Dr Ajaz Anwar shares fond memories from his school days
I must be five years old when my father took me to school for admission.
It was a fine April morning of 1952. I remember balancing my numbing thighs on the bicycle, as my father rode it. I asked him how far we needed to travel. I didn’t know that behind those tall trees, an old bungalow in white was our destination.
Next to the sessions courts, there was a huge gate that was locked permanently. The entrance for students was through a small door. The building was made of old, small bricks and lime, forming numerous pointed arches. The tall roofs were held in place by thick wooden beams that allowed for ventilators and ample daylight, keeping the covered area cool during the long summers and warm in short winters.
A very tall, semi-circular signboard said, Joan McDonald Junior Cambridge School. Founded by an Irish lady, Joan McDonald, in 1933, upon her retirement as the first principal of Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, the college originated from the school that is still functional at the crossing of Nicholson and Empress Roads.
This private school had a large playground and the volleyball net on one side. A seesaw for the daredevils and a slide that could be approached by stairs were on the other side. On its far end was a fairly large stage that was used for the school’s annual plays. Various luminaries played their role as members of the school’s dramatic society. This included the Peerzada brothers and the fair lady who acted in Anarkali as Dilaram. This scribe too had a stint on stage.
Annual sports were held in the adjacent large grounds that belonged to the Government College. (The playground has now been encroached upon by a police station and a small mosque). Mrs Murad, a basketball enthusiast, made me the captain of the class and recommended double promotion for me. Later, she left the school and appeared in feature films with her stunning dances. She also founded Fantasia, a firm that specialised in making costumes for leading film artists.
Menezies-Tony was a music master who played miraculously on piano, annually tuned by Lobo, near Regal crossing.
When my name was being entered in the school register, I was more interested in knowing about the campus. I, together with the other new entrants, took an unguided tour. I saw that classrooms had been marked from I to X. We assumed that class VIII was the senior most, while IX and X barely existed.
The next few days we spent in other explorations. Everyday seemed to be another ‘first day’ at school.
An old Englishman in khaki shorts, a retired soldier from WWII, who had opted to stay back, was the PT master. He could barely speak Urdu. When I asked him as to why he hadn’t gone back to England, he said that it was much cheaper to stay in Pakistan on European grade pension.
The PT master was supposed to give corporal punishment to unruly students. Instead of caning them, he’d make them do 15 frog jumps which he’d demonstrate himself. If a student faltered, further demonstrations were given. He would then send them back and the class teacher would get the impression that they had been adequately punished.
In the Nursery, my class teacher was an English lady called Mrs Harding. Her son had served in Burma. Her grandson, Michael, was my classmate. We often exchanged souvenirs. Soon afterwards he left for England.
The school was co-educational. The boys and girls both behaved themselves. The teaching staff, too, was quite cosmopolitan — it comprised Christians, Parsis and Muslims. Some Goanese teachers, like Miss Handel and Emmory, came to the school just in time on their lady bicycles.
On our first day at school, we were made to repeat all the English alphabets phonetically. It was an illustrated booklet. It was the images in the booklet that helped us connect words with their meanings.
That said, mother tongue makes communication as well as learning much easier.
Soon we understood that the break was the most interesting part of school day. Saadat Ullah Khan, who always wore a wrist watch, would ring the bell with a hammer to announce the break. (He rose to the rank of inspector general of Punjab Police.)
As soon as the break was announced, there would be great, high-pitched noise and all of us would rush to the playground, enjoy the swings, the see-saws, and the slides, and try to climb the trees. The commotion scared away all the birds including the crows and the reptiles including the big lizards.
On my first day at school, I got so carried away by the idea of the recess that I left my brand new school bag in the class room; it had my lunchbox. When I returned to the class, I could only see my canvas bag ripped off at places, for the minced meat that my mother had so lovingly cooked for me. I saw crows escaping in low flight.
The end of recess would be a very sad moment; it was usually followed by a hum and then a rush to the classes. Those left behind were made to collect the litter and the newspaper pieces used to wrap lunch.
Saadat Ullah Khan seemed to have the last laugh. As the grounds emptied, all the reptiles, exotic lizards and the squirrels descended the tall trees, scavenging any leftovers.
The saddest day in my school life happened in April, 1961, when we were given farewell by the senior class. With tears we bid adios to our teachers, Enayat Pervaiz and Mushtaq Ahmed, and the principal, Mrs Agha Bashir Ahmed. Mrs Harding was in England.
At the 1967 convocation of the University of the Punjab, three students — namely Ajaz Anwar (this scribe), Nasira Mahboob and Aisha Akram — received gold medals for fine arts, political science and sociology, respectively.
The school has been deprived of its vast playground and open air stage as well as sports facilities. However, its old students still meet up annually, over lunch, to revive memories of the days gone by. Last December, I was invited to share a few memories. Tanvir Sheikh is the driving force behind this meet-up. My supposedly brief speech lasted about an hour. I talked about my ‘duel’ with Sultan who was at least a foot taller than myself, and ‘Rackets drawn’ between Zahid Ghauri and Manzar, moderated by a Parsi girl, Mehr Dara (already covered in my early columns).
Note: Free art classes for all ages and genders, are held every Sunday online at houseofnannas.com
(This dispatch is dedicated to Mrs Harding)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at email@example.com