The school bell


On certain days, at 12 noon, when there is a gentle afternoon breeze, and if the sounds of traffic from the junction below our condo are not too loud, and if my mind is not distracted by the mundane, I can hear them – church bells chiming from the church that is further down our road. There is something magical about these melodious bells; they give me pause and make me ponder for a few minutes.

There are so many different types of bells – all of them designed to draw our attention to something important – prayer bells, alarm bells, fire alarms and door bells. But the most special bell has to be the school bell.

When we were in school, we did not have automated electronic bells to signal the end of each period.

We had a physical bell – a round metallic ring that was suspended from a tree just above the school’s playground. At the prescribed time, the school’s bell-incharge would walk to the bell and strike it with another metal rod, which he would then take back with him.

Courtesy – http://www.alamy.com

The bell was loud, clear, and could be heard from every corner of the school. The bell was sounded differently for different activities – class changes, lunch, recess and the end of the school day.

And on many days, we sat with our friends, willing the recess bell to ring so that we could run out and play outside, or be the first ones on the swings or see-saws.

During the monsoon season, the rain played spoilsport, and we were stuck in the corridors. We made paper boats that we sailed outside the corridors, we splashed water droplets on unsuspecting friends, or huddled together to prevent our teeth from chattering in the cold. At those times, the bells sent us back into the warmth of our classrooms.

Later on, when we were teenagers, and when it was fashionable to eat less, or to skip breakfast because we were late for school, our growling stomachs would wait impatiently for the lunch bell to ring. We would then open our lunch boxes to relish our food, so lovingly packed by our moms.

Sometimes, when we got to miss a class to attend an event or some inter-school competition, and got back to school only to realize that classes were still not over, we would stall and drag our feet to go back to class, hoping to see the bell-incharge walking towards the bell.

The most welcome bell was the one that rang for a prolonged period, to signal the end of the school day. When we were in primary and middle school, the long bell was our cue to rush home, to gobble up our evening snacks, and to run outdoors to play.

As we moved to high school, the long bell meant that we could leave school and hang out with friends. We had plenty to talk about, everyday, and somehow it always seemed that there was never enough time.

Today’s bells are electronic and sound totally different from those bells of old.

Those were memorable times indeed, when life moved to a slower beat.

The Autorickshaw Ride


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Image courtesy – Wikipedia

For the uninitiated, a ride in an autorickshaw in India could end up being any one of the following things – playing a high-thrill video game with unexpected happenings, riding a roller-coaster, albeit slowly, or just a super-fun ride.

As for me, been there, done it and love it. It’s in the genes too. My children also love the autorickshaw.

So, we are heading out to meet family at the other end of the city. The kids protest when we mention the word taxi. So  ‘Autorickshaw’ it is. There are hundreds plying, but not one stops when we hail. Finally one stops for us.

We should’ve figured this one out but ..well. How can the four of us fit in comfortably? There was a time when we could, but the kids have grown vertically and we, parents have grown horizontally!

Both the children want to enjoy the wind, so both ends are taken. Hubby dear and I squeeze in, in the middle. Two of us rest on the seat, two move forward. Much like stuffing an already full bag, we are in, but very excited.

The auto-driver starts and we are off.  We have an hour-long trip. The fun part is that the auto is open on both sides and each of us take-in what we want. My son counts stray dogs and the occassional cow, my daughter looks at hoardings, I watch people, my husband, not sure, as I can’t turn my neck to see.

About ten minutes into our ride, the sky is filling up with grey clouds. Where were they hiding? There is a sudden cooling effect to the breeze. Very soon the rain drops are plopping, big, grey ones.

As the auto driver rides on impassively, the frequency of rain drops increases. Plop plop plop….they fall faster and faster.

The kids whoop in joy. And suddenly all hell breaks loose. The rain comes crashing down in a heavy downpour. The auto moves on with an unruffled captain at the helm.

Usually autos have tarpaulins to cover the sides, when it rains. This one has none. So the rain visits us inside the auto. We squeal as the cold makes contact with skin. Both kids are drenched. My stole offers some cover to the four of us. It is total fun, as we resign ourselves. Water hits the roof and sprays our faces. We wait for these moments.

Outside, on the roads, traffic is thinning out. The roads look deserted. People are seeking cover under bus shelters and the ledges of buildings.

In one bus shelter, a cow stands with other people, waiting out the rain.

People from moving buses look down on us. I look up at them – all so serious and deep in thought.

Children of a primary school are being stood in line for dispersal. They look adorable in their bright-coloured raincoats.

A young couple stands under the shade of a huge tree, oblivious to the world.

The auto-driver looks focused as he weaves through the traffic at the junction. He would win any video game hands down, as he deftly manoeuvres the vehicle right and left, through any small gap. Our bodies sway with the movements.

The trees look green and fresh in the rain. There is a lady, with a huge, red umbrella, walking at a leisurely pace – everyone else is scrambling for cover.

As the rain peters out, we finally reach our destination. We are soaked but very happy.

We get treated to hot coffee, mugs of hot chocolate and pakoras! Perfect finish.

Unexpected


The small town nestled in the hills, beautiful and green. Numerous small roads snaked their way across it; either going uphill or downhill.  Most houses were on small hills or hillocks.

The town council had recently appointed a new postmaster, who had been given the official quarters of the postal department – a rambling house with a huge living room, a kitchen and many bedrooms. The postmaster’s family settled down in the new home, happy, except for the fact that they had no neighbours in the vicinity. Their house stood, all by itself, on top of a hill; which had come to be called ‘Post Hill’.

The postmaster and his wife had four children. The children kept each other company in the big house, when they were not at school.

Outside their house stood an old silver oak tree. The locals told the postmaster’s wife that it was more than 50 years old.

The tree had grown quite close to the house and the postmaster feared that it would fall on their home, or its branches hurt his children, especially during the monsoon season. He had spoken to the Forestry Department to see if they could uproot it and replant it elsewhere or chop it down. They had promised to revert soon.

That year, the Monsoons set in early, and the town witnessed one of its worst rainy seasons ever. The Sun had been forced to take a long holiday.

On one such evening, heavy rains lashed across the town, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Heavy winds howled across the hills.

Most people were safely tucked-in indoors, keeping themselves warm and well fed!

At about eleven p.m. that night, a huge bolt of lightning fell on the town, and as many people recalled later, they saw it falling on Post Hill. The people worried about the postmaster and his family.

The rain spent itself by 6 am in the morning, as people ran to see what had happened, fearing the worst.

But when they reached Post Hill, they were happy to see the postmaster and his family safe and sound. They were amazed to see that the Silver Oak tree had been split into two by the bolt, and had fallen away from the house, saving its residents.

P.S: This is a true incident that happened to my paternal grandfather’s family, many decades ago!