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Growing Up in the 90s: #1 School

Nostalgia: “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.”

Listening to my mom, uncles and aunts reminisce about their childhoods made me think about my own. I feel that my generation, those who grew up in the mid-late 80s and the 90s, are the last generation whose childhood was not defined by technology, by complexity, and by stress. It was a simpler time then, and I went on the internet to remind myself of how life was in the 90s, to fill in the gaps which had been forgotten about over the years.

Looking at and being reminded of symbols of my childhood brought a flood of nostalgia down on me, and I felt compelled to write about it. Of course, such an account cannot be confined to one article, and so in this series, I will recount my experience of growing up in the 90s, a time I wish would come back again.

Part 1


Like many of us, I never did like school. It meant having to wake up early and get ready, and make a run for the school bus around half past seven in the morning. It was particularly annoying because in junior school, we could only wear shorts and not full length trousers. In winter that meant freezing your legs off, and praying you did not need to go to the loo before you reached school. Sometimes, the bus was running late, and as you waited there in the cold, with the other students, you could only think of running late for class, and the excuse you would have to give the teacher.

Having to start early in the morning meant packing your bags the previous night before bed, for inevitably you would forget something if you left it till the next day.

Textbooks and notebooks- check

Fountain Pen and Ink - check

Water Bottle filled - check

Camlin Pencil Box - check

Remember these, using brown paper to cover your textbooks and notebooks so that they would not get worn out? I always asked mom to do that, till she admonished me to grow up and do it myself. However, I never could make my book covers look as crisp and clean as hers.

Add the weight of a set of clothes and shoes to 10+ books, and you had me lugging around a school bag which probably weighed 7+ kilos. Mind you, that was when my own weight was around 20 odd kilos (Yes, I was a skinny lad). God knows how I managed to carry all that stuff without my back giving out.

Another important item was the camlin geometry pencil box, with the ruler, stencil, protractor, compass, and other stuff which I cannot remember. You only had to carry it when maths class was there, so some children forgot, and there was a lot of haggling for sharing your items during class without getting caught.

Mind you, I never really liked sharing. I guess with my OCD I always wanted to keep my items pristine and immaculate, while everyone else was your typical school kid, hell bent on destruction.

I can’t remember much of my classes, but I remember shopping that was needed at the beginning of every school year. More specifically, the stickers that you had to put on to identify your book. Given that everyone had a brown covered book, the sticker was the only way of finding out yours when it was returned by the teacher after making her evaluation of your homework. My tastes kept changing every year, from cars, to cartoon characters, to WWF superstars. It was always fun to compare stickers and see who had the coolest ones.

Exams were always a dreadful time, particularly maths. Getting late those days and missing the school bus was a definite no-no. We had to use a notepad, remember them? That was because the desks were not smooth and we had to write our answers on single sheets of ruled paper. Without the notepad providing support often the handwriting would go out of control or your pen would go through the paper, something absolutely avoidable.

Which brings me to the strange use of fountain pens. For many years I had to use fountain pens in school. They did not allow us to use ball-point pens, on the reasoning that it would make our handwriting go bad. And so, we had to carry fountain pens and a bottle of ink with us, or 4-5 fully filled pens every day. It was a headache to fill them till one day I came across the ‘Hero’ pen with a built in suction system. It meant really easy filling and soon everyone in class had one.

The school day often dragged on, especially after the lunch break when the last few classes seemed to last longer than ever, with time stretching out and the clock seemingly being stuck in one place. The school bell at 3 would jolt everyone out of their slumber, and the teacher’s pleas and requests for homework completion would be happily ignored, as we all jammed our books into our bags and made for the school buses like a herd of wild animals.

As soon as I got home it was a question of quickly throwing off my uniform and either plonking myself in front of my 21 inch Sony Trinitron TV to catch the latest cartoons on Cartoon Network, or running off with my cricket bat to the field to join my friends in a match. Tuition and extra curricular activities were a foreign concept. Play time in the evening often depended upon the diktats of the sun, and we would only stop playing when we could not see where the ball had disappeared.

After that, it was back home to complete any homework for the day, then dinner, and packing my bags for the next day. This was the routine, unless it was a saturday, in which case that last item could be gleefully forgotten about.

Writing this, I realize I miss school. Yes, there were a lot of things I did not like, but it was still a simpler, more relaxing time than what I see school children going through these days. I am honestly glad to have got the experience that I did.

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