Friday, May 5, 2017

Life at Bishop's boarding school

I decided to write about my experience attending boarding school at The Bishop's School in Pune, India from 1978 to 1986.  I have a bunch of memories bubbling up -- everything from the dormitories, the food, the schedule, activities, etc. and I thought I'd just put them down in writing.  With the passage of time, the school is a very different place today.

During most of my life, I didn't quite view my life in boarding school the same way that I do now.  I always acted like it was a great place to be, but in reality it wasn't.

I'll be writing these in pieces and this is a tentative organization and I might change it moving forward.
  • Introduction
  • Schedule
  • Dormitories
  • Uniform
  • Food
  • Pocket money
  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Discipline and punishments
I expect this to be a very long post and will be updating slowly over time.


The school was founded in 1864.  At the time I attended the school, there were roughly 1500 students of which 250 were boarders.  The school went from kindergarten (KG) all the way to 10th standard (which would be the equivalent of the sophomore year of high school in the US).  There were boarder students for all classes/grades from KG to 10th, ages ranged from 4 to 17.  Some students didn't have accurate birth data at the time of joining, so sometimes we'd have students listed as being a lot older than they actually were.

Boarder students came from all over the place -- many were from abroad (good representation of Middle East but also Africa, usually countries without a good schooling system), rural India (again villages often lacked schools that offered instruction in English), and other places in India (I'm not sure why folks chose boarding school in this case, but my guess there were probably some constraints that kept them from having the children with them).

Both teachers and students were addressed by last name.  It actually took me a few years to get used to calling some of my friends from school by their first name after we were done with school!

The campus was fairly large and distributed over a few acres.  There were two offshoots--Framgee dormitory which was about 5-10 min walk away, and Jeejeebhoy dormitory which was across the street from the main campus.  There was a stone wall, probably 6' or so in height, around the perimeter of the school with multiple gates.  The main gate opened to an area where the office building was located, out of which the principal and other administrative staff worked.  Next to that was the Harding Hall (and extension to which house 2 of the classrooms for class 9), a building where the morning assembly and other events such as plays were held.  Other buildings included: principal's bungalow with the adjacent garden, the dining hall, Cambridge dormitory building (which housed the chemistry lab and the Tuck Shop),  the library building (which also had classrooms for class 10),  Jubilee dormitory building (which also housed the infirmary), a separate second infirmary building, Nook dormitory, the primary school building (which housed the New Dorm and all classes for KG through class 4), Lunn Building (which housed Lunn dormitory and all classes 5, 6, 7, 8), the Stationery Shop building (which housed the 3rd classroom for class 9), the New New dormitory building, the servant quarters, the kitchen, the staff common room, and some staff quarters next to dining hall and the Stationery Shop building.  Many of the buildings were old, built in British style architecture.

There was no air-conditioning, heating, or fans, in any of the buildings.  This was not atypical Pune had a relatively mild weather, but summers could be a little hot (high 30's deg celcius) and winters were sometimes quite chilly (single digit degrees celcius), so there was some mild discomfort especially in the winter months.

The campus was located on hilly terrain and this made for some pretty interesting architecture because the buildings were build on non-level ground.  So you have steps to get into the front entrance but the rear entrance would just open up to flat ground (e.g. the dining hall).  Or the front entrance would get you one level of the building and the rear of the building would have a another level below (e.g Lunn Building).


The boarding school ran on a pretty tight schedule as follows.  Why do I remember this?  Because I had good handwriting, I was often asked to write up the schedule blackboard which was located outside the library.  There might be a few errors from memory.


6:10 - Rising Bell
6:40 - Morning Tea
7:00 - 8:00 - Study Period for all
8:00 - ~8:20 - Breakfast
8:40 - Assembly
9:15 - 11:00 - Morning classes (3 periods of 35 min)
11:00 - 11:15 - Morning break
11:15 - 1:00 - Mid morning classes (3 periods of 35 min)
1:00 - 1:45 - Lunch break
1:45 - 3:30 - Afternoon classes (3 periods of 35 min)
3:40 - Afternoon Tea
4:00 - Games Parade, loosely followed by shower/personal time
6:30 - 7:30 - Study Period for all
7:30 - ~8:00 - Supper
8:00 - 9:00 - Night Study Period for senior students (classes 8-10)
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out


7:00 - Rising Bell
8:00 - Breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 Study Period
10:00 - Games & Town Leave Parade
12:00 - Town Leave Return
1:00 - Lunch
1:30 - 4:00 Rest time in Dormitory
4:00 - Afternoon Tea
5:00 - 7:00 - Town Leave
7:30 - Supper
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out


6:30 - Rising Bell
7:00 - Tea, followed by visiting place of worship
8:00 - Breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 Study Period
10:00 - Games & Town Leave Parade
12:00 - Town Leave Return
1:00 - Lunch
1:30 - 4:00 Rest time in Dormitory
4:00 - Afternoon Tea
7:30 - Supper
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out

I'm fuzzy on the Sunday schedule.


The dormitories were bare.  They were large rooms filled with rows of beds, maybe a couple of feet between beds.


The bed frames were metal with a flat metal mesh forming the base.   The mattresses were either coir (> 90% of them) or cotton (typically < 10% and very coveted, because the coir ones were prone to bed bugs).  The students were required to bring their own pillow and blanket.  All beds were required to be covered with a bed cover that was in the school color -- maroon with a ~3 inch gold yellow border at each of the short ends.  The beds were about the size of a twin bed, probably a bit narrower.

We'd usually sleep with our keys under the pillow, or for added security with the keys inside the pillowcase, or sometimes tied to a string around our neck (not sure that it really helped that much, for when someone was motivated to steal, they somehow were able to find a way to get those keys).


The lockers were made of wood.  In the lower dormitories, the lockers were stacked and each locker only had 2 shelves.  In the upper dormitories, the lockers were standalone and had 3 shelves.  Lockers were secured using a padlock.  "Tiger" was one of the common brands for the padlock.  These locks were very insecure and could easily be opened with a pin with some skill.  For those that lacked skill, these locks came with a number stamped on them, and many locks had the same number.  Locks with the same number shared identical keys.  It was not uncommon to find students walking around with a bunch of keys that could open any "Tiger" lock.  I used to bring my own locks which were more secure, but I'd usually lose my keys some time during the semester and I'd end up having to get the lock cut open (we didn't have skilled locksmiths capable of making complex keys), and then I'd end up having to use a "Tiger" lock which was the only brand sold by the school stores.

At the beginning of the school term everyone would bring their belongings typically in a large metal trunk.  Everything would be unloaded and placed in the locker.  The trunk would be stowed away for the rest of the school term either under the bed or on top of the locker.  At the end of the school term, we'd repeat the process in reverse and head home.


Most dorms has stall baths with stone floors partial doors.  We took our showers in our underwear.  Getting completely naked in a public bath (even same sex) is not at all common in India.

We'd take bucket baths where we went to a central area to fill a bucket with hot water and then the stalls would typically just have cold water.

There were long sinks with multiple faucets for brushing teeth and washing small items.

Toilets were either western style or Indian style, but the Indian style ones were more prevelent.  There was no toilet paper.  We washed up with water using a mug.

Bathrooms were not equipped with soap, so we just washed our hands with water after being done.


We'd wash our own underwear and socks.  We typically use bar soap for this and we'd wash it at the same sinks where we brushed our teeth.  This was typically done either around bath time or at night before going to bed.  We'd dry these by hanging them on the edges of our bed frames.

Everybody had a maroon colored dhobi (linen, laundry) bag hanging on one of the hooks of their lockers.  We'd change our sheets and towels once a week and the soiled linen would be placed in this bag.  All items had to be marked with the initials and roll number of the student (all border students had a roll number, mine was 49).  The bag would be picked up once a week and at the same time laundry of the previous week would be dropped off (washed and ironed).  It was not uncommon to have clothes lost or damaged or misdelivered.  Misdeliveries were easily fixed if the clothes were properly marked.  Damaged clothes were fixed by the dormitory matron (e.g. a broken hook or button).


We were in uniform all day all except for when we were in bed. Uniforms were typically bought at Imperial Hosiery or Bombay Swadeshi, two local stores on Main Street (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Pune.

Daytime uniform was worn on weekdays from 6 am to lunch time or the end of the school day.  This was a white shirt (short or long sleeve, but short sleeve was more common), white pants (shorts up to 8th standards, long pants optional in 7th standard but required in 8th, 9th and 10th standard), tie that was maroon with double gold stripes, a cloth belt with 3 horizontal stripes (maroon-gold-maroon) and a metal buckle with the school emblem, maroon or white socks, and black shoes.  On days when we had a P.T. period, students were required to wear white canvas shoes.  Daytime uniform was also required to be worn when on town leave.

Games uniform was worn starting after lunch or after school through the games period on weekdays until showering in the evening, and all day on weekends until the showering in the evening.  This consisted of a polo shirt with a cord instead of buttons in the color of one's house, white shorts, white or maroon socks, and white canvas shoes or shoes appropriate to the sport they would be playing (e.g. football/soccer shoes).  In later years some students wore fancier sneakers; the fancier shoes were not OK as a substitute for the white canvas shoes required for the daytime uniform.  There were 4 houses -- Arnold (green), Mansfield (red), Bishop (yellow), and Harding (Blue).  I was in Arnold house.

Evening uniform, sometimes called "Blues and Grays" was worn on weekdays and weekends after a shower.  This consisted of a light blue shirt, gray shorts or trousers (as appropriate by class) and the same belt worn during the day.  Mondays and Thursdays were "tie days" and we were required to wear the tie in the evening.

On cold days we could wear a maroon color sweater or blazer.

Any deviation from wearing the right uniform, or wearing dirty uniforms or unpolished shoes, was a chance for getting punished, sometimes pretty severely.


All meals and tea were had in the dining hall which was adjacent to the kitchen.  The front of the building opened up to to a concrete area where we would line up by table.

The dining hall was a large room with multiple exits on the front and only a single exit on the rear.  There were 12 large dining tables organized in a 3x4 pattern.  Classes KG to 2 sat in the first row, 3 & 4 in the second row, 5, 6, 7 in the third row, and 8, 9 in the 4 row.  Class 10 students were assigned the duty of disciplining the students and were table monitors--a table monitor was assigned to each end of the table.  The tables were long with multiple benches on each of the long edges.  At each end there was a stool for the table monitor.

In the middle table at the end of the hall where the senior most students sat, was the Head Boy.  Before each meal, the Head Boy would say grace at the end of which all the students would say Amen.  The grace went something like this:
For what we are about to receive
May the Lord make us Truly thankful
Another variant was the following
For these and all his mercies
May the Lord's name be praised
Following the meal, grace would be said again, with a slight modification.
For what we have received
May the Lord make us Truly thankful
Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options were provided, but a student had to pick one of them at the beginning of the semester.  Being a non-vegetarian meant having a beef entree with most meals.  Vegetarians could choose to eat chicken and/or fish and/or pork and/or eggs.   Chicken, fish and pork were served very rarely.  Typical meals were as follows:

Morning tea -- Black tea with milk and a sweetened bun.

Breakfast -- An Indian-style breakfast (pohe, upma, etc.), or western breakfast (porridge) with a buttered non-sweet bun, a banana, an optional glass of very watered-down milk, and an optional raw or boiled egg.

Lunch -- A beef entree or vegetarian entree with rice, dal, and a banana.

Afternoon tea -- Black tea with milk and a non-sweetened bun with butter (same as the one served at breakfast) or toast (this was how they preserved bread that was over-the-hill).  On weekends, they'd sometimes serve a lemon or orange drink (squash, not fresh) instead of hot tea.

Dinner -- A beef entree or vegetarian entree with bread, dal, dessert, and an optional glass of very watered-down milk.

Sanitation left a lot to be desired.  It was not unusual to find hair in the food, for the food to be bad/burnt/undercooked, or for the utensils (especially forks and spoons) to be dirty, and to see cockroaches in the kitchen or in the serving vessels (especially the ones used for buns and toast).  They did not have sanitizers for the utensils.

The taste of the food also wasn't good.  Most of the time I left the meal feeling hungry just because the food tasted so bad or there was something about the sanitation that bothered me.


On site, for limited hours each day, there were several snack options.
  • Tuck Shop:  A small shop located near Cambridge dorm and sold a bunch of sweets (bulls eye, orange, etc.), Ardeshir band sodas and Thums Up, and some prepared items like chutney sandwiches, vegetarian samosas, and mutton samosas.
  • India Ice Cream: A cart outside the Staff Common Room which sold various iced lollies and ice-creams.  The most expensive ice-cream at the time was the choco-o-bar which was a vanilla ice-cream covered with a chocolate shell.
  • Munjee Pau Vada: A cart that sold things like bhel and vada pau.
  • Outside vendors selling things like corn on the cob or guavas.
  • Various small stalls during the school breaks run by the families of the blue collar staff.
Unfortunately, you had to have money to buy these and most of the time, being a border, I was broke.  We had access to very limited amounts of pocket money.

Other options

When we were older (class 7 and beyond) we were able to go on town leave and eat at local restaurants like Priya or Monafood.

Occasionally on weekend, a friendly just-off-duty security guard would go to town and buy us food from places like Priya or Blue Nile (we'd place an order with him and give him the money for it).  That was a big favor he was doing us because he could have lost his job if found out.

Sometimes day students would share some of their food with boarders.  It was rare and when it happened it was a real treat.

Pocket money

Each week, we'd be given a small amount of pocket money to spend on things like snacks.  This would be given out on Friday afternoon, and it would typically be spent by Saturday evening at the latest.  The following was the weekly allowance by class at the time I joined (1978).
  • KG, 1: Rs. 1
  • 2, 3: Rs. 2
  • 4, 5: Rs. 3
  • 6, 7: Rs. 4
  • 8, 9: Rs. 5
  • 10: Rs. 6
At some point they had adjusted these for inflation by increase the allowance by Rs 1 across the board.  This was the only change over the 8 year period that I attended the school.

In today's terms that is practically worthless, but back in my early days (1978) this is what things cost:
  • A chutney sandwich was about 10 p (paise, 1/10 of a rupee).
  • A samosa was 25 p.
  • The cheapest icecream from India icecream was 25 p, the most expensive was Rs. 2.50.
  • A vada pau or bhel cost 25 p.
  • An Ardeshir soda cost Rs. 1, a Thums Up cost Rs. 2.50.
These prices went up quite a bit over the years, probably doubling over the 8 years I was there.

As we got older many of us would supplement this with an allowance from home which was managed by the dormitory-in-charge staff member.  At the beginning of the term, we'd deposit some amount of money and a ledger would be made as we made modest withdrawals against that each week, typically Rs. 5-10.


Class periods were 35 min long.  There were 9 periods in a day divided into clusters of three separated by a short morning break and a longer lunch break.

In classes 8-10, we had the following 6 main subjects:
  • English
    • English Language
    • English Literature
  • Hindi (or some other second language like French with special approval; e.g. for non-Indian nationals).
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra, Geometry
    • Trigonometry
  • Social Studies
    • History
    • Geography
  • Science
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
  • Economics or Commerce
In classes 5-7, we had 8 subjects:
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Hindi (or some other second language like French with special approval; e.g. for non-Indian nationals)
  • Mathematics
  • History
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Marathi/Sanskrit (Students taking a second language other than Hindi were exempt)
I can't remember the list of subjects before class 5.

In addition, there were classes for P. T. (Physical Training), S. U. P. W. (Socially Useful Productive Work), Art & Crafts, and M.I. (Moral Instruction).  We were not graded in these areas.


Extra career activities were typically sports.  Based on the season we typically played one of the following sports.
  • Football (i.e. Soccer)
  • Hockey (i.e. Field Hockey)
  • Cricket
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Athletics -- 50 m, 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, long jump, high jump, triple jump
  • Long distance running at the race course -- 2.5 km, 5 km
  • Ping Pong
  • Badminton
Most of these sports were played with little coaching.

One of the dormitories (New Dorm) had a ping pong table.

Discipline and punishments

The school was very harsh with punishment.  One could get punished for doing almost anything out of line including being late for anything (to the dining hall, at assembly, at the games parade), wearing dirty clothes, shoes not polished properly, talking during the study period, general punishment for everyone because the dormitory or the study class was too noisy.  They called it collective responsibility.

There were many different kinds of punishment:
  • Being beaten (slapped on the face or back of the head, hit on the butt with various objects like cricket bat, hockey stick, rulers, flats, ears pulled, knuckles on the head).
  • Write n lines of "I will do xyz" or "I will not do xyx", where n was anywhere from 100 to 1000.
  • Detention -- this meant spending time in a classroom during hours when one would normally have free time, e.g. Saturday morning.
  • Running or hopping to the wall behind the Harding Hall.
  • Kneeling, typically outside in the sun, but sometimes in class too.
Boarders had it much harder because we were under the supervision of prefects who themselves had been abused when they were younger, and so that is all they knew to do to keep discipline.

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