Nobody likes waking up early on Saturday morning to catch the bus and go to school.
Not Jamuna, whose idea of a good start to the weekend involves sleeping in till ten. Not Ravi, who hates the drills after morning assembly. Certainly not Tara Ma’am, who much prefers to start her morning with a cup of tea and the newspaper before she starts correcting notebooks and tests, so she can have Sunday free.
But they all have to go, and so they do – the students and teachers wake up and get ready and get on their buses and come to school.
Everybody is a little miffed today. It’s a second Saturday – theoretically, it’s supposed to be a day off, but the school had come up with some reason (which sounded pathetically flimsy even to the mysterious powers in the admin building who made the big decisions at school) to drag everyone out of their homes and into school.
Ravi finds the drills quite torturous. The non-sporty younger brother of a star tennis-playing alumnus of the school, he senses a good number of disappointed glances as he fumbles, from coaches who expect him to live up to the dizzying heights his sister had reached. Their near-tangible disappointment aggravates his bad mood from having to come to school, and as the classes begin, bored of organic chemistry and longing for his Saturday evening ritual, he fervently wishes for the school day to get over.
Jamuna is nearly falling over during the drills. On Saturdays she’s always sleepy till about nine, but it’s bad today. She didn’t get much sleep the previous night – the people in the flat above had been playing “Kar Gayi Chull” at their party so loudly, her bedroom windows had actually vibrated. Now, she’s struggling to stay awake in class, struggling to wrap her sleep-deprived mind around the properties of alkanes. Fragmented images of the one thing she is looking forward to today float tantalisingly in front of her blurred eyes. A single coherent thought runs through her head like a mantra: I wish school would just get over.
Tara Ma’am really does not want to be here, explaining organic chemistry to the 10th grade. Half the students are sleepy, and the other half are squirming in their seats and checking the clock, calculating the time they have left until this, their last class, double-period Chemistry, is over and they can go home. She wants to go home too, and is surreptitiously checking her own watch – the second hand ticking slowly, almost mockingly. She sighs. When will the school day get over so I can go home?
The bell rings to warn that school is about to end. The students give a sort of collective jerk, as if being startled into wakefulness, but slump back down in their chairs as they realize there are another 10 minutes before they can leave.
Tara Ma’am makes a sudden, impulsive decision.
“All right,” she says, clapping her hands together. “Class is over. Have fun.” She gathers up her teacher’s guide and leaves the class, the students staring after her in a surprised stupor.
Once they’ve registered the fact that their teacher has left and they’ve actually been let off, the class wakes up. Free time always cheers them up – it can even partially redeem the travesty of having to come to school on a second Saturday.
Tara Ma’am, meanwhile, thankfully retires to the staff room, where some teachers who have had the same brilliant idea as hers, have gathered, making themselves cups of tea and chatting, deliberately ignoring the fact that technically, they are supposed to be teaching right now.
Meanwhile the 10th grade is enthusiastically organizing an impromptu sing-off, where the best singers of the class sing right along with the most tone-deaf of the students and nobody cares as long as the lyrics are right and people are having fun. Jamuna howls in anger when somebody tries to sing “Kar Gayi Chull” – the song that had stolen her sleep – and drowns them out with a loud rendition of “We Will Rock You” that brings the whole class into stomping their feet and clapping to the beat.
In the staff room, the teachers are in splits as Tara Ma’am imitates a pompous character in a recent movie, parodying his lines until she dissolves into laughter as well. One teacher displaces a neat stack of her students’ notebooks as she bends over the table laughing, which sets everyone off again.
Ravi, the closest to the door, hears snatches of faint laughter. Curious to see where the laughter is coming from – maybe one of the other classes has a free period – he drags Jamuna away from her attempts to make herself heard in the swell of voices belting out “Badtameez Dil” to go in search of the sound.
To their surprise, the classes are half empty. The students have gone down to play basketball, and there is currently a massive argument, visible from a class window, over who can play on the courts. So where is the laughter coming from?
At the end of the corridor is the staff room. As the two near it, the faint sound of laughter grows louder. They go right up to the staff room and peer in through the glass slab in the door.
Tara Ma’am is gesticulating wildly, trying not to laugh as all her colleagues crack up. A medley of laughter can be clearly heard through the door. Ravi and Jamuna duck away from the window so they can’t be seen, straining to hear what is being said.
“…hate coming to school on Saturdays,” they hear one teacher say.
Tara Ma’am sighs. “Tell me about it. At least I have my Saturday evening to look forward to.”
The teachers laugh. “The one bright spot of your Saturdays, Tara?” asks someone.
“Oh, absolutely!” Tara Ma’am says, laughing. “It’s a ritual.”
Mystified, the two eavesdropping students exchange looks. Dormant curiosity stirs inside their heads as they remember their own rituals. The bell rings, interrupting their thoughts and signalling the end of school. A mad rush sweeps everyone out of the building and into the buses.
Later that day, Jamuna collapses onto her sofa and turns on the TV, flipping through channels until she comes to Masterchef Australia reruns. She settles back with a sigh of contentment, the way she does every Saturday evening.
Meanwhile Ravi, 10 kilometres away in his own house, is avidly watching the same show, his mouth watering as a guest judge pours melted chocolate on top of a rich-looking cake.
Tara Ma’am has finally finished correcting the notebooks her students have submitted. Leaving them on her desk, she grabs the remote and turns on the TV. She smiles in satisfaction, conscious of the feeling she gets every time she indulges in the Saturday evening ritual, as she watches the contestants of Masterchef Australia scramble to concoct a dessert.
Kaivallya Dasu is an 11th std student who likes stories – reading them, writing them, and talking about them. She has written one novel and several stories, and plans to write many more. She can be reached at [email protected].