I experienced studying in co-educational institutes till I was 7 years old. When you’re 7 you don’t really realise or care about who you’re hanging out with. I had a gang of phantom’s sweet cigarette smoking friend’s too, the usual. My 7 year old brain could not possibly process feelings like being awkward or insecure. It was all cool. Play with puzzles, write 1-200 in your maths notebook, run around, fill up the colouring books, eat mud, be gross, go back home and sleep it out. Your average 7 year old’s schedule.
When I moved to Chandigarh, my parents were hell-bent on giving me a convent school education, since it would make me more disciplined and all that jazz, after a series of Army Public Schools that was necessary I believe. More so, an all-girls convent. It was hard for the parents to get their children admitted to a convent school in the middle of the academic year and you can say that my parents considered it to be the Ivy League of schools in the city of Chandigarh.
So yes, I grew up with girls around me. I was isolated and shelled up in the convent education my parents aspired to provide me with, for 9 years. The 9 years that are so crucial for your development and growth. (I don’t know, articles say that.) I believe a lot of people from similar backgrounds might feel the same way. There are exceptions, however. Not saying that students studying in all-girls and all-boys don’t do well. But for some, it can be a challenge.
If you’re wondering how that degree of isolation is possible, read on ahead. I have always been a very lazy kid. Didn’t play sports, didn’t play with the neighbourhood children, I was always interested in activities that made me stay at home. Like eating, sitting in front of the television, annoying my kid sister and sometimes painting, drawing and getting my hands dirty with modelling clay. Oh, how can I forget! I used to lock up my room and dance to cheesy bollywood tunes too. (‘Pyaar ki kashti main’, was my favourite.) But you get the gist, I wasn’t and did not mingle with anyone from outside school.
Convent schools are known for their strict discipline, promoting the habit of being prim and proper, having good etiquettes and speaking fluent english. How can we forget the ‘moral science’ periods wherein we would cover ‘values’ chapter by chapter. Sadly, I can’t recall even one of those values at this moment. I do however, recall the ridiculously yellow sunflower printed on its front cover.
My school was no different, when you’re in standard 3 you don’t care about much, let alone insecurities. I was no different, I was a happy under confident kid, cracking silly jokes and following the useless, absolutely pointless uniform rules. Did you know that tying a black ribbon, making a plait, making sure that your tunic is below your knees and wearing dorky socks really helps you grow as a person? I didn’t. I followed all these rules diligently, and erm, there was no change in my personality, at all. Neither did the rule of speaking only in english help me improve my english, writing or speaking. My english was terrible, it’s better now. (I guess.) Yes, there was a time where we could not converse among each other in any other language but english. So much for lingual diversity? There are certainly better ways, like letting students write more, more library periods where the books could be more up to date and having more activities that’d encourage public speaking and improve confidence. This reminds me, I was the ‘budding writer’ in class 7, this was the period when I thought I had mastered the language. In reality, this period ended really soon and I was back to where I was.
Let’s talk uniforms,a blue coloured tunic, white collared shirt and an annoying belt to go with it. It was hell in summers. School uniforms solve two purposes, saving time for kids like me who’d hate the idea of choosing what to wear every morning and making it easier for irritated teachers to spot the students during school outings.
As we grew up in the limited view of NCERT books, physical education periods, morning assembly’s and the ritual of doing march past on 15th August and 26th January, every year we reached puberty. Even now when I listen to the drum beats anywhere, I automatically start walking like I am in a parade. You get used to it.
On a different and digressing note, this post is not meant to bash a convent education, I understand that these practices were established years ago, but I guess it’s time to question them.
Usually, when you reach standard 8-9, kids start having ‘crushes’ and start being more aware of their surroundings. It starts from ‘crushing’ on trending celebrity figures. During my time, my classmates were going gaga over Ranbir Kapoor, Justin Bieber, Imran Khan and the very obvious evergreen types like Shah Rukh Khan.
I just played along, tried to understand what was wrong with my classmates since I could not relate. The 12 year old, chubby version of me was silently judging them. Then Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven happened to me and I understood how this works. Productive childhood, yes? The point is that no one was there to explain this to us, rather, parents and teachers made it worse. They were definitely not approachable and even if they talked about it, it would come down as something very unnatural, and hence it became a taboo subject. Boys could be interpreted as aliens, very dangerous aliens. We were exposed to knowledge outside the textbook in such an unhealthy way and we were definitely not smart enough to raise our squeaky voices back then.
Meeting or mingling with boys was discouraged, no one questioned why. We just listened and nodded. As we grew up, joined coaching institutions and somehow managed to come out of the imaginary shell our brain was locked up in. Social media like Facebook and some creepy sites like Orkut, definitely helped, we learned more or unlearned more.
When school got over, there was a ridiculous ritual where-in some cars loaded with students from a popular all-boys school would make rounds around the school. The authorities were aware, instead of telling us how to handle it, they blamed us for not wearing tunics that reached our knees, eventually, they wouldn’t let us out of the school gate until the person who came to pick us up physically came and showed their face to the watchman. They also blamed it on the tuitions where we let ourselves be exposed to these aliens.
I don’t know why convent schools promote this. I don’t even know why all girls and all boys school exist at all, convent or not. What are they promoting, really? Awkwardness around the other sex? I don’t see the point. I don’t blame my parents for putting me in a school like I was in, they acted like the over-protective rational parents who’d want to shield their children from anything and everything. In this case, they were protecting us from the dangerous creatures that boys are.
Re-counting a rather embarrassing and ridiculous incident. I was standing outside my school gate, waiting for my mom to pick me up. (This was before we had to stay inside the school gates.) A boy came up and said ‘Hi’ to me. In my head I had a hindi soap style, thali falling from the hands, diya quenching and random rapid winds blowing moment. I was baffled, because it’s the strangest thing to be greeted by a person, right? Almost as if it were a reflex action, I ran. Literally, ran.
When I first joined tuitions in 10th standard (not the smartest kid), I remember stepping into a classroom of 35 odd students. The left side was where the girls sat, and right one was for aliens. I remember feeling so uncomfortable and insecure when I saw 15 boys in one room, sitting together. They were all my age. It’s not like I had never seen boys my age before, but it was the fact that I had never before been in the same place as them, the fact that there was such a hoopla around it, that it was such a taboo subject.
Back then, I did nothing about this awkwardness. Not all my peers were like me, but some of them were and the over-protective environment only added to the problem. Over the years when I came to college and was around these aliens more, things became better. But it definitely took some time. Now I am just a universally awkward and anti-social person. Thankfully, my awkwardness is not sex biased. Phew.
This also applies to institutes of higher learning, why segregate at all? We are fighting for equality everyday, then how does it matter if we are friends with a girl or a boy. How does it matter if we are sitting or studying with either one of them. They are not scary monsters. Neither are we.
It’s simple, I don’t care if you give me the window seat or the middle seat, UNLESS you tell me that I cannot sit on the window seat without a logical reason. Teehee!