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About a little girl March 31, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, life, littlerockers.
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A recent note arrived from a girl, my junior from school that completely took me by surprise. This article is about what happened after.

I went to Little Rock. From 1987-1991 and 1993-1999. 10 years of schooling and more.

And for anyone who has traveled to Little Rock by the school bus, the efficient packing density in these buses is familiar. Although things may have changed today, in our times (and that already makes us sound old! ) the rule of thumb went thus – 2 seaters compulsorily seat 4 students and 3 seaters seat at least 6, at times 7. Ofcourse, there were students ranging from age 4 to 18 – so it is not like packing 4 adults into a two seater. The only way to realize this extraordinarily efficient arrangement is by having kids sit on the ‘laps’ on senior students. The definition of kids and seniors is loosely hierarchical. So, a class 5 student may still have a 4 year old on her/his lap. There have been cases where 17 year olds have accommodated two 5 years olds on their laps. It is therefore possible that you studied in Little Rock for 5 years from LKG to Class 3, took the bus to school, but still never sat on the ‘seat’ – you were always on someone’s lap – am sure that makes for a pleasant memory.

Although the description here might look scary to the readers (and sometimes the writer), you will be surprised at just how efficient it turned out to be. Baring the first week of school when new students came and some students had left us, there was no problem seating us. For much of the rest of the year it was a smooth journey. A place for everyone and everyone in his/her place was the norm.

I though don’t ever remember being seated on someone’s lap everyday for months together – this is especially true of those from the early batches at Little Rock – we were a smaller school in the late 80s and early 90s and therefore, there was no need for closely seating students. By mid 90s, the growth of student outpaced the pace of acquisition of newer buses and it was time to seat students on our lap on a regular basis (of course we had grown big enough for that by then!!). So over a period of nearly 7 years when I used to host kids on my lap, there have been all kinds of those – from 4 years to 12 year olds, boys and girls, silent ones and naughty ones, ones that sat put and ones who wanted to hop from one leg to another every now and then, ones who wanted to see out of the window and others who would rather not, ones who wanted to play some games with their friends to those who would rather doze off after a tiring day, forget their busstop and wake up only to realize that its time to get off but then – “hey ! my bag is misplaced – so lets turn the world upside down!”.And then there were the risky candidates – ones who would occasionally throw up in the morning if the breakfast was perhaps hurried or stuffy – because mom just thought poor kid shouldn’t feel hungry before its time for lunch.

So I get this message from a girl that went something like this –

“little rock..almamater…heaven…hell…skooling to parenting and babysitting..kids of all ages and all human and non human in the skool bus..
sharath man..i don knoe if u remember me..anjali pai class 2…on yo lap hahahah 10 years back..lets check
ur memory cells…ishwarnagar bus stop..still see ur parents goin for a walk and remember how u used to sit wit bharath….in the last seat of the little rock bus no 3…
do u remember..i don think.so…”

At the first read I wondered if I knew this girl. If she remembers me, then I probably knew her – only I didn’t remember her. But that aside, the note from this girl got me thinking about their point of view. How do kids who over a considerable period of time travel with you view you several years later? What kind of a relationship is this? We aren’t friends. We aren’t even acquaintances in the strictest sense. What could we have conversed and shared with these kids? And about what kind of a friendship could have developed when a typical age difference of 5-8 years (which is a lot in our early years) existed?

I remember smiling to myself as I read those words. In a way that never happened before, I was deeply touched– we always are when someone whom we don’t appear to remember, remembers us – it is this queer combination of wonder and embarrassment. Flattering too perhaps, but in this case it was more bewildering than flattering. How could I have not remembered this little one who recalls those times so fondly?

It is not that I didn’t remember any of the kids – there have been several and that ensured that I remembered at least a few. I remember one student in particular – real naughty, energetic one. A bit violent too! He would walk in every morning and come and stand before me with his back facing me. That meant I was to remove the bag off his back, put it up somewhere in the upper compartment or perhaps chuck it under the seat. (and mind you, it was my job to remember which of the two I did. ) Once we reached school, I was to remove the bag for him before I got off. In the evenings, he would be there in the bus before me, this time his shirt particularly brown (not just the trousers which were brown by prescription), somewhat disheveled appearance, often a running nose and ‘outshirt’ – there he would be shouting at someone or getting shouted at. Again I would sit down with him on my lap and once his stop arrives, he would disappear below the seat frantically searching for his bag and finally would manage to get off. Repeat this scene everyday, for several months. I am sure he would remember me. I too remember him, only I just don’t know anything more about where he is today.

It’s a strange relationship that this aspect of school life thrusts on us ( that we sometimes don’t embrace wholeheartedly ) – something I haven’t thought of deeply until I heard from this girl. What would we not do for these kids! We would listen to their complaints; occasionally if they are in a good mood and if they sense we are in a mood to listen, they would narrate stories from class – typically that would mean tell us something and laugh among their friends. And then realizing that we did not find it equally amusing, they would laugh even more – as if to say, the poor fellow just can’t understand us! We would settle their ‘disputes’ with their ‘friends’ – and believe me, this wasn’t really hard at all – it’s amazing how easily these kids just made up. We would answer their questions before tests/exams. Some genius would want to do his homework in the bus and we would sharp their pencils for him. Someone would be playing a game writing something on her slate and in the process, lose her ‘chalk’ ( kaddi, as we called it ! ) and we would have to search it for her to restore status quo !! With no exaggeration whatsoever, I have even helped some of these kids read their own handwriting from their own notebooks!!

Childhood is one of those great mysteries – without exception we have all been children at some point, we may recall what we did as children, but never feel what it was like. Children themselves do things but cant explain what thought went into it – and by the time they are self-aware, they aren’t kids anymore. That complete disinterest in the adult world – what else would explain that for nearly 3 hours everyday we traveled together and while they listened to our conversations with our peers, they would never bothering to ask – “What was that all about?”

In my personal experience, most of them were really respectful and they really got fond of you over time – they would not swap their places (our laps) with others. And that feeling was often mutual – we would have our own preferences for certain kids – some more hospitable than others!

I tend to remember their faces, but lose out on names – simply because there wasn’t much of a conversation in the sense that adults have. But the problem is that faces change over time. On my visits to Little Rock since I left school, I have come across several students waving to say Hi or sporting that sheepish smile – its evident that some of these are one of those ‘kids’ who have now changed so much that its hard to instantaneously dig them out of the cobwebs of a sometimes fragile memory and return a wholehearted Hi. They however can place us because our faces will not have changed as much – and besides, as kids, they have loved and respected us.

My reply to this student ended thus – “Its amazing now to read your words and imagine that they come from someone who I must have known since you were an 8 year old – time flies, times fly and we all grow up. It would be great to meet up with you all – the bunch of people who relied on us if not for big things in life like a shoulder to cry on, but perhaps little things in life – like a lap to sit on.”

A few hours after I sent this mail though, I managed to map her back to the girl I knew in the bus from one of her recent photographs. It was quite an ecstatic feeling – exerting your memory hard enough and being successful at it. I then recalled that I had pleasant memories of this ‘little girl’ (who is now an Engineering student!!) – naughty, restless, talkative and forever smiling.

For me, this is a story from the latter half of the 90s, one that is perhaps being weaved on that 25 km stretch everyday, even today. When you get into the bus tomorrow, have a close look at that little one sitting on your lap, ask his/her name and get to know them better. You will prepare yourself for some delight and equally importantly, save yourself some embarrassment 10 years from now!

( Note : This article has been submitted to the Little Rock annual school magazine. )

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Comments»

1. Ranjeeth Shetty - April 1, 2006

Hi Sharath,

This reminded me of the days, I used to sit in the bus stop gaze at all the rock-buses going one by one. That was the great moment…

Mainly created by the people around us.

I always wanted to go by school bus didn’t get an oppurtuity. You get to know so many people of wide range of maturity and mind set…

In the local bus we are looked upon as english speaking outlaws… :))

2. Ravi - April 4, 2006

hey man, must have been totally ecstatic as you said!! Every lil experience counts

3. Saturday Night Takeout - April 7, 2006

So now you’re bald.

And you forget to shave.

SuperDooper 😀

Just saying hello, man. It’s been a while.

Pi

4. Vineeta - April 13, 2006

A very well-written article Sharath…and very touching!

Actually, I still remember the 4 year old girl who sat on my lap for most part of the three years that I travelled in those buses. Her name is Pratiksha Pai..and do you know why I still remember her?? Whenever anyone asked her – “What is your name?”…pat came the reply – ” Pratiksha Pai, thak thak thai!” Lol….she was such a sweetheart!
And through the Syndicate Bank network, I got to know through my Dad that this girl is now studying in Pune in Class VIII i think. Time indeed flies!

5. DHI DEVIL - April 17, 2006

That was an amazing article. Reminded of a similar incident which took place when i was in 1st PU. Of course it did not have a young kid involved but young kids who were 18 by then. Ok the story is simple. There was this friend of mine Samarth who comes (been just six months knowin him) and he comes him with a photograph of me and him in the same nursery (Nazareth Mangalore. . left to Dubai after that wen i was 6 and returned back only when i was 13). I was stunned ecstatic , the whole range of contradictory emotions. .

6. DHI DEVIL - April 17, 2006

god my english has gone haywire there . . sorry was thinking too much 🙂

7. Anonymous - May 1, 2006

Hi dude..chanced upon this blog of yours while orkut surfing after a long time. I enjoyed all of your posts, but this entry was particularly touching.

Cheers
Suhas

8. Sharath Rao - May 3, 2006

hey suhas, thanks for stopping by….:)

9. Rajaram Kamath - June 11, 2006

Hi Sharath,

Amazing stuff man… One of your better articles I must say.. Not just the language but the beauty with which you have brought out the intricate nuances of those bus journeys… People from the earlier batches like ours would perhaps appreciate it better…

But again , being from the earlier batches we kinda missed out on having similar memories of sitting on our seniors’ laps.

But yeah… nobody brings out Little Rock nostalgia better than you do..

Keep at it man…

Regards,
Rajaram

10. Harini - November 18, 2009

Living in the ubiquitously Bollywood dipped Bombay, my memories of the 20 min bus ride home is riddled with images of antakshari driven songs, name-place-animal-thing, 20 questions and then some idle banter.
My favorite memory is that of a friend crying/wailing/howling/bawling on the first day of school, that she had the same class teacher for the second consecutive year – and this was a teacher the entire school unanimously hated. 🙂
Love this piece. More in tune with my style 😛


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