Multipurpose…St. Mark’s Church building Khanna Academy and Lady Irwin School in Simla of the Sixties
(This building has always been a part of my growing up years and has had such an impact on my psyche that during my stay in Simla in 2010, I tried revisiting my childhood by walking around entire building and taking pictures)
The first memory that is engraved in my mind of the building is that of the exterior; old, high walls with big glasses to let in the light…. climbing vines on the walls, coveri g all nooks and corners thereof. Though the whole building looked ancient and enigmatic but it had a life of its own. The animated bubbling sounds of the children, thumping their school shoes on the wooden planks on the floor and the chiming of the bells from the Kali Bari temple a little above made it live and brethe during the school time. Come evenings and the adult seeks of education would throng the rooms if the building as Khanna Academy ran it’s classes here. This is how the building made it live in my memory!!
The climbing vines would make me wonder how could such a delicate stem could go up higher and higher…carrying the whole leaves along with. Though these climbing vines were very common in Simla, showing their presence at many buildings but it was here that I could watch and admire the strength of seemingly delicate vines clinging to the wall of the St. Marks church!!! It was here that I could watch, uninterrupted for as long as I wanted to at the creeping and climbing vines!
There were two entrances to the building…one was from the Kali Bari temple road taking steep ascent and the other one was a level walk but climbing up the stairs from the stretch of Mall just ahead of the State Bank of India. Ordinarily we would go to the building from the main entrance as this was a much happening side. But we had to pass through a dark passage which seemed suffocating to me but luckily opened up to open and lighted classrooms. The classrooms had no windows as they were separated from one another with the help of moveable wooden partitions, high enough to make it impossible to peep inside the other class but permeated enough to let all the sounds bring heard in the other classes. So even when we were in Third class we could listen to all other class teachers as well. So when I was punished by Mrs. Bhaskar one day, without any fault of mine, it was the shame that all other students would be watching me that I still can feel not any physical pain though!
There was a crossroad near to the residence of Manager SBI and the gate to this magnificent house was always closed much to our dismay. But as the building housing our school was situated at higher alleviation, we could see the well maintained lawn and the beautiful house. The house as well as the people living therein were enigmatic for us. The exterior of the building was as interesting and captivating as the inside but as it was beyond our reach we cared not much about it….for me it was our own St. Marks church building which was sufficient.
The other entry to the building, walking from the Mall side, was a different world. While we would walk to this building from this side, we would conduct ourselves in a much-disciplined way but when taken from the other side, though in a file line, we would be talking and chattering all the time, more so as we would be taken to this building when there would be a special occasion. It would be when some speaker would be addressing us, or a magician would have a magic-show for us, or when the results would be announced!! The classes would be transformed into a big hall by just sliding away the wooden partitions that separated the classes. The students would spread big floor spreading durries on the wooden floor and all would sit thereon. The teachers would be sitting on the sides and the performance would be at the altar of the once-upon-a-time a church!
It was in my Third class that I had a class in this building. Though I could never understand why our classes were held in a Church building…it was not only that a school was being run in this building but there were so many tenants living in the shared space. When we would walk to the class, the tenants could walk from the sideways…lobbies made by putting wooden partitions. So it would be fun to have classes there. When we would go to drink water from the tap in a small dark room, someone from the household could be coming to fill her bucket with water. And we could feel the aroma of food being cooked in the kitchen of the tenants making gastric juices to release in the pit of my stomach. It was a much happening place., just like our own humble Lower Bazaar!!
The recess period was the most remarkable time of our school day. The Halwai, just outside the school, who made tea as well, would be seen gossiping with people enjoying the Sun and sipping tea in glasses, sitting on the wooden bench outside the shop. I would buy a little of Besan barfi or sevanian from him whenever I had money to spare though most of us would hang around the shop just to look at the delicacies displayed in the glass shelf.
We would play animatedly during recess on this road as there was not much space to have any other activity, we devised a game for us. As the road had steep ascent so running down the steep slope was a thrill for us. How we would run down the road at such a high speed to get most of the thrill. The whole group would run down the steep descent…much to the apprehension of the walkers by of the storming girls flying in the air!! It all resulted in adrenaline rush for us! What a time it was and what an age it was. We were afraid of nothing. I remember falling down and one of my gold earrings got lost, Amma came in the evening with me to search it on that stretch but it was like searching a needle in haystack. When we walked up the ascent to comedown it was such a fun!!
Amma knew the building well as she, too, was connected with the building, In the evening the building was transformed into Khanna academy classrooms. How interesting it was that this building was a learning experience to so many people of Simla…right from the children to the grown-ups and even the tenants living therein must have had a great time watching and living such a happening life and learning a lesson or two in between.
The only time we were afraid of this building was when we walked to this building on our result declaration day. The results were announced in the make-shift-hall giving the look of where the judgment was pronounced. But for rest of the time the building was all fun.
Whether appreciated or derided in the class, whether going up the ascent or running down or even falling down, we learned to enjoy life just like those climbing vines on the exterior walls of the building. Whether the results were good or bad, whether I stood first or second didn’t matter much as like the creeping and climbing vines on the building all of us climbed up the stone walls of life. And life in between has been more of a fun like life in Lower Bazaar with some ups and some downs but finally journeying upwards!!!