By Nihal Bambulkar Apr. 27, 2019
From mixing laxatives in the music teacher’s tea to making substitute teachers cry, my class was undisputedly the worst in our batch. While the other divisions focussed on excelling at academics or sports, we decided to be the best at raising hell — the one thing that would set us apart from those smug conformists.
An unwritten law of the Indian education system is that at some point during the school year, a teacher is going to lose their cool and scream, “Is this a fish market?!” This is usually a signal to the students that the teacher is seconds away from a total meltdown, and most classrooms simmer down once this legendary rhetorical question is asked. But when Ms Rupali, our ninth-standard geography teacher, asked us if we were in fact, in a fish market, our class clown, Nikshit couldn’t resist the bait.
“Why do you ask, ma’am? Are you a fisherwoman?” he asked. I don’t know if he was genuinely too stupid to tell what a rhetorical question was, or if he actually enjoyed spending his Saturdays in detention, but Ms Rupali swiftly put him in his place – which means she sent him to the principal’s office.
The consequences of his actions didn’t matter to Nikshit, because he was just another cog in the rule-breaking machine that was Class IX-C, which competed with IX-A and IX-B in a quest to be dubbed the most notorious class in school.
And there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation to that. You see, every division in our batch performed exceptionally well in their respective fields. IX-A was the cream of the crop, the overachievers who performed extraordinarily well at academics and made the rest of us look like bespectacled apes struggling to read textbooks. IX-B on the other hand, was full of gifted athletes who bagged the biggest trophies for the school, despite not being particularly great at academics.
And then there was us. A motley crew of below-average students with limited athletic potential, and the budding philosophers who decided that there was more to a student’s life than completing the syllabus. Compared to the other two classes, the teachers despised teaching us. They told us that we would never amount to anything and invariably compared our antics to the spineless conformists from other divisions. And since the only respectable fields of interest were full, we decided to be the best at the one thing that would set us apart from those smug bastards from IX-A and B.
I realise now, that our last year is what changed us the most.
With tousled hair, collars undone, and shirts untucked, we were 36 arsehole students who strived to set an unbreakable record for being called to the principal’s office. While the others were busy finishing their homework, paying attention, and earnestly following their teachers’ instructions, we developed an endless zest to raise hell.
On one occasion we mixed laxatives with the music teacher’s tea to get back at him for not letting us touch any of the musical instruments during his lessons. On another we pulled the fire alarm to escape another insipid reading of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and a few boring chemistry lectures.
Yet, the perfect opportunity would present itself whenever a substitute teacher would be assigned to our class. We’d invariably turn to our most successful strategy – playing a childish variation of chinese whispers. It would start with the first student who would say a cuss word out loud and the others would follow suit by saying, “Stop saying *insert cuss word* guys. Please pay attention.” It was brutal. Eventually her patience would boil over, she’d burst into tears and storm out of our classroom. And it worked every single time.
In many ways, my class reminds me of the students from the movie Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016) who unite to give their tyrant principal a taste of his own medicine by breaking a series of endless irrational rules enforced by him. They added hair dye to his hat, colouring his blonde hair an embarrassing shade of pink. On another occasion, they tamper with the school bell so that it can start playing fart sounds when rung.
In a Guardian article titled “Pupil Misbehaviour is an International Problem”, the author cites a survey conducted over 23 countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which suggests that one-third of the teachers polled admit to their lessons being disturbed by students showing up late, by profanity and swearing, and by their intimidation or verbal abuse of other students. “On average, teachers in these countries spend 13 per cent of classroom time maintaining order,” says the author. Given how often our principal had to call our parents to tell them they had raised utter scoundrels, 13 per cent actually seems like a modest estimate.
In another Guardian article titled “Poor Behaviour in Class is not Acceptable, but Zero Tolerance is Not the Answer”, the author suggests, “Punishment such as expulsion or suspension from school disproportionately damages students who have the highest educational and social needs. It takes problem-students out of class, reducing their time learning, making it even more difficult for them to catch up to their peers.”
But, it’s unfair to hold a grudge against our principal for the multiple suspensions. I reckon that not punishing us probably would’ve made matters worse. Alas, after a year’s worth of pranks and punishments we moved onto Xth std. I realise now, that our last year is what changed us the most. Spending those final moments walking through those corridors and bidding adieu to those very teachers whose lives we’d turned into a living hell compelled us to reflect on our wrongdoings. If you must know, our endless zest for rebellion died shortly after we left our school.
Today when I look back upon our shenanigans as an adult, I can’t help but think of them as cries for attention driven by a deep-rooted teenage angst. And that we only did those things because in a school full of sticklers we felt like a classroom full of misfits. But, I’m certain our teachers don’t hold it against us, not anymore anyway.
That reminds me, you will never believe who I ran into at the fish market the other day. Go on, I’ll give you one guess.