By Bobo Khuraijam
An elder from the leikai came home with a form to be filled up. It included so many details. Name, residence, age are some of the features that we dimly remember. The rest of the details were filled up by the family elders. A school entrance test. We heard that it was a new school. We also heard that the government was planning to make more replicas of it. The aim was to provide education to the children of the rural poor. A new dawn in the horizon of education … parents talked. Elders and neighbor talked about it endlessly. For us, we knew we were going to stay in a boarding school if we crack the examination. The thought of staying away from home gave us mixed feelings. An apparent absence of surveillance from family elders would give us a fault sense of freedom. We were going to be the second batch. Quite a fresh school, huh? We started imagining: A building with fresh paints, huge playground, cozy beds, nice uniforms, and a large dining hall. Quite a session of reverie, but we woke up. The result of the examination soon got out. Selected! Lots of paper work followed again. Things to buy: A metal trunk, it should be filled with vests, canvas shoes of specific colours, socks and a torch light etc.
THEN: the day arrived to go to school. We headed westward from our house with the trunk. We were all smiles to see our names neatly written on it. A black box and a white name painted at the corner. We passed by wide stretches of paddy field. All standing tall and green in the mid-year summer, swaying like waves. Our feeling too oscillated with expectations and uncertainties of a new place. A place where we are going to stay for the maximum time of a year, except for two months summer break and a month winter break. Our parents could visit us on the first Sunday of the month. It was not a long drive on the New Cachar road. We have reached the school. Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Khumbong was the name written on the sign board. The metal board looked aged but the paint looked fairly new. Some more paper work again. A round of introduction with the head of the institution followed then. After that we were given a mattress, a bed sheet, a pillow, a mosquito net, a blanket, a toothbrush, toothpaste, books, exercise books, uniforms and most importantly an admission number. The number was going to be a quintessential identity for the rest of our stay in the school – our new home. The playground was a huge. But there was no building. There was a dining hall. But it was not large. We were going to stay in a place called dormitory. The bed which we were going to sleep was double storied. The thought that we had escaped from elderly surveillance turned out to be a myth. There was seniority system. We have to address the students who were senior to us as brother or sister. Over and above, the teachers were there for us twenty four hours. The following days were followed by strict regimentations; early morning physical training exercise, breakfast, morning assembly before we hit the classrooms. It was then punctuated by lunch break. A few lessons in the classroom again. Evening games period. Evening prayer before the supervised study, dinner and lights off before we called it a day. Everyday dal with a scoop of vegetables and superfine rice was a mood swinger. What we expected earlier before joining the school all turned out to be just the opposite. We missed the comfort of our beds back home. The home cooked foods and unconditional love from our parents. We would curse the everydayness of the school. The school was with very minimum infrastructures. Everything was makeshift. After a few months of stay we somehow got acclimatized.
NOW: things have changed enormously. We could not believe that it was all twenty five years ago. The school now has one of the best infrastructures. We had Yotpaak and Thaanngjou in our hands then. Now the students have computer mouse on their hands to click. Private tutorial classes were not heard in our days. Now we have beehives of the so called coaching centers that purportedly help in cracking the entrance examination. Whew! The journey so far… lately, we had a reunion of the school. We realize how fortunate we are today. Those days of disciplinary regime have shaped us into what we are now. What we learned outside the classroom has been a priceless lesson in the journey of life. We wish if we could rewind the time. It would be a futile attempt. We know that. Nevertheless, we can drown ourselves with sweet nostalgias. We can bask in the sunshine of the past. We can sing in chorus of the songs we learned together. – Loud and clear. We know at the Leipung that it tantamount to glorify one’s Alma Mater. That we may be blowing our own trumpets in front of the public, then, let it be so. One honest confession: We are still in love with our Alma Mater.
FOOTNOTE: There has been a campaign going on against pollution of language, culture, identity and so on. Dear Friends, Lord Budha once got confronted with a lady who had lost her husband in his routine visit to a village. The lady vehemently requested Budha to do something that life may come back to her husband. Budha then asked the lady to come with a handful of sesame seeds on the condition that it should be collected from a family who has never lost anyone. The lady failed. Therefore so is our language, our culture and our identity. It keeps on mixing. Leipung Ninghtou calls it, “Kabui Keioibana ootong ahobada ishing honnaba hotnaba”.