The June 13 factor

Updated: Jun 15, 2020, 07:49 IST | Fiona Fernandez | New Delhi

Until now, that date would always conjure up images and memories of bawling kids, screaming-with-delight kids and nervous ones assemble together as the doors of our schools would reopen for the new academic year

Fiona FernandezI still recall the time, albeit in patchy frames; my mother's smiling face as she told me that I had done "well in my interview." As a four-year-old, who the hell knew what that meant except that it resulted in me heading home with a slab of Cadbury milk chocolate. In those days, and thank goodness for that, children didn't need to head to school as 12 and 15-month-old babies. We entered school at kindergarten, yes, we turned out fine.

At my first ever connection with the June 13 factor, I remember a feeling of dread. Immense dread. As I realised I had to let go of my mother's hand by the school gates, a nun in a habit waited to usher us bachchas inside the 'fortress'. She was a gentle soul, and tried her best to calm me down. The tears and wailing were in full flow by now. The headband that was meant to keep my curls in check had failed miserably, and my stubborn locks had now fallen on my eyes. A shabby mess. That first day of school was this mix of blurry images, and plenty of squealing. Yes, from all corners of the classroom. Mrs Lobo, my KG class teacher was a jovial woman with a booming voice. Her motherly avatar soon made her quite the darling, and the fear and trepidation that I had carried in the initial months of my first year in school, had diminished.

As we moved to higher classes, the hype around June 13 began to have different interpretations. By the time we were in fourth or fifth grade, it meant stepping gingerly into a classroom, hoping 'the gang' was in the same batch, without any unpleasant new additions or subtractions. I also soon realised that gossip and chitchat were necessary traits for popularity, of being high up in coolness quotient ratings. Then, there were those who returned to show off exploits, of holidays in hill stations or even more 'wow' – an overseas vacation.

By the time we hit our teens, appearances and vanity were the areas of maximum discussion, come June 13. Who's lost or worse, gained weight? Who's shot up the height charts? Who's got a new hairstyle that looks awesome despite school rules? Who's (ahem) got a boyfriend? That first day of the new academic year was all about not just catching up and taking stock but also about gauging your friends and classmates. Who's suddenly acing Algebra, who's English pronunciation sounds suspiciously accented or how did Ms Sloth get so good at dunking baskets into the hoop?

Then, there was also the betting [with ice cold desi Pepsi Cola as bait] on possible contenders for class and subject teachers. It used to be a suspense-filled half hour during that first assembly before the faces would get revealed, one by one in the course of the day. Folks like me, were the odd types. We'd be dying to discuss the latest movies we had caught on the newly-acquired home VCR, or share exploits of sightseeing in 'town' [read: Colaba or Crawford Market wanderings] or the latest albums that topped music charts. That all-important class 'best friend' was usually at the receiving end of these monologues. By the time we were in Class 10, our batch – unchanged since kindergarten – was a kadak unit and we were proud of our decade-old association. We also knew that the hype and buzz around June 13 would end after our school years.

With time, as newer school boards emerged, with it came different school-opening dates, and that date seemed to have gotten lost in the melee. And in 2020, based on all that I have been hearing and observing around me, the date has truly passed on. Study from home is the new mantra, as kids have seamlessly moved from one level to the next. Who knows, this might just become the new normal for school goers.

This, a stark contrast to the hurried panic that would fill the air every June 13; one that we'd lived through for 10 years – of mums rushing with their kids towards a school bus; of a driver who honked incessantly so you'd hurry while skipping over puddles; and of a busload of kids ready to take fresh steps into the unknown, as a new academic year beckoned. Those were truly the wonder years.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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