Of National Integration, Salwar Suit Uniforms and the like- The Kendriya Vidyalaya Story
My friend M said, ‘ you remember how we used to tie our sweaters at our waist because we thought it was cool?’ I smiled vaguely. She said, ‘ didn’t you do it? I mean it was all over schools in Bombay.” ‘ But I wore salwar suit to school,’ said I. She was surprised. ‘ What do you mean? Didn’t you have a uniform?” I said, “ of course. That WAS my uniform. White salwar, navy blue kurta and white dupatta.” She seemed taken aback. I explained, ‘I studied in a central government school. Kendriya Vidyalaya. We had navy blue skirt and white blouse as a uniform option. Each school decided which one it wanted to go with. So when I was studying in Mumbai, we had the skirt-blouse alternative and when I shifted to Goa, salwar kameeze was mandatory.” M looked as if she had discovered a new side to me, the government school side.
There is a whole section of the population that is oblivious to the Kendriya Vidyalayas, that family of schools started by the Central Government to make quality education available to the children of central government employees who were regularly afflicted by that unique woe- a transfer. Affiliated to the CBSE, these schools ensured a uniform syllabus and teaching method across the country, external to the State Government’s education initiative. They are usually affiliated to one or the other of a central government institution. Both of the KVs I attended were attached to Navy bases and our classes were inundated with children of Naval personnel, officers and sailors alike.
That is perhaps what I loved most about school. India’s plurality was reproduced in all its splendor in our classroom. I had friends from every region, linguistic background, class, caste and religion. In keeping with its goal of spreading national integration, we spent one whole period in the week singing songs of national integration. Some beautiful, some moralistic, some outright jingoistic, they were all melodious and lent themselves to group singing.
There is a lot wrong with the KVs. For starters there is the abysmal standard of English. A number of non-traditional course options were unavailable to us and that is perhaps, KV’s biggest failing. But I am going to keep those for another post.
For now, I am content reminiscing about my teachers. Every school seems to have that eccentric teacher, the zealous teacher, the indifferent teacher, the mean teacher and more. I remember one biology teacher RK boiling her tea over the laboratory spirit lamp. I remember one dedicated history teacher, GG, whose passion for history gripped me. I remember my sincere and dedicated class teacher, P, who took it upon himself to rid me of the evils of ‘proudness’. I remember the womanizing PT teacher whom we called Pitwa ( I am not sure how this moniker was decided upon). I remember one English teacher who was inspiring and another who knew no English. I remember one Physics teacher who believed in me even as I flunked his class. I remember one Math teacher, who, in reaction to the linguistic nationalistic sentiment of the time, took one class in Tamil- just to prove a point. I remember another Math teacher who also came home and tutored me and another friend. Tutoring two unresponsive, giggling, shy, teenage girls is no joke and we were the absolute worst kind. It is a testament of his valour that he showed up every time without fail. And I remember that quiet yoga teacher who listened to all my adolescent trials and tribulations.