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A Boarding School Diary!
Circa 95, for my life at the Doon School, was a world unto itself. Shielded in large part from the brutal reality that existed outside the hallowed boundaries of the ample campus; we were firmly placed in the school's embracing womb. No, I do not mean we were insensitive to the outside; just engrossed in boarding school life. Our days & nights are consumed with sport, competition, and a little bit of studying. A clan, a clique if you will. There were silly things that at the time seemed epic and swallowed our myopic minds and our racing hearts. Here's introducing that world within a world...
The House. Not all of us were fortunate enough to pick our houses. Second and third-generation Doscos aside; we got what we got. What's fascinating now is how attached we became to our respective houses. “Men love their country, not because it is great, but because it is their own”. Not to say our houses weren't great. My point is, irrespective of many factors including the kind of house mates, house masters, and the perception of the house; each boy's house was his own, and it was loved unconditionally, with utter devotion. The house then, Oberoi or Tata, Jaipur Kashmir or Hyderabad; was to each of its students, a staunch religion. We lived to uphold the honour of the house. From the PT Gong to the One Act Play Competition; the Cricket Trophy to the Music Competition; each student, with relentless focus, pursued every inter-house title for his respective house.
The House also provided an identity, much like a country does. And not unlike countries that sometimes garner the wrong kind of publicity; houses too were perceived more, or less favourably, at different times (depending mostly upon how many sporting trophies lined each house’s trophy cases in the Central Dining Hall). Whatever the prevalent perception of one's house, so was one's own identity and standing in the school's social order.
Beyond unconditional allegiance to one's house & the selfimage it endowed one with; the house was quite literally, the resting place. A safe heaven, a shaded sanctum (well at least when we became senior). A place to return to after a hard day's work. The 'common room', our watering hole, and the 'newaad' beds, our counterparts to the luxurious memory mattresses we’d ‘sacrificed’ to be here, rejuvenating, completely restful. It was in the house where we celebrated every triumph, and rued each loss. It was in the house amid 'house drinks' that teams were either congratulated or hauled up. And it was in the house that each Doon schoolboy made his little family away from family. Safe, comforting, familiar, and reassuring.
The Sc. If the house was the country, the senior most class was its vanguard. A people who defined the consciousness of the rest of the house's student body. They set the tone for the house – cool, sporting, scholarly, whatever the case. Most importantly, it was from among these super-seniors that we picked our idols & mentors. We would sometimes easily, at other times justifiably, fashion ourselves on these seniors. The fellow who scored the maximum goals in the soccer tournament final; the guy who had the biggest following at a certain girls' school; even the bloke who dared to have his head clean-shaven! The reasons ranged from solid to plain bizarre; but we all, whether we admitted it or not, had our chosen 'gurus'.
Apart from providing invaluable 'guidance'; the seniors also served as 'protectors'. At least a few important (read those wielding immense influence thanks to high cool-quotient) ones, that every wise junior had the foresight to 'butter up'; would go on to bail us out in many questionable situations; even recommend us to that much-sought-after 'post' that the senior was occupying at the time!
The Sc formers then, the senior-most set of students on campus were a much-revered lot. Sure there were those among them that were not in the best favour with students they may have rubbed the wrong way; for the most part, though, they provided sheltering respite. They were our unsaid brothers, our insurance of a good time, our indemnity in moments of strife.
The House-Master. Arguably the most complex relationship that a student shared on campus, was with his housemaster. A house-master who really was like a foster parent; complete with all the love & hate trappings that are part of real parenting. The house being a country, the House Master was its ultimate authority, its Prime Minister. And God forbid the chosen House Master wasn't exactly Mr Popular, the house would soon turn into a dictatorship, rather than a democracy.
In all fairness to the House Master, it was a particularly delicate balance that needed to be struck. A tightrope walks along the edge of fun & liberty on one side, and faultless supervision on the other. A fall on either side would straddle the resultant extremes of 'anarchy' and 'hate'. Despite this precarious prerequisite, most House Masters were happy, as were the boys in their respective houses.
Perhaps the defining aspect of the student-house master relationship was that of the latter being a strong counsel. In a real victory of the boarding school system and its true ethos, decentralized governance meant that it was for all intents & purposes, good or bad, the housemaster that would decide a student's fate. It was the keen insight into each uniquely individual student, that a housemaster used to determine appropriate action. If one were caught in a bind, the housemaster was there to help. If one were caught flouting a rule, even then the housemaster would try to resolve the problem 'in-house'; quite like the patriarch of a real family would do.
As one became senior, the dynamic with one's house master matured, much like it does between a father & a son. Less formal, more friendly. Less fearful, more mentoring. The best part, a house master's blessed pupil found himself in the much-coveted position of house captain or school prefect. It was then largely incumbent on the housemaster, to shape a boy's life on campus. And to the student, the dynamic he developed with his respective house-master, formed the most critical relationship of his tenure at the school.
The School. With all these elements, the house, the house master and the students; Doon was our universe. House first, the school a very close second. Pride for the school, often perceived as misplaced snobbishness, was in fact and continues to be, ONLY respect. Respect for a universe that helped us define ourselves as young thinking adults. Thanks to the school that let us run wild and discover ourselves. Loyalty to an institution that cultivated our sensibilities. And indebtedness to an alma mater that is so deeply engrained in our consciousness, it would be impossible to shake off.
For all of us proud Doscos who spent between six to seven years of our growing up years on the campus; the gates of the Doon School don't symbolize Alcatraz like they might have when we join as freshers. They're the welcoming gates to our home. A world within a world, unlike any other.
KARTIK BAJORIA The author is a Jaipur-based Communication Skills Educator & Writer