I LOVED THE smell of the cotton cloth measured out from bolts that made a soft, slapping sound as they were unrolled: white for half-sleeved shirts, navy blue gabardine for shorts. I enjoyed being measured out for two sets of the uniform at the tailor’s. It was fun trying on the black Naughty Boy shoes at Bata, with white cotton socks; picking up a navy blue silk tie fastened with a rubber band; filling a brown canvas satchel with books and copies, and pencil, eraser, ruler. How sweet the bouquet of the new books, how exotic the coloured illustrations, how musical the crisp rustle of paper at the stationer’s. None of the other boys in our locality were experiencing such exquisite delights; I was the only one who had been admitted into an English-medium school. Looking back, I identify it as the defining moment in my life.
It hadn’t been a simple, straightforward business. There had been opposition from Father’s elder brother, head of our joint family. Uncle had loyally served the Empire, had received a Coronation Medal on Princess Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne; but he knew the times were a-changing, not least in the field of education. Both he and Father had had a colonial schooling, Western as opposed to Islamic: Bengali-medium primary schools followed by high English secondary schools. Further and higher education, needless to add, was in English, unless one studied for a degree in an Oriental language. With the demise of the Raj, and with Partition, all but a few Catholic missionary high schools in the two major cities of our province, Dhaka and Chittagong, switched to Bengali-medium. A few kindergartens served as feeder institutions to these schools. English was retained for post-secondary education, but who could be sure it wouldn’t be replaced there as well? English-medium schools were considerably more expensive than Bengali-medium schools. Why invest in English-medium schooling when it might turn out to be a handicap rather than an asset?
Already a subscriber? Sign in here