This is a slice of an educational experience I had during early schooling at Kottakkal. An experience that is almost a forgotten dream from a mythical past. Days at school filled with fun, frolic and yes, fear.
I studied up to the III Form (8th Std) at Kottakkal before my mother and uncle decided to shift me to Delhi. In the best Mrumakkkathayam tradition, my uncle decided to take care of me , his only sister’s only son. This meant our shifting to New Delhi when I was only twelve.
At Kottakkal,we had two schools, owned and managed by the family, the Kottakkal Primary School right outside our kotta and the Raja’s High School, two kilometres away on an elevated, rocky terrain. Both offered teaching positions to family members and some of them turned out to be very good teachers.
I spent three years at the Primary School-classes 3, 4 and 5. The Headmaster was very strict but very kind and the Maths and Malayalam teacher, Sankunni Master strict but not so very kind. We used to write our answers on a slate and for any mistakes made, I used to get a rap on my knuckles with my own fragile slate pencils. One had to humour Sankunni Master to get into his good books. Two of my cousins, who were two standards above me, were a happier lot as the Master’s son was their classmate and good friend. I was less fortunate: he did not have any sons left for me!
Suddenly, one day, I got my chance to please him, when he asked all the children to bring him some nice books. I rushed to my mother. She and I selected a book very close to her heart, -The Selected Speeches of Swami Vivekananda-in the hope that he will return it to us soon. We need not have feared. The Master took one look at it and threw it back saying ‘Do you think this was what I had asked for?’ Little could I or my mother fathom his reading preferences!
Fortunately I had to suffer Sankunni Master for only one more year.
At Raja’s High School, it was a different story. There was a good deal of fun but also mortal fear of two Iyer teachers. I had very little to do with one who taught Science in the senior section and everything to do with the other who taught Maths in the third form, my last year in the school. Although he was an excellent teacher, he had a fearsome presence. He was as innovative in teaching students a lesson as teaching them the lesson. Iyer had a long tuft of hair behind the shaven front half of the head, the traditional Pin Kudumai and he was predictably more aggressive -mercifully not too frequently -on the days that the head was clean shaven.
Perhaps the most fascinating figure was our Sanskrit teacher, Sharma. If Sanskrit was his profession, Volleyball was his passion. He brought to us not merely knowledge of Sanskrit but skills of persuading a bunch of good volleyball players, considerably older than us, to enroll themselves as students. Three of them were said to have represented the Malabar Six. They were under special care and were to develop the school team.
The star amongst them was Kunhalikutty, a tall awesome figure in his early twenties, I guess, who probably thought and knew of nothing but volleyball. In modern cricket someone like him would have blossomed into a Kapildev or a Sehwag. He was aggressive to the core. There were several stories about his exploits: that one of his hits had once seriously injured an opponent-on the court, of course. Another, that he had grounded a rival out of the game altogether- probably off the court than on it!
In our parlance, the most important players in the team were the Hitter’ , known to most as the Attacker and the ‘Lifter’ known today as the Setter . Kunhalikutty was the Hitter and Haidrosutty, hanpicked by him, the Lifter. As the hitter, Kunhali expected the ball to lift to a perfect height just above the net from where he could hit, with great accuracy and force, a chosen spot. If the ball went above or below that it would land , with a shout, on Haidrosutty’s head and not in the opponent’s court. Gently though, because Haidross was his own man !
Armed with the might of the Malabar Six, the school decided to host the Inter Shools tournament of our region. It had the makings of an IPL match. The same carnival atmosphere, the same effusion of local patriotism and the same excitement. There were make shift eateries and plenty of cheer leaders for all teams, presumably imported by the teams themselves.What an excitement we had! All of us would throng to see the pre tournament practice sessions with Kunhalikutty as the Hitter and Haidrosutty, a perfect match as the Lifter.
We all watched the tournament with great expectations.Two new volley ball courts suddenly got into place instead of the marshy, multipurpose court outside the hostel buiding! The first match was a nightmare. We lost it in right royal style as India often does to Bangladesh in the World Cup. We barely scraped through the second . All eyes were now on Captain Kunhali and Mentor Sharma. Kunhali vowed that he will either win or quit. Sharma vowed that he will not see the matches any more for fear that his presence may prove inauspicious.
The semifinal was the toughest! Against Kumaranallur. Kunhali was in top form by now with his hits, barbs and intimidatory tactics on and off the court. Kumaranallur, a much younger team, put up a good fight but were no match for the professionals from the Malabar Six. When we moved into the finals, we knew we would win the game with ease even if Sharma were to be present.
True enough, we did. The moment of triumph had arrived and there were tears in Sharma’s eyes as Kunhali lifted the trophy for a photographer who had been specially brought to grace the occasion. For us, it was the World Cup! Celebrations, sweets and a holiday into the bargain.
The celebrations did not last long.
Kunhali now had to start attending Iyer’s classes. One afternoon Kunhali came to the class, not having known anything about such a thing as homework. He looked blank whenever a question was put to him. This was probably one of those days when Iyer had a special shave of the head. Each question of his was met with a blank stare. Finally Kunhali Kutty was asked to go the blackboard and write out the answer. Again a blank, bewildered stare. Iyer shouted ‘ STAND UP ON THE BENCH!’ Kunhali stood, almost six feet tall, on that slender bench much to the repressed amusement of the class. Iyer soon shouted ‘ COME DOWN’ and as Kunhali came down, Iyer charged towards him in full fury and slapped him on the cheek.
Kunhali Kutty did not believe in turning the other cheek!.Bewildered but not to be outperformed, the hand that lifted the trophy slowly rose and in a flash fell across Iyer’s face with equal ferociousness.
That was the end of our supremacy in volleyball!
Predictably, Kunhali left the school soon after, to seek fresh pastures that better suited his age and temperament. The rest of the Malabar Six trooped out of the school and out of our lives.
I too left, but after the exams.
For altogether different reasons and a different destination.
[ P S. Years later I learnt from a schoolmate that in his late forties Kunhali decided to go to Saudi Arabia. The undiscovered, unsung hero of yesteryears led an anonymous existence and faded out of the collective consciouness of his one time fans.]