March pasts, drill displays and a blast from the past
The Sports Day celebrations at a school in Anaikatti village in Tamil Nadu led to a rush of nostalgia, and a tinge of sadness that so many outdoor games we played as children have almost disappeared.
Pankaja Srinivasan 11 July 2023 8:59 AM GMT
Anaikatti, Tamil Nadu
It always threatens to rain, no matter which time of the year the Sports Day is held. And sullen black clouds accompanied us all the way from Coimbatore to attend Sports Day at the Vidyavanam Senior Secondary School, in Anaikatti village in Tamil Nadu.
After an hour of navigating awful roads and traffic, we left the chaos behind and were bowling along the blue-green hills of the Western Ghats, past the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, and the Karl Kuber institute with its lush campuses.
Thirty kilometres later we reached the school, where a buzz of voices greeted us and we were ushered in. Vidyavanam now has about 300 children and 28 teachers. Many of them, teachers and students, are from the tribal communities who live in Anaikatti village.
“We began in 2007 when we had 20 students and five teachers from the villages nearby,” recalled Prema Rangachari, the director of the school. She had come to Anaikatti initially to volunteer at the Balwadis (local village nursery schools run by the state government) in the area, but stayed on to start a school.Four batches of students have already passed out of the school and are now pursuing various college degrees. Many of them are at school to cheer their ‘juniors’ on.
What follows is two hours of march pasts, drill displays, athletics and, for me, a blast of nostalgia. Starting with all the white keds I see around me.
Back in my school in Kolkata, West Bengal, on PT days it was a race to the blackboard to grab the chalk and whiten our grubby canvas shoes. We were in for a nasty surprise when some grown up caught on and quietly replaced all the white chalk with green, yellow and blue chalks, I remember. We were forced then on to wash and polish our keds at home with the Blanco.
At Vidyavanam, My husband, a retired fauji, took the salute. That reminded me of one Brigadier Chand who was a constant fixture as a chief guest on our sports day in school.
As the Vidyavanam students marched past and dipped their flags in salute, I stepped smartly right back to my school where as House Captain I led my team, and was so proud to do so.
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The Annaikatti sports day song is so inspiring. In Tamil the gist of it was about the joy of playing together, and not about winning or losing. Teamwork, sharing, treating victory and losses with equanimity… that was the message. Very much like the school song we had in school, Hail to Our Happy School Days…
Every student of Vidyavanam was out in his or her smartest uniform. From the babies of pre-KG in their yellow dresses, who took off from the start line, then stopped, waiting for their friends to catch up. Some wandered off when they spotted their parents and yet others preferred to run in a direction opposite to the finishing line.
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There was not a mobile phone in sight amongst the children that was refreshing as each and every one of them was totally immersed in what was happening on the grounds. The best part yet was a display of traditional outdoor games that had me exclaiming, ‘Oh we played that! Oh we played that too!”
Pitthu, hopscotch, ‘I sent a letter to my mother, on the way I dropped it…’chain tag… I could go on, but I have forgotten the names of some of those boisterous noisy outdoor games we played, screeching on the top of our voices.
Vidyavanam students concluded the event with a yoga demo and a pyramid formation and we dispersed after a hearty rendition of the National Anthem.
Raju and I returned home, grinning at so many memories the morning had triggered in us. Of hockey matches, interschool meets and of course our respective PT teachers. For me the unforgettable Mrs O’ Connor.