September 5, 2018
In India schooling is compulsory from the age 6 to 14 since 2010. At present pre-schooling of a child starts at the age of about two and half. That means a child spends about 3-4 years in pre-schooling before joining first standard at about the age of five and half to 6 years. But during my time over 50 years ago it was not so. There were instances some children did not go to school at all. Some children whose parent or relative was a teacher or residing very near to the school admitted to first standard, at the age of 5 years. Some admissions took place at the age of 7 years. But normal admission age was about 6 years.
I was admitted to first standard at six and half years of age as I was born in December and my house was at a distance of about one and a half kilometers from the school. There was another reason too. My mother died at my 3 years and 3 months age when she was just at her 29 during the delivery of the next child. My dad was working in the merchant navy. My elder sister, elder brother and I grew up with our grandmother (dad’s mother). Our grandmother took so much care that we didn’t realize the loss of our mother. One uncle (dad’s younger brother) and one aunt (dad’s youngest sister) both then unmarried were also at home helping granny in household chores.
H R Alva
Thereafter I studied for altogether 23 years – 7 in primary, 3 in high school, 2 in pre-university, 3 in polytechnic diploma (in Chemical Engineering), 3 in graduation (BA), 3 in law graduation (LLB) and 2 in post graduation (MA in Political Science). Apart from BA and MA which I did through distance education, all other education was attained by attending regular classes. I still remember my activities throughout my academic career and even today I love and respect all my alma maters and teachers who taught me very fondly. Among all the institutions where I have studied, I fondly recall and respect my primary school and the teachers who taught me during my formative years and showered extra affection for the obvious reason, having lost my mother during early childhood.
My first school was St. John’s Higher Primary School at Shankerpura in Udupi taluk which is a state government aided Kannada medium school run by St John the Evangelist parish, Pangala under the Catholic Board of Education of Mangaluru diocese (this is the only institution where I had the opportunity to study under the Catholic management).
May 23, 1966 was my first day in school and my first day of first standard. I still remember the day. My sister was studying in 7th and brother in 5th in the same school. I went to the school in their company. I was a normal boy with chubby cheeks (pugre gaal). I had not cried nor created a scene as that was the usual scene during those days while going to the school for the first time. I was made to sit in the 2nd row (This practice I still follow normally in gatherings by not venturing into the first row even when there are vacant seats. I am residing on the second floor of my apartment and my office is also located at the second floor of a commercial building in Mangaluru, though coincidence). We had benches of about a foot height. There were no desks. We had to keep our bags beneath the bench which normally contained a text book, slate, and thin chalk piece (kaddi). Those who carried lunch boxes, had to keep them in a corner of the class room.
My classroom was at the west end of the building named ‘Bishop Peres Hall’. This was an auditorium with a stage and attached green rooms. The hall had been divided into 4 classrooms (standard 1 to 4) with wooden partitions. At the eastern end of the building touching the stage there were 2 rooms accommodating 5th standard. Touching this portion there were 2 projected rooms one each at the southern and northern end with a garden in the middle. The southern side room was the headmaster’s office and northern side was staff room (I had heard that previously it was used as post office). At the western end outside the building there was a huge red seed (manjotti) tree and toilets.
Till 5th standard St John Higher Primary School was only for boys and there was a separate school for girls by name Little Flower Girls Primary School at the northern end of the church. (Now St. John Sabha Bhavan building exists there). For 6th and 7th standard girls were accommodated in St John’s School with co-education.
By the side of the headmaster’s office and staff room there was a narrow lane of about 2 meters. To the eastern side of the lane there was another building housing stationery room at one end and sports room at the other. In the middle there were class rooms for 6th and 7th with 2 divisions each. In front of that building there were huge trees of mango, sapota (chiku), jack fruit etc.
In the year 1969, on the occasion of birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi a new block was constructed at the southern side of the upper building (about 50 meters away) with the patronage of government of India and few classes were shifted to that building. We the students had an opportunity to contribute to the construction work by carrying water from the well in buckets, tins etc. A children’s play area (shishuvihara) was situated at the south side of this new block.
My first standard and first teacher was Carmine Fernandes nee Castelino, a charming lady. She was in her twenties. Being a mother herself she had motherly attitude towards students and making the little ones comfortable in the class with her sweet voice and affectionate words. One of her sons was in my class. She is a Pangalite, from a place called Moodabettu, about a km to the west of the school. She had been married to a teacher of St. Francis Higher Primary School, Mudarangady. Within a few years of my first standard she took transfer to the school of her husband.
Carmine teacher was aware that I had lost my mother. She was very sympathetic to me from the very first day of my schooling (Even I had heard about this while she was conversing with other teachers). We had to carry a slate and only one Kannada text book in our cloth bag having a strip to carry on our shoulder. There was no uniform. We boys were wearing a half pant and a bush shirt. Carmine teacher taught us Kannada alphabets (Vernamaala), numeric numbers, colours, days of the week, months and other things like names of animals, birds etc. There were charts for letters with pictures, chennemanne (traditional game with beads) for numbering etc.
Now too, I am thanking God for giving me a teacher like Carmine Fernandes in my First standard. She had a beautiful handwriting. I have no hesitation to say that in the later years if I was attracted towards Konkani and Kannada writings it is because of the foundation she had put in me with good hand writing and the interest she had created in me towards Kannada. Now aged about 80, she lives in Mudarangady, not far from the Church, managing quite a big garden of coconut, areca nut trees, etc. (Mudarangady is close to me since my aunt was given in marriage to this place in 1967 and I was lucky to get my better half from Mudarangady parish). I am visiting my first teacher once in a while with my family.
In standard 2nd, I was taught by Lilly teacher (Lilly Martis). That year too there was only one Kannada text book. In the 3rd standard Eliz teacher (Eliza Castelino) was our class teacher and from here onwards we studied social science, mathematics and Science along with Kannada. In the 4th standard Joseph Mary Rodrigues known as postmaster, was our class teacher. I have to mention about the special qualities of Post master (He got this name because when post office was functioning from the school premises he was serving as part-time post master. I had heard that he was also helping the parish priest as a sacristan. He was teaching us Kannada poems by singing them melodiously. Weekly once or twice Post master was taking the entire class to the adjacent playground, make us sit beneath the trees in 2 sections while he sat on a chair in front of us and conduct debate sessions. There were different topics for discussion like ‘Hanchina mane melo, hullina mane melo’ (Tiled roof house versus thatched roof house), ‘hallivaasamelo, pattanavaasamelo’(Village life versus city life), etc. A few from each section had to talk on one topic with positive and negative sides. This type of debates made the students to think and to talk and develop rational thinking. I strongly believe that such activities came to my help in the later years to emerge as a youth leader in the society. To the northern side of the school building there was a well. Post master made the students to cultivate a mini vegetable farm by sowing seeds and observing various stages of saplings growth. We had to note down the progress of the plants every day.
From 5th standard onwards, we had to study English language and from 6th standard Hindi language. To teach these subjects there was a pool of teachers namely, I Srinivas Shanbhag, Mary Celine D’Sa (Mary teacher), Evlyn Martis (Ella teacher), Cyril Dias, Ratnakara Shetty, Gregory D’Sa (Giru Master), and the Headmaster was Maurice D’Sa. (From 1972 onwards I. Srinivas Shanbhag became the Headmaster). Apart from their respective subjects all teachers were talented in many extracurricular activities. Giru Master was a Commerce graduate who had also ventured into LLB. He was a dramatist, a singer and a musician and harmonium artist. He was running the stationery store too. He loved the students and at the same time he was known for his short temper. All teachers were respected by the people of the village. Maurice Master was not a graduate, great was his knowledge. He was guiding many students to pursue higher education and was helpful to the village people to read and write letters in English, helping in getting Government facilities etc.
Being a quiet and bright student in academics I was coming first in each year right from first standard. In the year 1972 headmaster Maurice D’Sa got retired from service. In his honour school day was celebrated on January 24, 1972. On that occasion I was given a certificate and a cash prize of Rs 5 for the best performance in standard 6th. But I didn’t get the amount since it was donated to the Defence Fund of Indian Government. (Bangla War 1971).
Till 1969, Fr Gabriel Castelino, a devoted parish priest was the correspondent. Afterwards, Fr Victor Saldanha was the correspondent. In 6th standard, on every Thursday, before lunch we had catechism at the church conducted by Fr Saldanha.
Moreover, we had very good playgrounds and every day the last period was for various sports and games. As there were no separate teachers for physical activities the students had to play on their own with the supervision of respective class teachers.
After passing 7th standard public examination, standing first to the school, I left in May 1973 and joined SVH High School, Innanje as there was no High School at Shankerpura. My teachers of the first school became my friends in the later years especially when I was a youth leader and a social worker. They extended their helping hand in my activities and patted my back. I was the president of St John’s Old Students’ Association for 10 years continuously (1984-94), and managing committee member of my primary school for several years.
Now the picture of the campus of my first school has changed. High school was founded in 1981 and pre-university college later. Along with Kannada medium, English medium is also offered in the school. In the place of old buildings of our times, posh giant new structures are erected.
I am proud to say that, my first school, St John’s Higher Primary School which was founded in the year 1902 has given education to students numbering several thousand spread over 4-5 generations. Such students are spreading the fragrance of Pangala jasmines and especially the name of the school throughout the globe. I would like to mention only very few names among the stalwarts - Archbishop Emeritus Alphonsus Mathias, Prof B Ramdas Bhat (Karnataka University, Dharwad), Dr Leo Martis (Scientist, USA), John Lobo (Teacher at Innanje and later Headmaster at Shankerpura High School), engineer John P Mendonca (Karnataka state level 7th rank holder in SSLC in 1963), Dr K Satish Shetty (KMC, Manipal), Albert W D’Souza (Entrepreneur and Educationist, Mumbai), Dr Beliyaaru Vedavyasa Bhat (USA), Fr Praveen Martis (Principal, St Aloysius College, Mangaluru) and the list continues.
Even after about half a century, this day too I cherish the good old memories of my first school. I salute my school, first teacher and all the teachers who taught me subsequently. Among them some are in their advanced age, of whom I wish good health and to those gone away from this world I pray for their eternal rest.
I wish a very happy teachers’ day to all the teachers and the very best in their lives.