Every morning at school, we had ‘The Assembly’. Primary school assemblies were the best. At nine in the morning we would straggle over to the far end of the playground. The ‘playground’ was enormous. Urban-schooled readers would probably not grasp how big the playground actually was. And this was just the primary school! At the other end of the playground was the huge stage with a blue backdrop. Arrayed by class numbers and sections, guys in one line and girls in another, we would stand, waiting for the music to start.
20 years have passed; but I can still remember the tunes. These were the classic British marching anthems. Of course, we never knew which classic anthem was being played. With no words, but just the recorded voice of the amplifier egging us on, we would walk from the far end of the playground to the center. This march was a sudden shift from relative coolness to the sharp morning sun. Come to think of it, the landscapers of my school’s playgrounds must have been masters of chiarascuro – all the playgrounds at my school were sharp contrasting bands of light and dark; of sun and shade.
When you’re small, distances seem huge. For some reason, we would never march up to the stage. We would stop almost in the center of the playground. The ‘Sister’ and the School Pupil Leader would be two distant white stripes – one fat and one thin – in a background of unnatural blue.
The list of events was a litany that was sacrosanct. In the most faithful imitation of the Catholic ritual, the Assembly was carefully arranged as an alternating series of the spoken word and tune. Entropy implied doubt, and change was frowned upon.
The Welcome Speech was always first. In this speech, the presenter would list earnestly what was to follow… as if it ever changed. After this welcome speech, the Prayer followed, and then the Prayer Song. After this would be a little variety thrown in – one day a talk, the other day a skit. The Sister would then give a small talk and let us know of the happenings in the school. By this time the fidgeting would start, because we knew we were getting to the end of the assembly.
The next thing to perform in the litany was the Vote of Thanks, one that would invariably contain the phrase ‘last but not least’. Some thankers would go overboard and thank Soosai for the mike arrangment, but this was OK; Soosai was cool. The School Anthem was the last rite on the litany. All of us knew the first stanza by heart, so this was no problem.
Once the school anthem was recited, the thin white stripe at the far end would bark out a ‘Class Disperse!’. And we would slowly start marching back to our classes. This was also done in an orderly fashion. The center rows would peel off first – a daily parting of the sea. The playground would gradually become bare. Unlike the playgrounds of England being emulated, our playgrounds were made of red sand and medium sized gravel. This was no fault of the management, but a cruel trick played by geography on our Anglo-Indian sisters.