As I pushed back in discomfort, to stretch my legs, I could feel the grinding of the metal on the granite floor. It was last period, history, the sun was blazing, and the mercury was still climbing. The hard walls and the glass windows only seemed to be amplifying the heat. My pistachio blue uniform shirt had to be buttoned up all the way, with a choking tie, and a navy blue pair of pants that was itchy, ill fitting, and tight in all the wrong places. There were about forty eight students in that class. The classroom however was clad with only half the number of desks, with cream colored plastered walls and a projector. Four fans whizzed about in four corners of the room trying to combat the heat. A stream of sweat had rolled down our spines and soaked our shirts, which was awkwardly visible as we stood up to answer or ask a question. Cramming us into a small classroom didn’t help. The desks were small and jagged; some of the bigger guys could barely fit their legs under the desk. My pants had clusters of strings sticking out just above my knees where my pants entangled in a set of hinges on the desk.
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“I did not sign up for this”, I thought to myself. We were lucky the generator was working this miserable afternoon. Power cuts were common, especially in the summers. There was a deep sickening feeling of summers in Mysore. They came down hard and stayed long. This was undoubtedly the hardest time of year for us. The exams were in full swing.
I was a freshman in high school, when I had come to majestic Mysore, to the Cultural Capital. The adventure of a new environment was great, but I was ignorant of the facts of life. Having grown up in the Deccan, my parents were sure to warn me that things were not going to be as I thought they would. That India was not as it appeared on T.V. and certainly not as I had experienced it in vacations before. Since I was actually going to school there, I had to take it seriously. However, I had a prejudiced feeling that school in India was going to be easy. “After all, I was going to a developing country”, I thought to myself. I would secretly pretend like it was an extended vacation. Time proved how wrong I was. It was the exact opposite, it was like time had reached its’ hand and slapped me back into reality and the truth.
The next thing I knew, I was trying to keep up with the rest of my classmates, like a limping and mangled lion cub trying to keep up with its’ ever moving pride. So there I was, stretching, my head cocked over the back of my chair just far enough to crack my back. I could see the up side down image of my classmates, scribbling away in their notebooks. And for that split second inverted image of my classmates, I could see more than just their external portrayal. I saw in their eyes the concentration, the obedience, their whole body and mind convening on the one task; like everything they did and thought depended on that fraction of time. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, that excuses and reasons for not being able to do work was no way of achieving anything, just hard work, simple, dry, cut, callous, and natural. No one in that class gave a damn that it was over a hundred degrees, that their uniform was ill fitting and itchy, that there was too much homework, or that that they had to spent ten months out of a year in a single compound, leaving only for holidays. They were high school kids, like me.
There wasn’t a sound in the room except the fans wafting air about and the occasional song of the koel, reminding us of the eminent monsoon, almost as if to make fun of our plight, and at the same time painfully remind us of the cool and sweet monsoon near, but still so far away. My grandmother used to tell me that the koel used to sing only during the summers; a song of hope and purpose, a song of the better times yet to come. I have to say, it was hard in India, just downright maddeningly and uncomfortably hard. And in a way, we became the koel’s song. Every morning we’d muster the will power to make our legs move. We sang through our work, of a better future we were going to frame for ourselves. Mind over matter, mind over emotion, and duty above all. We sang of the monsoons.
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