A sad day at school

That winged owl-faced supernatural being who set our school on fire

ZGM
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 21 2017 10:43PM | Updated Date: Oct 21 2017 10:43PM
A sad day at schoolFile Photo

For all of us, my elder sibling, my classmates, my morning buddies to the school, it was the worst of the mornings, the saddest ever, during my days at school.  The three ‘steeple-minaret’ E-shaped building, one of the grandest architecture in the city had been charred to a cinder in a midnight fire. No one, with cocksureness, could say what time fire had started- some said the sky soaring flames first appeared in the northern block, someone other had his own take, the razing blazes first appeared in the south wing of the building. There were as many tales about the timing of the fire as the number of onlookers watching the magnificent school building crumbling- of course, most of them had soaked eyes.   The school ground, where on dot at ten we gathered for the morning assembly and by twelvish, all boys gathered for mass drill wore the sight of the war-ravaged place. The semi-molten aluminium sheets of ‘steeple-minarets’, smoldering wooden planks, the burnt desks, chairs, stools, and blackboards littered the whole ground- slushed with waters of firefighting machines. Like dead snakes, the long hose pipes were lying all over the ground and the main road leading to school- that way back in 1936 had seen jubilant crowds greeting the tallest of the tall Muslim leader of the 20th century known for conjuring a nation through sheer indomitable will during his visit to the school. 

That, it was the naar-i-mokul, some supernatural being, who torched the houses, and every house he perched on would catch fire- many elders and almost all children believed this superstition as a gospel truth. Most of the boys believed it was none other the naar-i-mokul – that winged owl-faced supernatural being who had set our school on fire, some gullible elders also subscribed to it. Nonetheless, it was also on the grapevine that the fire was the handiwork of the new ruling class that was looking for legitimacy by sympathizing with people. Immediately after the  fire in wee hours while the firemen were fighting raging flames man on the top had  visited the school and promised construction of a more elegant building for the school. 

 In the weird scenario of despondency, what made faces of my friends and mine glimmer was to see our classroom, the science laboratory and school band room not visited by the naar-i-mokul.  Our classroom was on the ground floor of the three-story primary department, which was about three to four hundred feet away from the gutted building. It was one of the oldest buildings in the school, perhaps dating back to times when the school had graduated from middle school to high school-it was later on demolished a huge new building was constructed in its place. 

In the charged atmosphere most sobering scenario was the teachers, peons and senior boys moving like ants in and out of the charred building dribbling with ‘charcoal-rain’ and salvaging whatever was left inside the classrooms.  I have vivid impressions about having most of the teachers, Hindus, and Muslims drenched from top to toe in black soot looking like chimney sweepers-working enthusiastically clearing debris from classrooms to see classwork resumed as soon as possible. These meagrely paid teachers were as deeply committed to the school and students as a bird to his nest and spider to his web- one bringing every straw to strength his nest and another weaving every gossamer thread to reinforce his web. 

It was by noontime, trucks loaded with tents- royal tents that were once used for hosting royal dinners and at homes by the Maharaja started arriving into the school. In a day or two, the school work started as normal – and the royal tents became our classrooms.