Think of it, ours must be the only institution that taught students for only 7 months a year. Apart from vacations, we enjoyed two months of ‘in-school holidays’, one for ‘Birthday’, and the other for ‘Sports’. The season would be ushered in gradually. We all knew it was coming, but the teachers, till the last moment would make it seem like studies were still important. Sometimes, they would hold Unit Tests in late November so children studied.
But there was no stopping it. It would begin with the marching sessions. Slowly, the ‘minder’ would be asked to ‘mind’ the class as the teachers would be missing for the classes. And then, before we realised, it was here!
For the next two months, a pink statue that had four heads would play an important part of our lives. That and squares made of white chalk. And stinking shoe racks and drums of Rasna.
The selection of ‘items’ was always important, as in this phase, new friends would be made. Seniors and juniors would mingle freely and you could call them by their names without adding the suffix ‘brother’. Perhaps the most obvious differentiation was seeing colour everywhere. When the entire batch of 120 guys went to bed every night wearing uniform pyjamas, it was a luxury to wear normal clothes, also called ‘home dress’.
Hygiene was the last thing on our minds then. I’m sure if the Dettol Doctor had visited us then, he would have had a mild heart attack. Night practices, playing with stones; we were a doctor’s nightmare. And another important thing during ‘Sports Time’ was that rules were made a little flexible. Wake up at a leisurely 8 AM, wear whatever you want, don’t even touch your book, and no speeches about kundalini chakra.
During the next two months, everyone would pursue an interest with earnest. Since we dint have classes and there wasn’t anything else to do, we chose a pastime. And each of them was weirder than the other. Some juggled throughout the day, with handmade balls made of tamarind – rolled to perfection on the elephant slide and could give those so called rolled on the thighs Cuban cigars a run for its money. Some played 5 stones, or cricket cards, or WWF cards. I used the time judiciously. I used to stare at girls.
Sports time was payback time for the ascetic life that was imposed on us during the rest of the year. As each of the items performed, or rather ‘practised’, the other groups would be allowed to look. The teachers (if they were ‘important’ teachers) would give in their suggestions. And we could stare all we wanted. Sports time was Christmas time for you if you had the hots for someone. Many crushes were created and many hearts crushed in these two months.
The next two months would fly away in a blur. Between practice sessions in the dormitory with audio cassettes and National Panasonic cassette players. Baths in the dining hall in the evening. With ‘steps’ and ‘formations’ and ‘item-wise practise’. Ravalgaon Orange toffees if you did well. No bhajans in the evenings. (Did we go for Sunday morning darshan during Sports Time? I can’t seem to remember) It was a colourful mist of lazy, sweet days that came in drums of orange, pineapple and green apple flavours.
Of all the memories that I remember of Sports Time, the gloomiest one was of the evening of January 11th. When we would return to our dormitories, and take off the white pants that had satin strips stitched to the sides, and could listen to the music playing from the stadium. Somehow, the evening of January 11th was one of the saddest days of the year. When night settled on that day, I was filled with a strange sadness. It was back to waking up in the morning, filling your ink pen and those sky blue shirts and dark blue pants that had to be taken out of the shelves, after throwing away the ‘5 stones’, orange chocolates, and WWF cards that were hidden under it. And just like that, the best time of the year was behind us.
Neatly arranged, and packed into the suitcase.