The twins have really gotten into Christmas mode this year. When I went to pick them up from daycare one day, they called me inside very excitedly and showed me the miniature Christmass tree they were engaged in decorating. There were streamers and balloons up, and pictures of Santa Claus. Later on, Tara told me that Santa Claus came to school and gave them chocolate and that Mrini cried. Mrini confirmed that she had cried, but the chocolate story she did not verify, so I’m not sure whether that part was fact or fiction.

On the last day of school before the winter break, there was a Christmas party in school. I’d thought it was only for the tiny tots of the Montessori classes, but when I went to drop the kids off, I saw the entire school was in ‘party’ clothes – that is, not in uniform. The Montessori classes had been decorated in Christmas colours, and the one of the kids’ three class teachers whom I saw was dressed in a gorgeous rust-red silk churidar-kurta. School had notified us not to send any snacks, so I gathered they would be provided, and later on I saw that the kids had also been presented with jigsaw puzzles and Santa Claus caps that they might have had a hand in the making of. We had also been asked to collect our charges by 10.30 a.m. This might not have been very convenient for us, but for the fact that both Amit and I had a holiday that day. Amit went to pick up the girls and was equally delighted with the party atmosphere.

Such a thing never happened in the schools I was in, back in my days. We were allowed to be in “civvies” – that is, not in uniform – on our birthdays, up to a certain age; and on school-leaving day, the students who were bidding farewell and those who were leaving were supposed to come to school in “formal” attire, which meant that all the girls wore saris (many of them for the first or second times in their lives). Their day started late in the morning and ended late in the afternoon, so the rest of us didn’t get to see them in their finery much. (On a side note, I was quite relieved never to have to go through this ritual, because I didn’t finish school in this school, and the one I did finish in didn’t have any ritual that I can recall.)

Apart from school-leaving day and annual day, which was a very organized and rehearsed affair, the only other occasion on which we might have worn civvies to school was Children’s Day. On that day, I think, we also got a small packet of goodies to munch. But that was only while we were very small – I don’t think we had it all the way up to sweet 16.

As for festivals – I don’t recall ever learning anything about them in school. Whatever we imbibed was from other children around us, not because there was any formal focus on them. I don’t think we ever decorated our classes or did rangoli or had our teachers come especially dressed up in the festive spirit. The main thing we got on festivals was a holiday. The rest was up to our parents.

I can see other little differences as well, in the kids’ school as compared to mine. Assembly, for instance. There must have been times when it was foggy, cold, hot, or rainy, but I don’t recall Assembly ever being called off. Logically, it seems impossible that we could have had Assembly in the pouring rain – we must have skipped Assembly at least when it rained, but in my mind it seems that Assembly was sacrosanct. At least I know that we had Assembly when it was freezing cold – I can still remember standing out in the field, wearing a sweater and blazer and feeling generally warm enough, but with my finger tips slowly turning blue.

In the kids’ school, Assembly seems to be determined by the position of the stars or some equally arbitrary factor. Some days they have it, some days they don’t. The weather is a factor, but it’s not the only or the most obvious factor. Also, it seems to be taken altogether much more casually. We, for instance, couldn’t afford to be late for Assembly. It was terrible. If you came late because your bus came late, it was ok, because there would be a whole busload of you and you’d be sent to your places without a word of reprimand; but if you were the only ones, just a handful of students dribbling in late…

See, mostly you had to get to class, deposit your bag, and then head to Assembly. If you were late, you obviously couldn’t do that. So you deposited your bag on the side of the field and tried to sneak into your class queue. Which was arranged in ascending order of height. So if you were short, like me, it was pretty difficult to be inconspicuous. Also if you were tall enough to be right at the back. You’d best be of a medium height and then you could squirm into the middle of the queue. If you managed to do this, fine, but when everyone was leaving the field you’d have to stop to pick up your bag – you’d just have to. That’s when the Prefects would be waiting to pounce on you. They also inspected everyone for hair left untied, long nails, short skirts, rolled up socks, non-conforming shoes, or any other signs of non-conformance that they could spot. Habitual offenders were not let off lightly. I don’t – I must admit – recall exactly what we were made to do for being late or for the other offences, but it must have been pretty bad. At least they made you get out of line and wait in the field, which made you late for the first class. I guess they maybe gave you a talking to. Maybe they made you run rounds? Though that, I think, only the PT trainer had the authority to do. So I’m not sure exactly what power the Prefects wielded. Maybe it was just the being picked on, being singled out, which was punishment enough. Whatever it was, it was certainly something you’d take reasonable measures to avoid.

In the kids’ school, though, I see an untidy line-up of bags every day, near the field. Kids file out and claim their bags without comment. Nobody seems to care. I spotted a fancy pair of sports shoes the other day, instead of the plain white canvas shoes everyone else was wearing. I don’t know if anyone cared about that, either.

At first thought, I’d have said this showed a deterioration in the standard of educational institutions these days. But then, I tried to clear my mind of my preconceived notions and really think about it. What’s so good about that strictly disciplinarian stance that my school took? Is it necessarily a good thing to promote discipline at the cost of individuality and freedom of expression? What’s so bad about open hair and long nails, anyway? So what if you leave your bag at the edge of the field? Perhaps it’s ok to loosen the reins just a little and let kids be kids. If you give them just a little bit of freedom, maybe kids, some of them at least, will respond with just a little bit of responsibility. Maybe it’s worth trying.

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