory held five divisions – each one bearing a historical person’s name for each grade. Me and Cnu quietly followed the warden to ‘Ashoka’ dormitory which was allocated to sixth graders. It was a huge hall filled with two columns of bunk beds, and the trunks of the students were arranged in an organized way under the beds. The bunk beds were aligned in a way that at any given slice of the area, four students could stay together. Bright neon lights were chipped in the ceiling to evenly distribute the light in the night-time. Since the surroundings of the school was full of trees and adjacent to banks of the river, there was free wind flow, and many windows were installed to enable the good ventilation. At the end of the hall, there were abandoned rooms which remained locked all the time. Even though we noticed it, we didn’t think of asking about it to the warden. The order of these bunk beds were allotted to the students in the same way they took the admission. Hence, Cnu and me were in the same group, as warden allotted us two vacant brand new beds. As we settled our trunks under our beds, the warden told us to get ready for lunch, as it was about the time. He told us to bring our lunch sets to the dining hall, just by following the other students. Meanwhile, a bell rang loudly to denote it was a lunch break, as our warden was explaining to us.
We peeked through the window to see the students in an expectation that we may find familiar faces, though we knew none from the school. The students from each class came out in a queue, one after one, and formed a huge line that led them to the dormitory. The youngest students reached first, as they were in 5th grade and they were always served lunch first. Eventually, the remaining graders arrived. As we were new, few fellow classmates Chandu, Krishna and Prakash came to us and had introduced themselves, and the rest inquired of our whereabouts. It was somewhat similar to an examination of new entrants in a bird colony without much of displeasure. Later, we just followed the leads to the dining hall with our lunch set, where we had to stand in a queue for our turn while the chefs quickly served the food.
The meal was limited to steamed rice, watery lentils, curry, rasam and buttermilk to drink. Each day of the week had a predefined menu for three meals per day. The notice board in the kitchen bore the list of this menu and the timings. Once we were served, we followed the other students and sat along with them in rows facing each other. A few seconds passed by and no one was eating; I looked around with a hesitation because I wasn’t sure why everyone was waiting.
After a few minutes, when one section of the hall was full, the serving was on. The youngest boy among all of us stood up, folding his hands for the prayer, and chanted loudly as he kept his eyes closed. It was a sanskrit shanti mantra which could be found in several Upanishads – it was first found in the Taittiriya Upanishad. As a shanti mantra, it advocates peace between student and teacher, encouraging both of them to study and to practice yoga, without mentioning any particular god or any particular religion. As the young boy recited each line, we all repeated after him. The chants in the group generated vibrations in the hall and created a good effect on us. At least that is what I thought, because the mind works in synchronization with the chant’s beat cycle and we had no time to fantasize. As the chanting of mantra exhausted our mind, heart and breath, the relaxation came after the chanting was over.
The amount of positive energy the prayer brought to us was indescribable, because that was the only time where we all were remained peaceful, kind to each other and laughed together while we ate. The practice of prayer continued for each meal we had together for lunch and dinner for next five years of my tenure in our school.
Next Episode: Gurukul – Begin To Learn Life’s Essentials