even remotely close to Malory Towers: the dream school, one of Enid Blyton’s best creations. And, how I’ve longed to be there!
I came across Malory Towers first when I was a 4th of 5th Std student, standing patiently by my cousin as she rummaged in her mom’s trunk at home, looking for “some Enid Blyton books you might like”. I saw a neat stack on books on one side, the topmost one titled “First term at Malory Towers”. Hardbound, with a most inviting cover picture. Yet, I took only the two books my cousin lent me—The Faraway Tree and The Enchanted Wood—and went my way. “Finish these and I’ll lend you the next set”, said she.
Well, in all probability, 2-3 days later, I went back for the next set. I was a fast, voracious reader (I still am). If I start on a book, I hate to stop in between. There was a time when my cousin used to take me to the lending library every 14 days during my summer holidays, because the minimum lending period without fine was 14 days. And, I would always take away 13 books every once in 14 days, much to the librarian’s initial wonder and later chagrin 😀 But, I digress.
So, yes, I must have been all of 10 when I got my hands on the Malory Towers series…and I was thoroughly lost in that world. The dormitories, the common room, the classrooms, the swimming pool, the games courts, the stable, the dining room. The pantomimes, the plays, the lessons, the tricks, the midnight feasts. The friends, the foes, the jealousies, the pity, the scorn, the sarcasm, the fun, the friendships, the evolving characters. Darrel, Alicia, Sally, Irene, Belinda, Gwen, Mavis, Betty, Daphane, Mary-Lou, Bill and Clarissa. And the other girls who came in one term and left later for various reasons. The headmistress, the mistresses, the support staff. The parents.
The book went through Darrel Rivers’ six years at boarding school, before she went off to University. So, at the end of the series, I counted back and realised that The First Term would be her Std 7 😀 And, in two years from then, I myself would be in Std 7 🙂 What joy if we could have half that fun!
Cut to my school.
My own school life was totally different. I was in a mixed school, a day-school, which had classes from Lower KG right up till Std 12. A most horrible man for Principal and a horde of teachers who believed that teaching was all about terrorising kids. Well, at Stds 5 and 6, we were considered too little for the teachers to take notice of us. I don’t remember bad times during then. So, these things didn’t quite affect us either. But when I look back now at Stds 8 and above, I have no good memories of that school. No good memories of amazing teachers. No good memories that ever made me want to go back there as an alumni.
Over 90% of our teachers, teaching in a co-ed school as they did, were completely loathe to seeing boys and girls interacting. And especially so for Stds 9 and above. There was to be no gender mixes in friendships, girls were not to be seen with boys and vice-versa, and had no hold over their (often in bad taste) runaway tongues. And, it did not help one bit that I was every bit a tomboy and had more male friends than females.
There was favouritism of the highest order. I was a good singer, but there were already other tenured singers who went their way up from Lower KG. I was a fresh face from Std 5. In a singing competition, they initially announced the 1st prize for me, saw one of the tenured singers burst into tears…and promptly shifted the award in her name. I was taken aside and told “You know you are a better singer, we all think so. But see, we can’t make her miserable because she’s always won it till now. As long as you know you are better, what does an award matter?” And the second, third and consolation prizes all went the usual ones who would receive them before I joined the school. I was a mere 10-year-old, who felt extremely hurt and insulted, and vowed to never sing in that school again 😀
Through Stds 6, 7, 8 and 9, I remember the extreme animosity between boys and girls in our classes…mainly because our teachers hated to see any unity and always made remarks to the likes of “Girls of this class are…” and “Boys of this class are…”, generalising every single incident, even if it only included one or two individuals. And, students were always at fault. Anyone who weren’t 1st, 2nd or 3rd rank holders in each class were too “useless and dumb” in their eyes. On hindsight, those days, I used to hate the boys in my class because their animosity (egged on by our teachers) were quite visible and continuous. And vice-versa. And, at the same time, most of my closest friends were my brother’s friends—boys who were 2 years elder to me—and other boys who were neighbours! Yet, not a single male friend did I have in my own class. Years of this had tuned us to hate classmates of the opposite gender.
It was while I was in Std 10 that we had a most lovely and able man for a Principal, one who looked at things from the students’ point of view as well. And, it was in that year that I, breaking out of my girls-only-cocoon, made friends with some boys in the class. And, instantly, became a sore spot in the eyes of my teachers. A series of horrible things happened, but we as a group went through them like they didn’t matter. But one day, all hell broke loose when our History teacher, who was known as the terror of the school, injustly accused my friend for something I did. She marched into class, and started abusing both of them, in front of 35 other startled boys and girls. I was seething, but my friend told me to let it go, that she was happy to take the blame. But when that horrible woman then started being downright vulgar in her “character assessment”, I flew into an absolute rage. In front of that same startled classroom, I put her violently in her place. I told her she was a disgrace to the entire teaching community, to the women community and to human community, the way her mind works. I no longer remember what exactly I told her, but my tirade was so loud and strong, she was speechless. When I was done, still trembling with rage, she said “I’ll report you to the principal and have you expelled”, to which I said “Not if I get to him before you do”. I marched into the Principal’s office, narrated the entire incident, and owned up to having yelled at a teacher. He heard me out patiently and as she barged in a while later with a group of her close allies (equally horrible disgraces to all those aforementioned communities), he made her apologise to me. Oh, how she hated me, for the entire school heard about this and she was no longer a terror. Earlier, boys and girls in conversation would flee in separate directions if someone so much as whispered that the History teacher was coming their way—because she could not stand the sight of a boy and a girl talking outside class. After this incident, the minute someone spotted her, they would grab the nearest person from the opposite gender and start a loud happy conversation. Well, I did not wish for any of this to happen, I only stood up for what I thought was right that day. But, she hated me for ruining her ‘aura’. She cursed me in front of my classmates before we went for our Std 10 board Exams, telling me I’d fail pathetically in my exams and be a disgrace to my family and myself, and that I’d never reach anywhere. She said “The curse of a teacher is the worst and will always come true. You just wait!” She also carved into one of the school walls the absolutely miserable marks I would score. It was with immense pleasure that I went to meet her when the results were announced, taking her to that very wall and showing her that her stupid predictions didn’t come true, for I’d passed with flying colours. The last thing I said to her was “You’ve to be a ‘genuine teacher’ for a ‘teacher’s curse’ to come true.” And, strangely, I felt no guilt, for that woman genuinely deserved no respect! That Principal didn’t last their long, of course. The post was taken over by one we could call a rubber-stamp, and the aforementioned teachers ruled the roost.
In Stds 11 and 12, school turned out to be a nightmare for most of us, especially for me, no thanks to my “history” with the History teacher. And anyone who dared to be my friend was treated with the same contempt 🙂 Which only brought out the worst in us. The Math teacher HATED us enough to screw up her face in disgust if she saw us: because some of us weren’t so good in Math. My best friend was a genius in Math – she couldn’t lose even a single mark, even if she tried. She was always, every single day, scorned for being friends with the rest of us ‘brainless idiots’. I mean, if teachers scorn the kids who are weak in their subject of expertise and keep focusing on kids who excel in it, what’s the use of being a “teacher”? I was the English teacher’s delight, but she had more allegiance to her colleagues (especially the Math and Biology teachers) and did her best to appear disinterested and disappointed in me for being no good in Math! Except for two of us, the majority of the gang were in the Biology teacher’s class…and owing to her allegiance to the Math and English teachers, she made life hell for those friends of ours.
Everyday, there was some punishment or the other. There was one insult or the other. There was one cutting remark (of mental prowess, lack of parental guidance, of all the kids in the world, why you) or the other. And, all of these made us more and more rebellious. We cared more about pissing these women off and ruining their days than about studying and scoring high marks in school. (On hindsight, I’m sooo not proud of this!) And thankfully, none of us ever failed in any exams. Subjects that we were weak in, we would still scrape by but never fail. Much to the chagrin of those teachers. And since we wouldn’t fail and they couldn’t demand that we bring in our parents, they finally came up with stories about how all of us were in relationships and those relationships were the sole reason we were turning up in school every day and how despicably wayward we were. We were 3 girls and 5 guys in the group. I’m surprised they didn’t say we were in multiple relationships! 😛 The Math teacher, my class teacher, called my parents to school once and blasted the living daylights out of them for bringing up a girl so badly, for being irresponsible parents and for letting their horrible daughter take their trust for granted. She told my parents I was in a relationship with my friend, who was an orphan and had no good means of living. This same woman who had hated my brother while he was in school, now praised him skyhigh and said “Why can’t your daughter be a bit like her brother at least? He was such a nice student, such a nice boy.” Hurt as they were, after a meltdown at home later that evening, my parents saw sense when I explained it all clearly. I even offered to call up the boy’s house and have my parents talk to his, for he was no orphan! And, the absolute surprise (followed by scorn and bellowing laughter) on my brother’s face at the praise he seemingly received seemed to explain more about the true colours of that teacher to my parents. And in stark contrast, my professors in the University absolutely loved me, and once called my parents to college during my final year. The previous time my teachers called my parents, it was a horrible day for them, so my Mom was sure she was in for another earful of abuse about her daughter. When the Head of my Department said “Your daughter is our true hope of a rank for our college”, my mother actually had a BP rise out of sheer surprise and sort of fainted! ROFL.
In all this, within and outside of school I did have a lot of fun with my friends, but I’ll only remember those days for the fun I had with them and never for the school life that’s supposed to be some of the best times in a child’s life. It was fun we had DESPITE the school being so horrible. When I look back today, I’m not thoroughly pleased at how we rebelled, but at that point, that seemed the only sensible thing to do. I recently spoke to some of the more mellow, “good students” (esp in the eyes of these very horrible teachers), and none of them seem to look back at that school life fondly. I was only too glad to get out of there, never to go back. I’ve received a few Alumni meet invitations, but I turned down everyone of them. And, I will continue to do that. Sometimes, I do wish my parents had admitted me into some other school, but I guess I turned out the way I am because of all that the school threw at me. I may have scored higher marks in another school with less of this bullshit, but I may have been a completely different person today.
So, why did I go down memory lane with a long post about a school life I hated? Because the past week, as a 33-year-old, I went back to reading Malory Towers 😀 And nothing seems to have changed in the past 20+ years, for how I longed to be there! How I wished my school life had been simpler, more fun and more meaningful. How I wished I ha fabulous memories to share today. How I wished I had not been a student in my beastly school (and still see it as a place that did me no good and one I’d never return to) and had been to one that was at least half as fun as Malory Towers! How I wish my school-time memories were far more beautiful than they ever will be. And, how I wish the beastly women who taught in that school had taken up alternate careers that were faaaaaaar removed from teaching and schools and kids. Sigh.