Friday, May 5, 2017

Life at Bishop's boarding school

(work in progress...)

I decided to write several posts about my experience attend 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.

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
  • Classes
  • Activities
I expect this to be a very long post and will be updating slowly over time.

Introduction

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.

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 deg 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 architects 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).

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!

Schedule

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.

Weekdays

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

Saturdays

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

Sundays

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.

Dormitories

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

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-ish inch gold 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).

Lockers

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.

Bathrooms

Laundry

Food

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 (if I recall correctly).

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:
Grace
For what we are about to receive
May the Lord make us Truly thankful
Another variant was the following
Grace
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.
Grace
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.

Sanitization 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 sanitization that bothered me.

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