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Old School-ed
From the time we are tiny tots, our grandparents fill out lives with fascinating stories and anecdotes. This is the conversation between one of our student reporters Yatharth Vohra, and his grandmother, Mrs. Kanta Vohra.

My daadi is a very interesting person to speak with, in my belief. One evening, after a long span of dawdling, I felt like gaining some knowledge, so I went to her, hoping to get hold of details of her life in the era I love : the vintage 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Those are the years I will always want to live in. Of course, physically I cannot go back, but listening to stories of those times surely make that era fantastical.

This evening, it was education. I was fed up with our current system and went on a rant, and then, out of nowhere, it turned into an interview. Of course, with my mannerisms and type of questions.

Here are a few excerpts, because it actually is too vast a topic to describe, really!

Tell us something about your family, and whether they supported your decision of getting an education?

G- Well, I lived in Amupur, a village in Karnal district. I had 7 siblings, (and 2 parents, obviously!) and 4 of them were brothers. My father owned no land and worked as a milkman. My mother was a simple housewife, and we were not rich. But our father wanted all of us to get educated. He didn’t stop us girls, never, but he definitely did put some limits and restrictions. My mother was so fond of the books we had, but she never understood what was written in them.

How educated was everyone? What did all your siblings do after their education?

G - I don’t think my parents were educated, we never really had open conversations like this. My brothers - well, all of them finished their college and got degrees like, B.A, and three of them have their own businesses. One of my sisters who went to stay with my brother in the city, finished her college too, but the other three sisters, including me, have only passed class 10th.

Oh! So you are ‘metric pass’? How many years did it take you to complete class 10?

G - 7 years. I was not very regular, actually. Primary school was co-ed, and we had classes from 1 to 5 (I was enrolled when I was around 5 years old). They were referred to as ‘kachi’ and ‘pakki’ classes. Then I had to learn household work - cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc. Uh, around 7-8 years later, Basini Devi and Bansi Lal opened a girls’ school with a hostel - for women above 18 years of age, for widows, or women with little education who weren’t allowed to go to colleges far away. There, I completed my course of classes 6-10 in 2 years, under the Condensed Course.

Well, seriously? Firstly, I was really shocked when you said even a poor milkman didn’t have a problem with educating their daughters. But I need to ask you, one of your sisters has done her B.A, but your own daughter is just as educated as you are. How come? Did people in the 80s want uneducated daughters?

G - No. I think my sister was lucky enough to have moved to the city, because there, girls were encouraged to study. But my family, after marriage, stayed in the same village. Villagers didn’t feel comfortable with sending their daughters away for college. Also, we couldn’t afford the college fee. We weren’t that rich. It didn’t change with the years, it was just the situation.

Tell me about the time when you didn’t attend school for 7-8 years.

G - Well, I was learning then too. The only difference was, it was more practical. I also have done a 6 month course in stitching, when a teacher came from the city to our village. This was, when I was 16, I guess. That did help later, because I could stitch clothes for my family. Other than household work, my mother taught me knitting.

How did a normal school day in your primary school look like? What were the timings, uniform, anything you remember?

G - It started at 8 A.M during the summers, and around 9:30-10 during the winters. It lasted for around 6 hours or so, and our day started with the morning prayers. Then, we all had Physical Training, after which, our regular classes resumed. It was a Hindi medium school, and we learnt Hindi, Social Science, Science and Math. There was no uniform as such, and we had a long recess, in the middle of the day. We all used to go back home around 11-12 for lunch. Then we had to come back.

How was the teaching like, in the classrooms, at your primary school?

G - We sat on the floor, on what we call, chatais. We used to put our bags on the side and sit with our takhtis - a wooden writing slate. We did whatever we had to, in class, and showed what we had done on our takhtis, to our sir. Then we were awarded marks, after which, we would erase it. We didn’t have notebooks with records. When we went back home, we would wash those wooden boards. If we didn’t do our homework, we were beaten with a stick. Oh, and I remember! My future brother in laws, they were like your backbenchers, and used to tease me a lot. I was the monitor of my class!

Okay, now to your high school. Tell us about that.

G - Well, firstly, I got into school at the age of 16 or 17 because my aunt was a teacher there. For the first three months, they taught us the English alphabet. Then for the next 3 months, we learnt basic word formation in English. Finally, after half a year, we started with the actual course of the classes. Those who already knew basic English, slept throughout these classes. We, the village girls were not used to sleeping, but to work hard. So all we did was study, and obviously, we turned out better than those girls who slept. Things here were already paid for, these schools were for the upliftment of us girls. Now we had notebooks. Teachers loved my handwriting. I got words of appreciation from all my teachers. Subjects here were the same, just with a few additions like Hygiene, Physiology, etc.

I’m surprised you didn’t have to wear a uniform.

G - Well, in high school, we had to. It comprised of a white salwar kameez, with a white dupatta and black jersey. Black shoes and white socks were to be worn, and there was a special uniform for a particular day of the week, with something pink.

It was lovely talking to you. Thank you so much for being open and informative.

G - Oh, you’re very welcome!

-By Yatharth Vohra


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