Edited by Janani Mahadevan
It always begins with the smell. The smell of freshly baked goods, farm grown strawberries and thick cream, bottles of jam and marmalade. Then you finally see it- a plate full of hot scones on a picnic mat, with 4 or 5 children huddled over it, a ravenous look on their face as they devour the food, table manners all forgotten. Personally, I don’t blame them. My own glass of milk and Parle-G biscuits seem to have morphed into the food of my imaginations, but only in sight. Sadly, my taste-buds don’t plan on deceiving me anytime soon, even if it is for the greater good.
This is usually how my associations with Enid Blyton books start- the smells and the sights transport me to the brink of reality until, finally, I find myself standing on English country fields, dotted with sheep grazing in the meadows, the tea-time sunshine bright against the fields over children who seem to be planning their next crazy adventure. These picture-perfect scenes, which Enid Blyton somehow manages to encapsulate in words, have managed to bury themselves deep in my mind; and they come to the surface now and then as bursts of fond memories and pangs of jealousy. Her words are what gave rise to a deep longing and dream, that remains even today, to go to a boarding school.
Most people think that I am completely crazy to even dream of wanting to be sent to a boarding school. But anyone who has had the pleasure of reading her books will understand where my desires arise from. From the never-ending pranks on the poor Mademoiselle, to the strict teacher who quiets them all, all the while having a twinkle in her eye; from the crazy midnight feasts, to the boring school meals; from the brainy and studious girls, to the mischievous and crazy ones, to the musicians and the circus girls, the pretty girls and the naïve; the sad moments, happy moments and heart-warming moments- Malory Towers and St. Clare’s covered them all.
St. Clare’s is a story woven around the twins, Pat and Isabelle O’Sullivan, who start off school with every intention of hating it, thus earning the name “The Stuck-Up Twins”. However, they gradually end up falling in love with it- the big tennis grounds, the large swimming pool, sports teams, classrooms overlooking the mountainside, friends, pranks…. the list can go on forever. I love that even their bedtime curfew is made exciting, with the girls quietly waking up, tip-toeing out of their dorm room in hopes that their wind-like silence did not awaken the unwelcome; and then finally, they reach the music room or the game room where they were meant to meet, and there, awaiting them is mountain-loads of food! These midnight feasts do not always go unnoticed, and many a times the girls get caught and are punished, but the thrill of it all makes them come back for more.
A similar story is woven around the life of hot-tempered Darrel Rivers, who cannot wait to go to school in Malory Towers. Her story, too, is filled with these pranks, some of my favourite being “the inability to hear anything” prank and “placing mice in a student’s desk” prank, creating havoc. This book is also filled with midnight feasts, along with hard work in games and studies, nature walks and evening outings that normally end up with a little drama!
These series sculpted my belief and love for the boarding school life. This is the belief I carry with me even now, coming to the surface especially when I entered life at Ashoka University.
So, is hostel life at Ashoka all I hoped it would be?
Yes and no. Yes, it is fun to live amongst your friends. Yes, it is thrilling to be out at four in the morning, defying every fiber in your body compelling you to sleep, flouting all the rules that were gradually placed like Lego blocks to make you a good, obedient person. Yes, it is delightful to not have your every move assessed by your parents. The tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball and football courts are more than I could ever hope for, and the various clubs, societies and activities, ranging from farming to video games have, for sure, surpassed my wildest dreams. Even the buttery parathas at the Dhaba along with hot chai have managed to make fair competition to the warm scones and ginger ale. We have people from all walks of life, trying to enjoy their very best before stepping into the real world.
That’s quite a lot of yeses, I’ve got to agree. Then why did I say no? Well, that’s because of the absence of the innocent mischief that Enid Blyton prepared me for. Midnight meals are not filled with the fear of being caught and the excitement of breaking rules, that a midnight feast would encompass. We do not have the same mischievous, rule-breaking life as I had read about. But then again, I got to remember I am not in school anymore, and life in school and in college is certainly very different.
Apart from these minor differences I think I have managed to live my dreams out to the best extent possible. I can’t wait for the years to come and I hope they don’t go by too quickly. I want to live with the Enid Blyton effect as long as I can!