An abridged version of this piece appeared in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, in June 2008.
Early January used to be an exciting time for us during school days. Well, almost. Mixed feelings, really. Our school would open around mid January, just after Makar Sankranti. End of a long holiday (nearly 6 weeks) and the beginning of a new class. (The sessions those days used to be Jan-Dec for reasons I never figured out). The idea of bidding farewell to the long holiday filled with cricket in the local “field”, long hours of sleep under cozy ” razais” and hot paranthas for breakfast. And the prospect of a new class; actually a whole set of new books (smelled so nice, ummm!!!). And then the complete process of covering the books. Sheets of ‘brown paper” would be marshalled and my father would get on the job with all of us surrounding him. ( Brown paper was actually an evolution. It all began with old news papers, graduated into glossy magazine sheets, then the back of aforementioned old calendar sheets and then – after the class-teacher insisted- into brown paper). Books of different sizes would be placed on a spread-out “brown paper” sheet on the floor, corresponding areas around the books marked out for cutting the sheet, and then the scissors ran across the faint line markings. Maximizing the number of books covered per sheet was the key strategy. And then it was (seemingly) simple. A deft fold here, and a cut there, and some folds again; there was the new book, covered with pristine brown coloured paper. All this while us kids would be configuring the ‘labels”. Sheets of the previous year’s calendar (not the maplitho ones, but those which were printed on glossy paper) would be marked into several rectangles (on the back of the sheet, on the unprinted area) and then cut into smaller ones. Some inspired ones amongst us used to make creative curved snips around the corners on the label, kind of mitigating the harshness of the sharp corners. If the inspiration was higher then small squiggles would be drawn on the corners of the label with father’s red ball point pen (the one he used for correcting examination papers of his students). And then there was a matter of preparing some domestic glue (a spoonful of ” atta” cooked in some water in a large ladle) and affixing the straying ends of the book cover and the labels on the books. Wow, gleaming new books found there way into our respective school bags!
School bags were the regulation khaki, made of thick, rugged material (very convenient to clean the corners of erasers through a quick vigorous rub, a much cleaner and efficient substitute to using the front of your shorts/trousers). Some classmates were partial to a aluminum box which they used to carry their books and stuff.
Last year I had decided that I will play a good father and would replicate what my father used to do when my sons’ school opened. I knew the spanking new books had been procured, and brown paper as well. I reached home on Friday evening and ceremoniously asked for the books and brown paper sheets to be brought up. I walked in imperiously to have a wash while the paraphernalia was being fetched. I actually did not notice the tittering of my kids. I realized later on that they must have had a good time when they heard about my directions to organize stuff till I had a wash. When I walked into the living room, there it was, in a pile, spanking new books all covered with plastic coated brown paper. I gathered a little bit later that this book covering job was an out sourced one and that is what my wife had done…in my absence. When I wanted to know what my kids’ contribution was to the book covering process, they promptly indicated to me the labels on the freshly covered books: pre-gummed stickers of Pokemon and Superman. Ah, the joys of outsourcing in Bangalore….!!!