Long ago in a far away land there lived a group of children. They played, learned, and enjoyed their time together in school. Their parents met occasionally socially as it was a forward army station.
Those were the days of small markets, a Friday evening open-air theatre auditorium film night for all ranks, a Sunday spent having late breakfast, Rasna @ 11 am, some baked delight in the early evening and a delightful cycling session as friends came ringing their bells at 5 pm on our wicket gates.
It was also a time when family walks with pets in tow was a norm and summer was spent either on Dad’s annual leave of two months or interesting days planned by army wives for the kids who had stayed back.
Those were also the days when a ‘Corp’ day or a mess night was listened to with a sigh because kids were not allowed but when an odd generous Commandant or a GOC did allow for kids into the mess party albeit in the barracks but with the same paraphernalia and a blanket order to sign on our dad’s name for cold drinks we wanted – it seemed like eternal bliss.
Those were the days when the ‘shaktiman’ was our school bus and the ‘bhaiya’ at the stairs and the small door had to be listened to without a question irrespective of your father’s rank. When singing songs or playing the Chinese whisper as every turn toppled us and the middle bench sitters on the ‘shaktiman’ either kept falling forward or backwards and when huge canvas bags and a swinging water bottle was used to get our friends attention as we waved & shouted our ‘byes’ while manoeuvring the bags minefield on the floor of the bus was our lovely life.
When walking across to your friend’s house to ask her/him to join for a game or a missed homework was normal and not having even a turning-key- olive green phone @ home was considered simply fine.
When meeting friends as officers came to ‘call-on’ dad was a day one waited for right through the week and talking about where they were from or who they were, was never important because we only wanted to know if they were our age and would they be in our class in that one army Kendriya Vidyalaya where all kids went to so that we would have leverage of being friends with the ‘new’ kids before the others.
When surnames were just their dad’s names and nothing clicked a bell nor a horn and every name was a just a friend’s first name – from a Suma to a Rupali to a Minti to a Aszra to a Shrinivas to a Joy to a Sirohi.
When kids were bothered more with showing off about how many places they had already been posted to, how many schools they had changed, how many fun things the previous station had – for life was about simple, straightforward joys & delights.
When elections and politics were part of our Social Studies textbooks and whether our parents voted through postal ballot or not it did not matter; we did not care.
When knowing about politics was part of ‘General Knowledge’ and became useful only when I started preparing for the Civil Services – till then I was just called a ‘very well-informed’ child.
When Newspapers were the main source of information and we learnt of everything across the country through them till the idiot box came post Asiad ’82 for reportage was also governed by simple rules of credibility and it mattered how accurate their news coverage was.
When schools had us write essays and pieces where we needed to express our opinions but always a balanced one was encouraged not by design but as matter of principle.
This was India, and this was the army life in which I grew up. I learnt my lessons well. I read even more. I knew everything about politics and the political parties. I knew of the world though from afar. An India Today or a Time or National Geographic or a Reader’s Digest let me bring the world at my doorstep. I had an opinion on everything and wrong or right I could express my thoughts at school and at home with no one being judgemental. The discussions were always animated but minus the negativity. The debating on topics as varied as Asiad ’82, Parliamentary versus Presidential style of government, the Economics of Politics and a million more were not to align to any political party or thought process but our own and were innocent educative topics for young adults to express and write about and learn to express views while being tolerant about those ‘for the topic’ and against the topic’ – in the end it was extremely important that house mates on both sides did well, otherwise the overall House marks dipped which was totally unacceptable.
Credibility, balance, and acceptance were a norm and taught without attaching much fanfare to it. All our school events were internally held without parents attending anything but the annual sports day or annual day yet none of us felt that events and judging was not fair. The objectivity and even-handedness started at home and continued at school and beyond, so the balance and the impartiality were bound to happen. With it came tolerance and neutrality of views and acceptance that uniformity is an absurdity while diversity the standard.
When all of this and more is what I learnt then, so many decades ago as a student then what is it that was missing which is there to a student to learn today? When I am a world student today with views which reflect an intelligence far beyond what people think was prevalent in that age what is that was missing then which is there for a student to learn differently today?
My questions like the above are many. Do you know why? When as a student from ‘those’ days can teach and be an educator of now with empathy and responsiveness and an understanding of the world around us without any fancy trainings or world workshops – what is it in the present that we are doing so brilliantly or what was not in the past which was as brilliant?
I exist today because of who I believe I am and not what someone else wants me to be.
I am confident today because of my belief in my abilities to do what I set my mind and will to.
I am happy in all situations because I have been taught to see good first but not let-it-be if all is not well.
I believe in my world because I make my own opinions, and no one can sway me like a mob with rhetoric and empty words.
I remain wise & keep my counsel amidst the disharmony because I keep my views: mine sans the politics.
I continue to desire for that India, that life, that incorruptibility, that simplicity because my life remains straightforward sans all complications in this age and time.