Dreaming of a School Bus

Those days very few buses plied on the roads in our locality

ZGM
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 18 2017 11:23PM | Updated Date: Nov 18 2017 11:23PM
Dreaming of a School BusFile Photo

Those were my days at the Jabari School - popularly called as Jabari Chatahall. I don’t know the etymology of the word  Chatahall, whether it is of Dardic origin, or its roots are in the Sanskrit or the Persian languages - the three languages that have provided bones, flesh, and blood to our mother tongue. Nonetheless, during our childhood, it was part of our lingua franca. Since, the word chatahall was mostly suffixed to the Quran learning centers (Maktabs), in all likelihood this word along with thousands of other words from the  Central Asian languages had also got assimilated in our language- and many popular phrases were also born around this word.  None of us, neither my mates and nor I, ever dared to ask our teachers why our school was nicknamed as Jabari Chatahall. It was perhaps some biased mind that had coined this phrase for the government-run schools after the overwhelming majority had won their battle for the right to education in the early thirties.  And the feudal rulers had made primary education compulsory for one and all. 

It was years later, perhaps during my days at Islamia High School that we learned to get right to education for children of have-nots from the majority community was in itself an epic story of our struggle. It was a green turbaned teacher Shah Sahib, one of the senior teachers on the school staff while asking us to write an essay on our school told us that the founding members and the first pass out from the school had made petitions after petitions before the British Resident for providing equal opportunities for education to children from the majority community. And the British Viceroy in 1916 had deputed a senior officer to see ‘children of less god’ getting right to education. 

It had caused a great struggle for many more years to see these rights ultimately bequeathed to them… It was perhaps for the children of deprived sections of society now getting an education that the elite had nicknamed my school also as Jabari Chatahall.  Some even named these schools as Jabari Za’hath- perhaps meaning schools of untidy children.  Majority of us, dressed humbly waiving takhtee or Mashaq wooden writing board in the air like swords and a terracotta inkpot filled with clay ink pots, reed pens and Urdu primers inside Khaki canvass bags jubilantly walked to our school- no honks or horns disturbed us. Some boys could not afford a canvass school bags and they carried their books in a piece of old cloth. There were some who could not afford even canvass shoes popularly called ‘fleet-shoes’, they wore wooden clogs and some walked to school barefoot. 

Those, days very few buses plied on the roads in our locality. The street outside the four-story building of our school mostly remained deserted, it would be an occasional tonga or horse a driven or a tumbrel pulled by brawny men that made us walk on the sides of the road.  On these roads silent as deserts, it was the only thirty to forty seater green school plying on the main road of our Mohalla that attracted our attention. The school bus of a missionary school arrived in our locality to pick up a few boys from a couple of elite and neo-rich families in our locality much before the big gong in our school started ringing. The boy in tidy shorts and shirts in summer months and grey woolen pants and jacket during winters that they called ‘battledress’ caught our imagination. In their winter uniform perhaps inspired by the military uniform adopted by the British Army in the late 1930s, these boys looked like young soldiers. My mates and I envied these boys looking like ‘young soldiers’ peeping from the windows of the school's bus and we dreamt of the day when we also would be wearing the ‘battledress’   and boarding the school bus….