Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Day The School Assembly Stood Still !

Do you remember the daily assembly at school ?

Of course you do.

I am also sure that you will be quite familiar with the usual sequence of events involved, the first segment is of course the prayer, then, there’s the pledge- “All Indians are my brothers and sisters (to which many of my friends would say under their breath-except one) etc etc and the last part where some poor kid would be faced by the daunting task of reading the ‘thought’ for the day with an accompanying short story, the news headlines, and the so called ‘special’ activity of the day.

These were all tiny segments; a maximum of 5 minutes was given for each of them and on most days they would go unnoticed, this was in part due to the schools antique sound system which was probably stolen from a museum in ancient Germany.

The following story is based on true events !

Raja Sahu was a classmate of mine who appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the academic session of 2001, he was a thin lanky boy who wore his full sleeved navy blue sweater every single day come rain or shine, he was a very intelligent student with a sound knowledge of history and geography, he kept a safe distance from sports and seldom participated in extracurricular activities.

During his early days at school was asked to read the headlines for the day in the assembly. 

He didn't know that all he was supposed to do was to write the best 5 news stories on a piece of paper and read it aloud after the morning school pledge.

He shocked the school by arriving on stage with the day’s newspaper instead and when he held it up high the paper covered half of his body sparing only his forehead as he read out article after article page after page.

He was never invited on stage again.

That was just the beginning of Raja Sahu’s misadventures.

Attendance at the Morning Prayer session was compulsory, you were never allowed to bunk unless you had a doctor’s note or a letter from your parents.

Following the newspaper debacle Raja avoided the assembly, he was never short of an reason,he always had documentation to substantiate his excuses and besides all this he was a gem of an actor, he could cough, limp, fake a fever, cry and even vomit at will, so no one really bothered him much, not till Monday the 10th of August 2001.

I distinctly remember the date because it was very close to Independence day and I had lost my ‘Bharat scouts and guides’ hat meaning that I wasn’t allowed to stand at the entrance to the school with the other scouts shouting ‘Aapka swagat hai x 3’ (You’re welcome three times), clapping like a baboon as the chief guests drove into the school in their blue ambassador cars.

Big deal ! You may think, but at that age, especially for me, it was.

Saurabh was in charge of the special event for the day and he had prepared a set of general knowledge questions to ask to the rest of the school.

If I knew how things were going to turn out that morning, I would have carried some popcorn in my shirt pocket.

His questions were simple enough, but little did he know that the school was full of students who would rather rewrite history than come up with a correct answer.

At that age, for any question that started with a Who invented this or that? The answer we gave by default was Thomas Edison.

It didn’t matter if the thing invented was a light bulb, or a mixer grinder, Edison did it, Period.

In fact, my close buddy Sunil was so convinced that Thomas Edison invented the refrigerator that he picked up a stone to throw at Saurabh when he disagreed with him.

Ms. Usha the physics teacher unceremoniously fainted when someone yelled out e=mc2 for a question on Newton’s law of motion.

As half the teachers ran to her aid, Saurabh started reading the last question in his set.
What’s the capital of Zaire ?

No Answer.

"Anyone" ? He asked.

"Whats the capital of Zaire"? He repeated himself.

Still no answer.

Mrs. Banu our social science teacher looked upset.

“Trick question’ ! Sunil yelled out. 
“There’s no country called Zaire”.

Mrs. Banu sat down on the ground from fear of fainting like Ms.Usha.

That’s when it got interesting.

“Kinshasa”. We heard someone shout.

Everyone looked around trying to figure out who it was making all the noise.


It was Raja Sahu, screaming at the top of his voice, waving his hands wildly from the classroom window in the third floor.

“It’s Kinshasa you idiots”. He exclaimed.

We watched him bolt down the stairs in amazement totally dumbstruck by the sudden turn of events; He was pulling on his hair like a madman in a mental asylum saying again and again, Kinshasa is the capital of Zaire! Kinshasa is the capital of Zaire!

Just moments ago when we asked him his reason for not getting ready for the assembly that morning he had shown us a doctor’s note stating he was recovering from pneumonia and needed complete bed rest, and yet here he was running around like a elephant gone wild.

When he finally arrived on the stage, there were nearly 500 pairs of eyes staring straight at him, Mrs. Usha regained her consciousness, Mrs Banu’s mouth was wide open, after all she was the one who had taught our class a week earlier about the DRC.

There was silence.

His cover was blown.

Only an Oscar winning performance could save him now.

We waited to see what he would say in his defense.

Did Saurabhs quiz have the power to cure pneumonia ?

As expected he spontaneously started coughing violently.

Mr. Shetty the gym teacher picked up his cane and started walking toward him, as raja fumbled to recover the note from his pants pocket.

That’s when it happened.

The speakers resounded with the sound of a donkey braying !


Where did the donkey come from?

We turned our eyes to the mike only to find Harish, the head clerk of the school, singing.

On listening carefully we realized the words were from ABBA’s classic-I have a dream.
There was so much happening.

I didn’t know what to look at, Raja Sahu’s awkward moment or Harish’s voice of India audition.

Clearly Harish was the winner, He murdered ABBA’s timeless classic without a hint of mercy, he ripped its soul apart, singing every line in a different pitch and at a different note, it was more gory than watching all of Frank millers graphic novels come to life at the same time (if you have seen 300, this was like watching 900! If you know what I mean), our English professor Mrs. Kuriakose laughed so hard that she fell off her chair, even that wouldn’t stop Harish from singing, this was a performance of a lifetime. He kept singing till the schools 18th century sound system couldn’t take it any longer and gave up the fight with a loud jarring sound.

The School till this day blames Harish for spoiling its sound system which was apparently in ‘mint’ condition, and in the words of the principal ‘had a good 100 years of service left in it’.

I blame Harish for ABBA never reuniting again.

Mrs. Kuriakose sprained her neck from the fall and walked around with a neck collar for a 2 weeks , Raja Sahu never missed another day at the assembly, and Harish transferred out to another school, the sound system was replaced by another one, this ‘new’ set was probably stolen from a local scrap store, and all extra programmes were removed from the daily school assembly schedule.

There’s a small school close to where I live and whenever I am at home with a little time to spare, I take a walk up there and stand watching as the children go through the same routine as we followed in our school when I was a kid.

I must admit, although I’m standing there trying to recapture a few memories from the years gone by, some part of me is always waiting for 10th August 2001 to happen all over again.

As Always, Yours Truly