Slates and chalks were rare during those days. Notebooks and ink pots were allowed only in the second year of the primary school or later, when one had already become familiar with the alphabets and numbers.
The mornings were busy. A small writing board of wood with a handle was needed to be rubbed with black colour. The filling of a worn out dry battery was mixed with water to make the paste to put on the board. It was black enough. Or one used the dying colour instead. Eveready or Jeep were the brands of batteries available, small or medium sized. The board with a handle was than left in the air or sun to dry. Then with the bottom of a drinking glass or a bottle it was rigourously rubbed to shine. One used both the hands to do so if father was not available on some days to help.
In a small metal container, may be an emptied can of condensed milk called milkmaid, was dissolved in water the white soil or chalk called ‘Khari’. It was frequently available local product, just like the red clay soil. There were made two holes on each side of this white ink pot, into which two ends of a thread were tied.
A student had a cotton bag on his shoulder. The Blackened and shined board was there in it, along with a neatly cut small stick of bamboo. One end of the bamboo stick was turned into a pen. In one hand of the student hung the white ink pot. This ink had to be stirred often while writing, else the chalk settled at the bottom.
The Bell held in one hand was being rang through a hammer, held in another, by the monitor of the school, calling open the school day. The student ran up the climb, which was paved with stones; at the top of which was the monitor, in front of the school, was ringing the bell. The student was careful not to spill the white ink from the pot hanging from his hand, else it will soil his dress or the bag.
Once he lost his balance while running on prompting of the bell, managing the bag on his shoulder and the white ink pot in his hand. His head hit a stone and blood oozed from the wound, while his ink got spilled on the stones paving the way, and its pot lost in the fields down somewhere. He was taken to the hospital which was very near, and the doctor applied dressing on his wound. That smell of medicine lingered in his mind for a long time.
Classes ran in open during winter. It was why his father was happy, that he will remain warm in the sun for the whole day. ‘Ka’ Kha’ ‘Ga’ Gha’…. the alphabets came alive shining white on a shining black board. They dried in sun soon. Now on the other side of the board number had to be noted, which the teacher was shouting.
Oh what a shit! One had lost the thread needed to dip in the white ink and than use it to draw lines by holding the thread soaked in white ink with his both hands and then touch it on the other side of the black board at regular intervals. Then from the two other ends of the Black board or ‘Pati’ the thread put lines on it, to make almost even squares. After drying those squares were filled with the Numbers ‘Ek..do…teen…char.’
Watching a documentary of Tony Hagen on Nepal’s Bajang district brought those memories alive.