Many middle class Indians of my generation face a peculiar problem. They don’t know what to say if you ask them a simple question: which school did you go to? This is because of transferable jobs of their parents. In my own case I went to school in Raigarh, Raipur, Delhi, Jabalpur, Bhopal and finally Gwalior. This was between 1955 and 1967. Of these 12 years, six were spent in one school in Delhi, the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. They were the happiest of my school life.
But when I reached Class 9, my father was transferred to Jabalpur. After six months he was posted to Bhopal. And after 18 months, to Gwalior. So which school did I go to? I think it was the one in Delhi but this belief was rudely shattered about six months ago. I was told by a fool who had spent only two years there but graduated from there that I was not eligible to be called alumnus because I had not graduated from there.
By that token I am an alumni of the school in Gwalior where I spent just six months! I don’t mind that because it was a nice little school where I made some good friends. But it’s plainly absurd that someone who spends six months in a school in his final year is an alumnus but not someone who spends six years but doesn’t graduate from there because his or her father gets transferred. What made it especially galling for me was that this guy had mistakenly sent a school group photo to me — he wanted someone with a name like mine but who had joined in Class 10 — asking if I could identify the kids. I did because I had spent from Class 3 to 9 with them. We had spent such happy times together.
I am very glad that I am not an alumnus of any school because WhatsApp has led to a proliferation of school groups which are a huge, crashing bore.
But instead of saying thanks, the idiot wrote back to me saying he didn’t know me. Obviously he didn’t. How would he? He had joined in Class 9 after I had left but spent only three years in the science section. Most of those in the photo had opted for Arts, as it was called then. It doesn’t matter to me which school I am an alumnus of but the question remains: how do you define an alumnus? I am sure thousands of people whose parents worked for the government have faced this problem. It has become worse now after schools have opened branches. People ask for the branch also now. It’s almost a new caste system.
Some parents who could afford the fees would send their children to boarding schools. That ensured stability but also made the kid a member of a new caste system. These boarding schools had, and still have, a strict hierarchy. I think at the top of the pile were the schools in the hills in North, South and East India. West and Central India had many boarding schools but they came lower down in the pecking order. Be that as it may, the alumnus status problem resolved itself unless, of course, you were expelled. But that happened only infrequently.
Actually I am very glad that I am not an alumnus of any school because WhatsApp has led to a proliferation of school groups — the fellow I mentioned above was trying to make such a group — and these are a huge, crashing bore. So are other large groups that with more than, say, ten members. And since the lockdown, I fear, the problem has become worse. Now zoom has been added on. I mean, can you even begin to imagine how horrible that is!