A start to a new academic session always meant one could start afresh, no matter how good or bad the past year had been. The arrival of the new season brought along with it all kinds of new things; new class room, new time-table, new books and new notebooks which we used to call copies then. New books meant new stories to read and they smelled great too! We used to get a subject specific list for notebooks specifying the type and quantity of notebooks for each subject. A typical subject would have one notebook meant for home work and the other for class work, with the notebook meant for class work usually thicker. Once the list was handed out to us, we would go to the stationery store to get all those. The most preferred brand was Oxford. Lab records came in two kinds, the binding one and the other one allowing to remove pages. Along with the notebooks and lab records, what everybody looked forward to the most was labels or stickers as we used to call them to be used on the covers of the notebooks and books. Different years brought different flavors of stickers along with it; sometimes the face of your favorite cricketers and sometimes the figures of your favorite Pokemons. Also bought was the cover paper, initially coming in brown which was then replaced with waterproof orange papers with a polythene film on top of it. Once these things were procured, next task was to cover the new books and notebooks. It was quite fun once I learnt it. The floor would be filled with identical cut pieces of paper. At the end of this activity, we would gleefully paste the labels. The alignment of the labels was varied. Some chose to have it right at the center, symmetrical to all the sides. While some others would have it at the top center, some at the bottom right corner. And some others didn’t like the labels to be parallel with the edges of the notebooks. They would paste it diagonally, something which I never had a taste for. Then would begin the activity of writing on the labels. I paid too much attention for this part, resulting in me making funny faces, especially with my twisted tongue and bit lips. Once all these activities would be over, I would arrange it well on the recently dusted bookshelf. A crisp sheet of newspaper would be laid down on which the new books and notebooks would be arranged. The books would be arranged height wise and the notebooks would be arranged based on their thickness with the wafer thin copies meant for unit tests or class tests at the top. All of this held good for a week before it went for a toss resulting in a big heap of books and notebooks, scattered randomly. Some notebooks would be buried under the heavy Mathematics books. Pages of some other loosely bound book would be lying half folded under another notebook. Cobwebs would be seen hanging from the upper corners of the shelf. Ma would always ask us to pack our bags for the next day before going to bed. But like all obstinate lazy kids our age, we would do this the following morning in a hurry, resulting in the mess.
Initially I would pick the right notebook by reading the label. But over a time, there would be no such need as I would recognize the notebooks by their labels. For example, an ecstatic Pikachu label on the notebook would mean it was definitely the English Classwork notebook. Yes, I did that! Putting my favorite labels on the subjects I liked the most. But sometimes it would backfire with me picking the wrong notebook and when I explained the teachers the reason, it would sound to them like the countless excuses they were made to hear by others.
After few months of classes, summer vacations would arrive. I believed they were there to let boys and girls hide their faces covered with ugly prickly heat rashes. Funny but true. Summer vacations meant we would be given lots of homework to do. Not many chapters would have been taught in the class before the vacations. So, I would always be thinking of revising those and also make sure to read a couple of chapters in advance as advised by teachers to score good marks. I completed my school, college and later graduated but never did I apply the concept of revision. For me, covering the syllabus once before the exam proved to be difficult at times, forget completing it two or three times.
Summers were different then. Of course, we didn’t have ACs back then, nor did inverters and had to endure the hot afternoon. But once you overcame that, summer evenings of yesteryear were a bliss. Cool breeze would blow once the Sun set and more often than not there would be load shedding more commonly known as power cuts. But that provided a welcome change from being stuck in the house all day long. Evening games in the open was a common thing. Back then, in any locality, there would be single storied houses adjacent to each other separated by boundaries. The houses didn’t look like crunched structures of cement and steel and instead almost all houses had a garden. We would play all sorts of games, the darkness setting in from dusk made hide and seek the most popular game among friends. Ludo was a close second. Back then, it didn’t matter whether you were a boy or a girl, couple of years younger or older, everybody would join for the games. This selfie taking generation playing games on their smartphones inside the concrete flats cannot even begin to imagine what they miss these days. Evening games didn’t last forever and soon we had to return to our homes. Studying in the light of the portable emergency light was a different experience altogether. Getting attracted to the light source in the dark, the little insects which looked like ants with wings would start walking over the equation you had written couple of minutes back in your notebook. By the time, one calculated the values of x and y from the equation, the whistle from the pressure cooker would go off. Later, after dinner, we used to sleep on the terrace for couple of hours. I would stare at the vast night sky studded with stars and shooting stars which stretched to infinity and beyond. With all the light pollution these days in the cities, I miss this activity the most!
Few months into the vacation and cousins would visit our homes. And if they didn’t, the families would start planning on going on a trip to someplace by train. Back in those days, the train was a magical ride. Sitting near the windows, I would never get tired of watching the train changing the tracks. And if the train came across a river bridge, the summer revealing the dry sand bed of the river with water in scattered puddles, it was a sheer delight. The landscape would change so fast, from cracked barren farmlands devoid of water to black stone mountains with texts like ‘Happy New Year’ written in white, big enough to be visible from the train. I would look at the trees and electric poles passing by quickly and cook up theories in my brain. One of which I am going to share. Those days I was always on the look out to disprove some well-known existing scientific theory inspired by the likes of Galileo and Newton. While explaining the theory of relativity everybody gave the example of how the trees appeared to be moving in the opposite direction although they were stationary and made to look like moving because of the moving train. This was then used to prove the movement of Sun in the sky and how the Sun did not rise from east and set in the west, rather it was the Earth which was rotating about its axis from west to east. And I knew from whatever texts I had read that keen observation was the first step to knowledge. And therefore, I observed. I observed and found out that, the trees and the poles which were nearby appeared to be moving in the opposite direction, but the mountain which stretched in the background seemed to be travelling with us. And the Earth which is so far from Sun and hence.. Oops! I don’t even remember what I concluded from this wacky observation back then!
When I got bored with the sightseeing from the train’s windows, I would flip over the Champak or The Tinkle Digest comic books brought from the station platform. Sipping a Frooti, I would happily read the tales of Shikari Shambhu and Suppandi. Summer also meant mangoes, mangoes and more mangoes. Fruit wise, summer seems to be the best season. All my favorite fruits come in this season only. I would gorge upon the watermelons, litchis and ice apples. The seeds of the watermelon irritate me till date and every kid definitely had this dream of having their own mango tree by planting the seed of the mango they just ate.
Back in those days, we didn’t have phones to be in touch with friends and it would be really awkward meeting even your best friends after the vacation. Fights would be forgotten and one could start afresh with anyone. Later in life, there came the landline telephone in every household and we used to call each other using that. Few years down the line, tuition in the vacations meant we were never away from each other. Soon, the monsoon would follow and being from a coastal district along the Bay of Bengal meant rains caused by depressions or low pressure was a common feature. Raincoats would be out and back then kids didn’t look cute, they looked like aliens in those things. If one didn’t get wet with the rain, then one would definitely get wet with the sweat forming inside. And if it rained more, we always wished for a rainy day which meant no school. I used to sit on the bed for hours, looking out of the window at the rains lashing the Earth, the scent of the Earth filling my nostrils. And sometimes to make the matters even more interesting, there would be hailstorm. Yes! ICE! Big and small pebbles of ice making noise while falling on the roof. On one such occasion, the adjoining green field looked completely white for some time because of all that ice that had fallen in a span of minutes. Rainy days like this sometimes lasted for days, with the sun playing hide and seek. And with no Sun to dry the clothes, makeshift drying lines would be drawn inside the houses. And in these times, I would take out my water-color set and start painting on a white piece of paper, scenery of some far away unknown land. Like writing gives me pleasure these days, painting was all that I was interested in those days.