This is strange. A mere glance at a book of short stories by Rabindranath Tagore, at home, sent me on a flashback session. Let me explain. I thought of Tagore, then I thought of the National Anthem, and then I "flashbacked" to the prayer sessions at schools. It brought to my mind, so many memories of those morning assemblies.
I have been through seven different schools from LKG to class twelve and at every place, I had this huge task of learning the assembly prayer songs, as a new comer. The only one thing that was common was the National Anthem. And believe me, every school that I went to, the last part of "Jaya hai" would go totally off track, "abaswaram" to say it in music parlance. The pitch of some people wouldn't rise beyond a certain level (and it isn't their mistake, of course!) and while some will be on tune with the "Shruti", the rest would almost sink it to a level of their comfort. The result, well..! It was also the time, when we used to pledge, "All Indians are my brothers and sisters" and some smart alec from behind would murmur, "except one..!"
While we sang the prayer, there used to be the late comers outside, standing and peering through the grills of the huge main gate of the school, wondering how their day would begin, probably 5 rounds around the school ground, or a nice whacking from the PT teacher.
The other interesting part used to be the check whether you were in "full uniform" or "non uniform" (What words to coin?!). I remember in DAV, where we used to have prayers only on two days, I would polish my white canvas shoes frantically those mornings, cut my nails. There were some girls, who would come to class with shoe polish and nailcutters, worse still, some of them used to polish up using white chalk pieces!!
And once the prayer was over, we had the appointments (the captains/prefects/house captians) dutifully sharing responsibilities. Once the first person checked the condition of your shoes, you needed to deposit your palms into those of the next checking "appointment" and hands just used to glide into theirs for checks.
Talking about appointments, I can recollect some of my own experiences with it. Not at many occassions, but I have felt great pride in exhibiting some leadership. During first standard at MCTM, I cried and made a big fuss at home about going to school and my dad had to come and speak to my class teacher. Mahalakshmi "miss" the next day, made me the I-B leader who would lead the students in a line to the prayer session! Crazy?! That's how I was. Then again in class five at Chinmaya Vidyalaya, I used to stand in the front in the assembly and we had this really strange practice. We had to come forward, salute and shout, "Class five - C, 32 present, 2 absent!". I can't explain how proud I used to feel!
There were also the "thought for the day"s and news and prize announcements. It was indeed great fun to have been a part of all this. It would fill me with so much of excitement and pride!:)
And of course, how could I forget those silly people who would faint in the assembly because they haven't had food? (not that I am a great eater, but I never used to skip breakfast;)). Everyday, there used to be at least 3 cases of people fainting and teachers would rush in and drag those kids to the labs (usually, chem and phy labs where we used to have long benches to sleep on!)
Eventful, if something has to be said about prayers in schools. It gave me a sense of belonging to the school, whichever one I studied in, the sense that I was part of this huge group and an arena where you would see laurels and feel proud. It was also a place to giggle and see some funny experiences. To quote one, it was my first day at Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) in Tiruchengode (a rural area near Salem). I had joined class three and was standing in the prayer, the first one in that school. Old students were curious and excited. One of them looked at me and said, "Hey this is not the way you stitch your pinaform (for pinafore!)" and she asked me, "What is your name?". "Anupama", I replied hesitantly. "Anu enadhu?"(Anu what?) she asked and not waiting for an answer, continued, "Uh! what a strange name!" (in Tamil). Ah, Prayers...!