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What were the emotions that you felt while taking the AIIMS May exam? Worry? Tension? The pit falling out of your stomach? Nostalgia? Wait what… nostalgia? How can the dreaded entrance exam incite nostalgia in you? Ah well, it did in me! My seat for AIIMS examination was in Calcutta Boys’ School, my old alma mater, where I did my early schooling. Although I studied there only till the 6th standard (I left early on in the 6th), I have many sweet memories of the place.
I was visiting CBS after more than a decade, having left sometime in 1998/1999 when Mr. Girish Roy was the boss. Naturally, I expected things to have changed, and there were a lot of changes indeed. An eyesore of a metal barricade, one that would have made Hogwarts’ dementor-deflecting walls look like a joke greeted me. I wonder what kind of recidivistic delinquents attend CBS now that they have to be kept walled in like that! The dusty old pitch was pretty much the same as ever, as was the red brick Renfrew house.
First CBS and then Medical College, Kolkata. I have a long and cherished history with red brick houses, it seems!
Bits and pieces of memories trickled down as I climbed the well worn staircase of the Renfrew House to head for the assigned room, hoping against hope to find some vestiges that would let me connect to the past. I do not remember clearly but I think we may have done our class V (or was it class VI?) in the Renfrew House, in one of the rooms adjacent to the staircase (on the left hand side).
As I took my seat, I realized that it was one of the classrooms in the art-room corridor, where we had lessons with Mr. Tapan Mitra. And opposite to Mr. Mitra’s kingdom used to be our music room where there was a grand piano and I’d try my best to not let it out that I can sing about as well as a frog with a sore throat. As for art, I remember always drawing plucking mangoes in the summer. And the one time we had a still life drawing class with some fancy-schmancy charcoal thingy, I remember drawing a vase and mangoes. I still had the weird little metal blower with which we used to shower the charcoal smudges (clearly I did not have much in the way of artistic talent working for me) with a whitish fixative a few years ago until I decided to do a purge of my room. (That is a story for another time!)
I peered into the room opposite to Mr. Mitra’s art room hoping to see the giant piano but now instead of Mr. Jogen Khan and Mr. Das Chowdhury’s (I hope I got the names right, it’s been some time since I reminisced about these folks) music room, there was a class room filled with medi-nerds trying to crack the paper.
As I stood there, absorbing the surroundings, remembering our tiffin-cricket days in the courtyard behind Renfrew, a few names popped in and out. Somehow I have always remembered one guy inevitably associated with all forms of under-arm cricket. Atrishekhar Ghosh. Each time I am reminded of Atri, I think of DG’s heartfelt obituary, and feel a little sad inside. I took this opportunity to go read the note again, and I think you should too (irrespective of whether you went to CBS or not). It reminds us that though we have a difficult life, maneuvering our careers and what not, its always worth keeping your friends close by. Because once they are gone, the feeling of guilt is immense. The note and the comments that follow are a nice, touching read but then again, DG always did have a way with words… which reminds me that DG was the first amongst us to do a Nadia Comaneci (cracking a perfect 10 on Mr. Steven D’Souza’s paragraph writing tests!). And tests in CBS are always associated with the memory of our furious parents wanting to meet Miss. C. Kariappah (our supposedly hot Preparatory Teacher: I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever what she looked like!) for giving us all (like, the whole bloody class) “Unsatisfactory” grades in some inane subject like music or what not.
Speaking of teachers, some of them shall always be etched in my memory. Mrs. Mookerjee, the stylish, modeling science teacher, so far the only Science Cheerleadercandidate I know of in real life! Mrs. (?Mandira) Datta was a very kind and sympathetic soul who would help me get over my weakness in History. I shall remember her note saying ”It was a pleasure to read your paper” in one of our History tests. She instilled in me a love for the past that has stuck on (and has translated into a fascination for the history of Medicine for me now!). Talking of History, I remember Anogh teaching me about Hitler and Rommel and what not during one of the world History sessions!
Mrs. Goswami’s fantastic English classes is (?are: agreement of verb with the subject. Remember the grammar workbooks from hell?) something I shall remember for a long, long time. Her impeccable English pronunciation always left me feeling a bit too Bong (a feeling that I would later receive from the inimitable Nikhil-da at Narendrapur once again).
Mrs. Zaffar, Mrs. Puri (who taught me to talk with an open mouth in order to enunciate clearly – I still remember her threat to make me eat a ruler sideways if I did not open up wide enough while speaking), Mr. D’Souza – they were all a part of shaping me into a better and more sound student. I realized later on when I shifted schools (and boards), that CBS had incorporated a lot of soft skills in me without me even realizing!
How can one forget Mr. N. Ghosh, and his signature line of: “Kip your dumb mauths saaat!” Somehow, he always reminded me of that character from Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol who’d go around juggling elephants all the time. What was his name again? Shoshthichoron?
I will always remember the time when Mr. D’Souza was our class teacher. It was at the beginning of class VI, I think. I had topped both the mid-term and annual exams in class V and was (naturally) the overall topper for the year… and I was so elated that I made a hash of copying the routine for the next year’s classes (note that I did not know I would be leaving CBS then. It was much later, during the summer vacations of class VI that the shift to Narendrapur would transpire. So I was just being sloppy and careless). Naturally, when the classes started next year, it was Mr. D’Souza who opened things for us with a Grammar lesson and obviously, I had the wrong set of books. I was customarily thrown out of class with a bunch of other students like me. After that, when the class got underway, Mr. D’Souza enquired who’d topped the list and everyone pointed to the guys outside. He came out and made me kneel down (while the others made do just by holding their ears or some other shit like that) saying that as the topper I had the added responsibility to stay on top of my game.
Those “Scripture” classes, the Sanskrit version of which (Indian Culture) I was to be taught later on in my next school (Ramakrishna Mission Narendrapur), were also a constant memory. As were Mrs. Ganguly’s temperamental Bengali classes. Her reading of “Chaander Pahar” in our class, or her psychotic marking of our papers (if I remember right, sometimes there were numerous people with 100% or close to 100% marks) have stuck to me still.
A lot of CBSians were to enter medical school later on (Shubhamitra, Datta, Majhi pop to my mind immediately) and among them Datta’s demise left me in shock for a few days. He was one of the guys with whom I had built up a great rapport in medical school (though we were in different ones). His death was a shocker for all of us.
But as I stood on the art-music corridor, I remembered a bunch of other insignificant stuff. Funny how the strangest of things are stored away by our brains. I remembered Bagchi and his odd, odd way of writing left handed (I remembered his rather unflattering nickname that he bore for a while as well!). I remembered that Bagchi was roll no. 2, and hence I remembered Auddy (Sayan?) was roll no 1! I remembered Auddy winning dress-up competitions… does anyone remember what he wore?
I remember the one time we went out for a picnic/outing of sorts and I hit Shamik and Kalyan for sixes and surprised myself more than the others. Or the time we tried out for Mr. Balsara’s (that was the name, right?) cricket coaching camp and I emulated my bowling idol Anil Kumble and got selected from the initial applicants. I also remember my Dad getting super-pissed about this and asking me to pull out!
I would be reminded of Alimpan, when I chanced upon my stack of old Chacha Chaudhury comics a few years ago. He was the one who got me hooked onto Pran’s works, a habit that stayed all through my school days! And speaking of books, does anyone remember the old guy who’d sell books right outside the gates? I was half hoping to run by him yesterday, despite knowing it was a Sunday. I remember how I used to nag my parents for getting me some trashy Archie comic or dilapidated Hardy Boys from the guy! And talking of nagging, what happened to that little shop that sold Chatpatas and other tongue-coloring candies in the premises? I hope it is still there!
I remembered hauling my Tablas in to the chapel for some weird competition… which reminded me of the importance of carrying the Hymnal if we wanted to avoid public humiliation by kneeling in front of the whole assembly. And how can one remember chapel but not remember Mr. Sidney’s (Sydney? Sydny? Who cares?) “soulful” rendition of “Silent night, Holy night” that made Jesus wish he was never born.
For some strange reason, I have associated Mr. Sidney’s singing with the only time (that I remember of, anyways) I got corporal punishment in CBS. It was between class and me and Sandip Boral (I hope I got his name right!) were chattering away merrily, totally unaware that the towering form of Mr. Girish Roy was looking in on us through the door. And of course, the left handed slaps that made my head spin for a week, to talk nothing about the post-school humiliation (and parental treatment that followed) remains branded in my memory. But I also remember Mr. Roy offering to play under-arm cricket with us in our corner during the tiffin breaks. And of course, how can one forget his huge, rabid dog? No, it is not an innuendo, I mean it in the sense that he had a big, ugly pet dog.
A thousand other such small, insignificant memories pop in and out. Some make me dejected, but most make me smile. The exam went really badly, I seem to have lost the Midas touch I had with exams while in CBS (note to self: need to practice being more modest), but somehow, at the end of it all, I was glad that I was back in CBS even for a day. For me, it was something like a bit of the circle coming to a close…
Note: Though I spent only the lower school in CBS, as the corpulence of this post proves, it has left an indelible mark on me as a person, as a professional. Also, I find it pleasing to realize that I remember a lot of the gang from back in those days (as do many of them). It was real nice to bump into Anogh Chanda a few days ago on Facebook and even better to see that he remembered me. There are a multitude of other blokes I remember sharing bits and pieces of my life in CBS with but I could not mention here owing to the length the post has already attained! Its just that though I never managed to stay in till the end, it feels good every time an actual CBS old boy remembers me. Old memories die hard, eh? By the way, none of the images in the pot belong to me. They were poached off Somshuvra_85’s Flickr page. I have a strong feeling that this might be Mr. Laha, the first prefect in the history of CBS to have handed in a resignation letter to the class teacher (or so goes the rumor).