At long last, after the rest of the world has already finished watching and praising the movie, I watched Taare Zameen Par (TZP). I liked the movie. I thought the first half of the movie was very well made: it was natural and powerful. Most of the second-half however took on a somewhat larger-than-life hue. Still the movie overall made a very decent watch. Do watch it if you already haven't!
But this post is not about TZP. This post is about boarding schools (or hostels, the more common terminology), memories of which were evoked while watching TZP. In the movie, the protagonist, eight-year-old Ishaan (an aside: the child playing Ishaan in the movie is simply brilliant in the role), is informed that he is going to be put in a boarding school so that he will be forced to work harder. Ishaan reacts to this news with horror and pleads with his mom to let him stay at home.
I wondered how I would have reacted to such news at a similar age. It is hard to say for sure, but I kinda guess, my reaction would have been: glee. You see, when we were kids, my sister and me were brought up on a diet of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare's books. Each of the books in these series featured boarding schools where the young residents seemed to have a ball of a time pretty much all the time: having midnight parties, playing tricks on teachers, hanging out with friends - the works.
In all, sis and me got the impression that boarding school was some kind of heaven where children got to do all kinds of fun stuff with minimal adult supervision (we conveniently forgot the teachers, matrons and so on who also appeared in these books).
Besides, in the Enid Blyton (and other books by western authors) books we read, the kids featured in all the stories invariably went to boarding schools, typically coming home only for the "summer" or for the "holidays". Going to boarding school seemed like a very normal part of childhood. So much so that we were sometimes secretly disappointed that we had to remain day-scholars!
My sister finally got her dream of going to a boarding-school fulfilled in high school. From all accounts, the first few months were pure hell. She quickly disabused me of my romanticized notions of boarding schools and I dimly began to comprehend how lucky I was to be able to go to school from home. But being in the hostel grew on her and she went on to create quite a lot of wonderful memories there.
My first chance to stay in a hostel came during my first year of undergrad. My college was located in Chennai whereas my dad was working in a different city. While I was nervous about staying away from home, I was also excited. Midnight parties and fun times, here I come! The excitement lasted till the time I shopped for new things, met my future room-mates and most importantly, was still with my parents. Finally, it was time to say adieu.
The car was in front of my hostel. The last of my packages had safely been deposited in my hostel room. The hostel watchman watched while I said goodbye to my mom and dad. I was grinning weakly. Then, all of a sudden, the tears simply tumbled from my eyes. And just wouldn't stop no matter how hard I tried. Darn - all those stupid books about fun times in the hostel never described just how hard it is to wave good-bye to the dearest and most loved people in your life. Even if the good-bye and the separation is only temporary.
And I stood there and cried and cried as though my heart would break (had I known any better, I would have shut up and done my howling in private. Parents get so upset by their children's tears). At long last, the watchman intervened. He advised me to go inside, saying kindly, "Don't worry, child. Before you know it, four years will be up." To my parents he added, "We will take good care of her. The students here are very busy studying and barely have the time to miss home. Please don't worry." And with heavy hearts, the final farewells were said.
All this happened when I was a wise seventeen years old. I could only imagine just how much more terrible eight-year-old Ishaan in TZP would have felt. Which was why I could barely hold back my tears when I watched this song and listened to the lyrics:
Kudos to the director!
Though being away from home was initially very difficult, I haven't regretted staying in the hostel. Being the youngest person in my house, I was babied a lot while at home. Hostel made me more independent. But that was just a fringe benefit. What I remember the most: midnight parties with cakes and dancing, all night gossip sessions, champion-eater competitions, movie-watching marathons, hair-cutting cum beautification sessions, surreptitious omlette making in the room, concocting plausible excuses for arriving after curfew again, buying chai at midnight for "studying" .... and doing a million other fun things with hostel-mates, some of whom have become friends for life. All this in between our "busy studying" schedules. Hostel was fun!
The hostel stay also prepared me for coming abroad. I think I adjusted much faster to being so far away from home than the poor souls who were doing that for the very first time in their lives. After all, I had already had a peek at the brighter side and knew that no matter how bleak the world looked at the time of farewell, it would not end and could only get better from there!
This is the best (according to me) picturized song from TZP. You can feel the child's wonder.