I woke up earlier than usual one Monday morning; I scanned the dormitory and saw everyone still sleeping peacefully. I grabbed the watch from the window sill and it was still 6:45. I’d have to wait fifteen more minutes. Walking to the bathroom mirror, I grabbed my brush from my mug thinking about the week ahead. It was going to be different. I would have to be on time the whole week.
I searched for the metal rod in my small wooden cupboard and found it hidden under some clothes. I held the cold metal and felt the rusty, sharp edges of that rod. Holding on to the watch and the rod, I quietly sneaked out of the dormitory towards Harley Street and Willingdon dormitory. Going through the TV room, I reached my destination.
I struck the rod hard the first time, a loud vibration followed and I kept hitting it to the metal plate until I came to a slow stop. That was it, I had rung my first bell; the waking up bell for that Monday. The rod was my responsibility for the rest of the week.
Everyone in 9th grade had to take the bell responsibility at least for a week. That winter week, it was my turn. The bell ruled everything in the campus. From the time to wake up, to have breakfast, to say the prayers and to turn the lights off, everything had a ringing to it.
So I had to wear a watch the whole week. I never wear a watch. Not even to tests, because I usually finish at least 15 minutes before time. I write fast as if there is a wild boar coming after me. But that week, i had to fidget with the watch on my wrist.
We were so used to listen to the bell to move on to the next task that after leaving Kimmins I waited till 9:00 am for someone to ring it in my house. Finally, I imagined the ring and got up. A girl can only sleep so much.
So that whole week, I got to excuse myself five minutes before every period ended, to go and ring the bell. It was fun actually, and I remember juniors wanting to try, so I gave them a 4 o’clock bell to ring. I also observed my seniors missing it, gave them a dinner bell chance.
It was a good week; having to control everyone else’s schedule. (Well, not quite that way exactly, if you didn’t ring a bell, yours would be rung in the matron’s office, not just any matron, Miss Young). But I have to confess I did end a few lectures that I disliked five or ten minutes before time. And the lectures that I liked, boy, they went on until the teacher realized it. Miss Merchant caught me once, extending her lecture on purpose for the second time. All she did was smile at me and teach for another five minutes. Physics did get me on a roll.
When we upgraded to 10th, my classmates too wanted to relive how to strike the rod to the bent, rusty metal plate outside the TV room. So we all had a hit at it whenever possible. And we lived the whole year in full ardour because we knew we wouldn’t get to do this again. Even the most boring part of the whole day, prayer time every night before lights out, was fun again because we recalled the oldest songs to sing and did all the actions with it. (If you’re happy and you know it…)
And as the count-down to our final exam began, so did the number of bells decrease that we were going to listen in Kimmins. A month before our exams, special food for the 10th graders started, we were separated from all our tables as table heads and made to sit together. Our juniors missed us; we missed bossing around on the dining table. But sitting together with all your classmates, hearing stories of each other, we had a little more time with each other until we parted.
Any topic other than ‘studies’ would do for us, so we settled to make the last two months as memorable as possible. One of the fun things included finishing three jars of Nutella every breakfast. (The glass jars would later be used as containers for Brinjal pickle every Fete). Scraping every last bit on our breads or down right just putting the spoon in our mouths, we made it hell for Miss Fernandes. But after all these years she had only one thing to say to me when a few weeks ago I told her she was strict: “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
We were so desperate to make the most of the little time that we had, that the whole year, in lunch time, we played throwball in the little space in New dormitory and called it the ‘Axis versus Allied battle’. (We had to find new ways to remember the World War history for the finals). So a few girls on each team, but my friends Bais, Bhakti and me always on Hitler’s side- The Axis powers, we played some friendly Throwball without a net. (Which is just a fancy word for ‘Playing catch’).
On the last day, after giving the last paper, we came back to the school and saw that some parents had already started to fill out the forms. But we still had one lunch. We ran to the dining hall to have our last meal together and honestly, I don’t remember what Miss Fernandes had chosen for the menu. All I remember is enjoying it way too much.
And as we came back to our dormitories, we heard the Goodbye Bell.
It was time to say goodbye. The bell rang a little more loudly, a little longer, or so we thought, because we stopped gathering our stuff and listened to it contently. We said goodbyes to our beds, the extremely small cupboards, the windows, the boot room, the dormitories, matrons and aayas, the teachers, our Principal-Miss Augustine (who still thinks my neck is longer than normal), the gardens, the squirrels, the huge jackfruits trees, the steps near the classrooms, the road leading to the back gate which had an avenue, Lover’s Lane and of course the hockey field, where more mosquitoes have bitten us than we can count.
After an emotional tour of the school, we crept back into the real world. But wasn’t Kimmins a small world too, one we can call our own?