I’m talking here about the late1930s. There was no school bus, no horse-drawn cart, no bicycles. Not even a road in Olavipe those days. Walk to the church-run primary school about a mile away, through coconut groves, over the bunds of the rice fields, wade through water in some low-lying areas. Ramble along almost all the way though the family properties.
If one is late to reach the class, no matter. The teacher might glare briefly, but would never reprimand. The Headmaster put me in the second grade directly because I didn’t, for some reason, like the teacher in grade one! That was how it was those days.
The picture below shows a portion of our route to the school:
There was a code of conduct for other pedestrians during our way to school and back. No one could overtake us unless permitted. The drill for people coming in the opposite direction was, (1) ‘untouchables’ like Pulayas had go off the path to a respectful distance, or step into the water if they came across us on a bund, (2) Ezhavas and other lower castes would have to shift a few yards away and wait for us to move on. The higher castes were to stop and let us pass.
Can you think of children going to school without carrying slates and books and pencils? Well, we were like that. There would be at least one male servant to carry our school bags, umbrellas, water bottles and the like. After escorting us to the respective classes he would go back to fetch our lunch, which was eaten in a room at the vicarage made available exclusively to us for the purpose.
Then came the best part of the day. The area around the school and the church was sandy. A small, shallow stream ran between the two buildings. Launching paper boats in the clear, flowing water and racing them was great fun. Back to class after that. The servant/s would wait on the school verandah to take us home in the evening.
No games at school with the other children. Get back to the house and after a high tea, it was play time, with a selected few local boys. Some of the games that we played were native ones for which no special equipments were necessary. But mostly it was football, ball badminton and, later, cricket. Interestingly, cricket came to Olavipe in 1941. That’s another story.
Looking back from another age, these may sound incredible. But mine was a pioneering generation, nevertheless, in our family. We were the first to attend a local school and sit in the classroom with 'all and sundry'. Till our time, the family members were tutored at home and some like Appan went city schools and colleges for higher education.
My parents were strict about two things. We were to be polite to the other students and respectful to the teachers.
[ A brother of mine has sent the following email comment: "I read your piece 'about going to school' in 1930s. I of course knew the same reality and can appreciate it. I do have a slight concern whether part of it might be interpreted as underlining a superior social position. But it was the reality anyway. by the way, the photo in it is superb." Note: What I have done here is to present the situation as it was seven decades back, before World War II. Abraham Tharakan.]
Next part of this story would follow shortly.