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.

Steel dabbas


Indian kitchens are usually loaded with stainless steel – cutlery, utensils, ladles and cookers.

As kids, most of us carried lunch to school in small round or rectangular steel boxes. In India, they are called ‘dabbas’ (singular ‘dabba’).

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   Picture courtesy – http://www.pinterest.com

The dabbas usually had two compartments, one for the roti or rice, and the other for the vegetable.

My Dad and uncles had a bigger and more sophisticated version of the steel dabba, which was called the ‘tiffen carrier’. The carrier had three, four, five or six compartments, stacked one on top of the other, held together on top by a metal clip.  The ones my Dad usually carried had three layers – one each for rice, gravy and vegetable.

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  Picture courtesy – http://www.alibaba.com

When we ordered food for family functions, the caterer usually supplied food in huge ‘carriers’ – those that had many layers! It was a joy to open these carriers and see what was inside each layer.

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               Picture courtesy    
           http://www.meeramarketing.com

I have a four-compartment tiffen carrier at home now, which I use when we go out on picnics. It stands vertical, and hence occupies very little space.

Steel dabbas usually served us for many, many years. Except for a dulling in their silver sheen, they carried warm, lovingly-packed, home-cooked meals for us throughout our school days.

The dabbas carried special treats on our birthdays, and small notes from mom or dad sometimes.

There was this group of friends, who went to school with me, from Grade 1 through Grade 12. Over all those years, on every school day, all of us had lunch together. We would open our steel dabbas and share our food with each other. We knew which mom made the best rice dishes or rotis. By the time we reached high school, we were such good friends that we actually demanded certain dishes for lunch, from each other, and our loving moms usually obliged.

My mom’s specialty was her sambhar rice with potato fry, which my dabba lovingly carried for many years.

So many wonderful memories contained in a small steel dabba.

A metal trunk and a table cloth


After my siblings and I left home to pursue our dreams, my mom put away the things that each of us treasured, in three huge metal trunks, one for each of us.

They clanged and made loud noises each time they were opened, allowing us a peek into our past and the things that meant a lot to each of us.

Just before I got married, my mom asked me if I wanted to take the trunk with me. I was attached to the trunk and decided to take it to my new home. I still have it,  a big blue one.

But before my wedding, I cleared the trunk. What fun it was, it had yellowed books by Enid Blyton, a tennis ball that I got free with a chocolate drink, hundreds of stickers, my slam books from high school and university, a book where I copied my favourite quotes, pressed dry flowers from our garden, a few beads and pebbles, and a table cloth from our craft class in school.

We had a compulsory craft class from Grades 6 through 8. Each year, we were expected to complete two projects. We learnt how to make plastic wire bags, a green parrot lampshade, embroidered handkerchiefs, a table cloth and many others.

The tablecloth was white in colour;  we had to draw floral patterns at the four corners and in the middle. Then using all the stitches we had learnt, we had to embroider the cloth.

My mom was very happy with the final product and displayed it proudly at home, for everyone to see.

As with everything else, newer, better things took precedence and the table cloth faded from memory, till it resurfaced when I cleared the trunk. I still have it with me. Here are the pictures.

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A tablecloth with memories of our childhood trapped in its stitches, of pretty flowers and picnic baskets, of butterflies on a meadow, of carefree school days gossiping with friends as we sewed on….