Whenever I reflect on the days of my adolescence, I am reminded of the words of English poet William Wordsworth: "Bliss was it/In that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!" Those heavenly days left on the slate of my young mind an imprint difficult to erase.
A big chunk of these memories related to school, schoolmates and schoolmasters who worked with missionary zeal even in dilapidated buildings and noisy environment, without perks or facilities. One may collect degrees from Oxford, Harvard, or Wharton, but one' can't rise above the memories of those early days, and will summon them in the hours of solitude.
I studied in DAV School, Nurmahal, a small town of Nakodar tehsil in Punjab's Jalandhar district, where my father was consolidation officer in those days. The school was next to Nurmahal Serai that Mughal emperor Jahangir had built between 1605 and 1627 for his wife Noor Jehan. During the physical training period, we would play hide and seek in the numerous maze-like cells of this magnificent monument.
Once, annoyed at the mischief of some of the boys, our PT master ordered us to become "murga" (a stress position of standing with head between the legs, a kind of corporal punishment) before the Serai. We joined what was, perhaps, the first "Murga Parade" before the historical building. Had the Mughal queen been alive, she would have rewarded our instructor with 1,000 asharfis (gold coins) for the spectacle.
Social studies teacher Master Aasa Nand had a catch phrase: "O sooer ka bacha" (son of a pig), and never tolerated if any of ever improved his dictated answer. Once he frowned at a boy who had told him in the class that his college-going brother had helped him prepare an answer. He told him: "O sooer ka bacha! Tumhara Bhai bhi to mere se hi padh kar gaya hai (even your brother was my student)."
Doaba educationist DC Sharma, a simple man who taught us English, was also the most feared because of his strict principles. Once a batch mate earned his wrath for not doing the homework because he was busy playing Rama in the town's Ramlila stage show.
He summoned him to this desk and told the class: "Yesterday evening, when I was reading Milap (an Urdu daily of those days), my wife came and said: 'Suno-ji, Ram ji di jhanki aayee hai, tusi vi darshan kar lavo (The Ram tableau is here, pay your respects).' I put on my turban, came out and was startled to see the boy in Rama's disguise. I told my wife: 'Oye tere Ram nu taan main roj daant lagana (I scold your Ram every day).'" The entire class burst into laughter.