The Double Promotion

Y is my childhood school buddy and we've been harmlessly mean (you know, in an innocent way) to each other. She hated me for topping the class and I hated her for the awesome Tibetan noodles and momos she got as lunch. But we pretty much stuck together. So in her FB post today, she asked her friends to recount how and where we met her and our mutual comments drizzled to how I got the double promotion at school. And, I told her it’s some story and I should tell her sometime.

So, this is for all of you, who know and don’t know that I got double promoted in school, not once but twice. Yes, I spent just 11 years in school.

There was no pre-school when I was growing up and the mandatory has-to-be-3 yrs old rule for Nursery A and that I was a July-born made things difficult for my parents. I don’t remember learning rhymes or ABC. I had figured numbers till 100.All the colors, most animals, birds and the blah. I must be 3 when I used to struggle through multiplication table 9 and, how I hated my parents for it. I recited my first poem before I began school – a Bengali poem composed by my father, I don’t even recollect a word.

My nursery interview was a disaster, my parents think. Because I could not sing any conventional nursery rhyme but I belted my own chartbuster – of some dandy this, dandy that. But my headmistress was quite delighted with my performance and promoted me to Nursery B. Of course, my parents were relieved and eventually proud, and one more blame game subdued. So that makes Y my immediate junior. The stakes just got higher and I was learning the table of 13 and 14 with lot of stress, sheer rote. And no, my mother didn’t feed me almonds or memory enhancing tablets. I was pretty much the topper all through kindergarten and class 1 and also, the class monitor. Always.

Then things got out of order. We had to leave town because my dad’s mother, technically my paternal grandma was unwell - a cranky old lady who was not particularly fond of kids. So, I didn’t go to school for a year. Father’s meager salary couldn’t meet all expenses and selling ancestral property for short term plugging was not his kind of problem solving. He promised to get me to school the next year. I was cool about it. That year, I played under the tropical sun, woke up whenever I felt like, slept whenever I felt sleepy, walked 2 kms to watch BR Chopra’s Mahabharat every Sunday, climbed trees, plucked fruits, chased cows, got bitten by leeches and stung by ants, fell into ponds almost drowned, got scared by snakes and ghosts and what not! But, that year remains by far the most educative of my entire life. I saw how tough it was for Mother to go through the grind at so many levels, our younger brother was just born and my sister was just 2 years old. Father learnt it the hard way that one’s own brothers and relatives can be pretty indifferent when the going gets tough. Lessons in resilience and self-reliance.

Fast forward to the next year, we came back to Shillong to start from where we left. Lost all our belongings and household stuff to the idiocy of our landlord’s son - recovered most of the documents but lost plenty of memories.  Rehab started and I was back in school. My old classmates were a year senior and I was where I needed to be, Y became my classmate. My parents never prepared me – they thought I was brave enough to handle it. But, my old classmates were taunting, the boys especially. They’re sure I’d flunked a year. And, here I was trying to tell them my grandma was ill. But who listens to a 6-year old? The shame gave way to resilience. I gathered steam and did enough to tell others that I am better than them. I was the class topper and the class monitor in a more democratic setting of course.

My winter vacations were rigorous. My father made sure I had procured Math and Grammar textbooks from my immediate seniors and I had to slog it out a couple of hours. No, we didn’t visit relatives because their kids had winter exams, CBSE syllabi. So every spring when school re-opened I was sort of ahead of the others in class. But there were equally bright and intelligent folks in class like Y who learnt stuff there, in the moment when the teachers showed them.

At the end of my sixth standard winter vacation, besides my winter ritual of Math and Grammar practice I spent some part of it learning how to make candles with my Headmistress’s daughter. She was a couple years older than I and I learnt a good deal of art and hobby stuff from her. She also helped me with my projects. As the holidays were drawing to a close and school books were readied for the next session and like always, I had mastered almost more than half of my Math and Grammar for the seventh standard. I was very bored one evening at home looking at my books when someone joked that I should consider asking for a double promotion. And that’s it. The next day, I actually had the gall to present my case to the headmistress while she was running up to office to receive late admissions. And, I don’t remember what all I spoke to her but she smiled at me and asked me for a valid reason. I told her I am generally good in a lot of things and there is evidence – I’ve been consistently winning the General Proficiency prize every year. More importantly, I had cracked more than half of the 7th standard Math and Grammar. I am definitely sure my headmistress must have thought I was crazy. I came home and told about my incredible case to my parents. They didn’t laugh at me but they didn’t condemn me either. I was relieved and by evening I had forgotten about it.

School reopened and we were officially in the 7th standard, there was something about being in this class. Coming of age sorts. Our class teacher was a fabulous light-eyed lady who would teach us English Literature and Grammar. She got us organized for the year, divided us into activity groups and who would do what.  We loved the sense of community in the class. Each one contributed not beyond 50 paise to a rupee for the class fund and we’d get the charts in place and tidy up with nice dainty curtains. So the monitors were the cashiers and our class teacher assured us that she’d cover should we run into any shortage. Of course, she meant every word of it. The first day of school is usually a half-day, staff meeting and annual plan of action and all that.

It was just the second day when I was counting the coins to procure chart papers and we’re quite sufficient I thought for the time being. You’ll always find me on the front row when the class teacher beckoned me. My instinctive reaction was – no Miss, we don’t need the money. We’re doing good. We’d ask you when we need. She gave me a puzzled look. She gently brushed my protests and asked me to come to her table. I went up. She told me in her very calm voice to pack my bags and go to the 8th standard classroom. I was like what??!! Oh wait! Yes, we had a staff meeting yesterday and the teachers agreed that Kiran should be given a chance to prove herself in the 8th standard. And I also respect those teachers who would have protested and rightly so. I don’t think I even said a proper bye to my buddies. I just walked away in dazed amazement.

That walk to 8th standard classroom was the toughest, the loneliest and the longest. Young 14-year olds embracing adolescence and teenage angst and what’s that got to do with someone who just got a double promotion. I knocked the door. My new class teacher received me matter-of-fact. Of course, she did her best to keep it as low profile as ever. And, I am thankful to her for that. My really former classmates were puzzled – those enquiring looks and some pretty dismissive and indifferent but no harm or malice at any point in time. I took the corner most seat on the front row abandoned by all and looked around. How I wanted to run back to my last class of familiar faces and friends. And, the wait for school to finish so that I could run home and tell parents that I just got double promoted. One girl reached out, she still remains my fondest friend though we are not so much in touch these days. More folks joined us in the coming days. No more segregated classrooms – boys and girls in one class, one big equal.

I continued to remain a pariah and outsider for reasons best known to the girls at least. Oh yes, one reason was I was not dating anyone in the short lived class affairs. I was such an unattractive nerd and I couldn’t bring myself to create those mushy feelings for my fellow boys, I looked at them as equals in the field. I even went to the extent of proclaiming my innocence by tying the sacred Rakhi thread on those poor hapless boys who also readily agreed. I did what I was good at – studies and I soon earned the sobriquet – teacher’s pet. It was fashionable to be a rebel and I was anything but a rebel. So the class hated me with all its might. I was competing with 4 boys for the top slot in the class. I had average marks in a couple subjects and I quite remember those subject teachers giving me those all knowing but shrugging I-told-you-so looks almost making me regret my double promotion. I was unsure if I’d ever crack Acids, Bases and Salts like a pro and balance chemical equations like that. I worked harder and longer. My old mates had no choice but to give me that space. To be accepted in a new environment, one tries every trick in the book – right from writing assignments for others and undergoing friendly roast-ish banter and bullying. I also gave it back to one of the bullies in class, male or female you should not ask. The next year, I was elected Vice Head Girl and eventually, I went on to become the Head Girl of our school. My moment of reckoning had come but at some amount of personal cost – boycotted for being different.

My parents taught me to deal with shit by not taking shit, no mollycoddling. And, it’s ok to be hated by some. Whoa, the perils of a double promotion. No, it does not have to do with being bright and brilliant with the books alone. There’s so much going on underwater. I wish I had more mindful teachers who saw me battle out all alone and who should have given me a gentle nudge or a kind word once in a while. My Math tutor refused to admit me to the prestigious all boys club because they’re brighter and faster and whatever. I refused to budge and told him that I was saving up all my fuel for the Boards and he shall live the day to see that. I just did enough to get distinction marks in most papers, I left a couple of questions unanswered because I was so damn sure of what I wrote and I was not wrong, I topped the school. Everyone happy, my parents and especially my school – my Headmistress and my teachers, their investment and trust in me had paid off. But I also learnt that I was not always right. The difference of marks between the State topper and me were 17 marks and I had donated 30 marks worth questions just like that. Lesson learnt, compete with yourself not with others.  

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