Much Ado About House Competitions
Whenever I sit back and reminisce about my school days, I invariably end up smiling to myself thinking about the House Competition days. Recently, I went back to Gokhale to attend the Alumni Association meet and while taking a tour of the corridors, my friend and I kept on discussing only about our House Competition days. Before I get busy with the mundane everyday life again, I pen down snippets from those golden days.
in Gokhale, all the students from class V to class X used to be divided into four Houses, named after the surnames of four Founders of the school – Das, Mukherjee, Sinha and Mitter. The selection, at least during my time was through lottery and I remember the anticipation with which we used to wait for the same. It used to be one defining moment, since for the next six years in school, we would be bound to one big fraternity, loyally fighting for and defending our House.
Suddenly best friends, in two different Houses, would turn foes, arguing whose House was the best. Loyalties got divided, especially if your favourite teacher was the House Mistress of another House and your favourite Didi was the House Captain of yet another House. Even if you badly wanted to be in Sinha House, you could just end up in Mitter House for the rest of your school life.
I was in Das House and I did not complain ever since a number of my close friends also ended up there. The House colour was red and I gleefully pointed out to friends in other Houses how the red tie would blend in with our white-and-red uniform, unlike the green of Sinha, yellow of Mukherjee and blue of Mitter. House competitions became the most exciting event of the year and we all strived hard to be bring as many points as possible to our House.
There were intra-House selections, where girls of the same House were pitted against each other in one particular event. The best among them would then go on to compete in the inter-House level. Class V students used to be the Junior level, classes VI and VII used to be Intermediate level and classes VIII-X was the Senior level. So while you compete with just your batch-mates while in Junior level, competition became tougher beyond that since you had seniors and juniors to compete against.
Though some events took place the whole year round, the main action happened at the House Competitions held every year on the first three days of the new classes, usually in the beginning of May. All the practice for the events took place in the month of April, just after the annual exams were over. Four empty classrooms were designated for the Houses, in which planning, strategising, brainstorming, intra-House selections, bonding and bitching – all happened behind the closed doors. Everyone tried hard to keep her own House plans secret, while employing all sorts of methods to find out the plans of the other Houses. One practically stopped talking to her best friend in the rival House, just so that she did not spill anything accidentally! Rumours flied hard –
"Sinha House has chosen this song for their Dance recitals."
"Mukherjee House is using cartwheel skills of that girl in the PT display."
"Das House has gained a superb artist of class V, who is drawing the alpana this year."
"Mitter House is practising hard on the play, they want to win it three consecutive times."
This month of April was also the time when there was no disciplinary restrictions on the students. We could come in and go at any time, since it was not regular school days. We used to take full advantage of the same and used to frequent the Haldirams at Exide Crossing. The meagre pocket money never allowed us anything more than the flavoured slush or koolfi, but the excitement of going to a restaurant with school friends and that too in school uniform was a heady experience for us all. That was the closest I ever went at bunking school!
We had a wide variety of events, one for almost everybody. Events like Creative Writing, Flower Arrangement, Thematic Chart Making and Model display, Alpana drawing, English and Bengali Handwriting etc all took place in the last week of April. I was a regular in the Alpana drawing event, something which I did enthusiastically during Saraswati Puja and Annual Day function in law school, too. I still remember how in that one month, I used to ask all and sundry in the family, go to bookshops and poured over design books and even sat for hours in the cyber cafe trying to find the winning alpana design.
The most exciting times arrived with the month of May. Events like elocution, quiz, debate and extempore used to take place in the first half, while the performing arts events like music, dance, drama and PT display used to happen in the second half. Those were the times when surliness at not being selected had to be foregone for the greater good of the House. The girls who were participating were assisted by everybody else in all possible ways. After all, House was above individual achievements and all the bitterness of House politics were forgotten for a few days.
I once took part in drama and enacted the role of the King of Spain in the play "Birthday of Atlanta". A rented white frilly shirt over my trousers, along with some one else’s shawl hanging from my shoulders, depicting the King’s robe was my attire. I also donned the grease paint in the form of some foundation to brighten up my face and blush-on powder to highlight my cheeks, despite my protests that I was playing a man and not a woman!
The other time of the year when intense competition surfaced among the Houses was during the Annual Sports. The lucky ones taking part in March Past competition used to get classes off, just to practise marching in the scorching sun for hours non-stop. Strict House Captain meant stricter regime and no slacking in between. The Houses used to stand in order of last year’s ranking and it was such a touchy issue with the House standing last!
Intra-House pre-Sports selections used to ruthless and the athletic types used to have a punishing practise schedule just to win their respective categories on the D-day. I once found myself participating in obstacle race, where one had to jump over the bar twice before dashing towards the finishing mark. Finally, my lanky figure with long legs came to my aide and I enthusiastically practised for hours. But I never ran the final race due to illness and that has been a regret till date.
Badmintion and tenniquoit were the other two sporting events which saw the Houses pitted against each other. I remember how I had encouraged my whole class (IX-A), of which I was the class-captain, to bunk Physics class and watch the Inter-House Badminton finals. It was my bad luck that my class-teacher was the one who used to take Physics for us and I got a heavy scolding for being an irresponsible leader. But my experience as class-captain can be one whole post in itself.
Coming back to House Competitions, I must mention the dark underbelly (to borrow a filmy phrase) of it all – House politics. You had to know the right people, be the pet of the right teachers and be friendly with the right senior girls to be able make your position strong. Almost the same girls with the right sort of connections used to participate in all events possible and finally went on to become the House Captain. Once a House Captain, she held immense powers, especially to decide who would participate in which event.
I changed school and joined The Future Foundation School for my plus-two. Unlike Gokhale, here students of plus-two could also be part of Houses and I ended up in Blue House. Here, it was more of a Harry-Potter kind of situation – one received House points for participating in all school activities which were held all year round. I was once forced by my House mates to participate in music competition, since participation itself brought points! I also participated in Quiz and managed not to come last!
A large part of my school life, in both my schools, is ensconced in memories of the House Competitions – I made new friends, experienced bunking school (well, almost), honed my creativity and had truck loads of fun :-)