The school bell echoed through the corridors of Scholars Public School, kicking off the great migration.
The kindergarteners went first. Each one paired with another wobbly classmate, holding hands as they clumsily chased after butterflies, ants and crunchy leaves. Their class teacher walked alongside them, patrolling the line to stop them from falling on each other like dominoes.
The short walk from the field to the nursery often resulted in multiple casualties, marked by tears, scraped knees and crushed ants.
They walked into class that morning, not knowing the difference between days, weeks and months. It was all just a series of nows. Playtime, naptime and then time to go home.
Not knowing that kindergarten was going to be the last phase their individuality would truly be celebrated – Anu was great at colouring, Rahil great at taking naps, Anshul great at scooping mud. Everyone had something to be good at and parent-teacher meetings were fun for everyone.
It was the last phase before the laws of worth are established. Laws which determined which of these skills were valuable, and which of these weren’t. Who was worthy, and who was not.
Next were the primary schoolers – they walked in line obediently. Made of snotty handkerchiefs, susu-potty jokes and biscuit crumbs.
Unlike the kindergarteners, primary schoolers walked in a straight line, in height-order, didn’t speak to each other or chase after butterflies.
Ever since they had the freedom of not having to hold the sweaty palm of another wobbly human, and the honour of not being the first to walk to class, it was clear that chasing after butterflies was beneath their stature.
They embraced the rules of primary school with pride and excitement. As if the rules were a privilege that might be revoked if they didn’t.
Their class teacher led the line to class without having to turn around once. Walking down the corridor with the confidence only primary school teachers have. The reassurance of knowing that their snotty, biscuity midgets were just the ripe age that made for a special blend of a fear of authority, a profound respect for rules, and a deep desire to impress their teacher. Knowing these days would be the last phase they would have unconditional respect and adoration for her. Where all they ever wanted were gold stars, and to make her proud.
The children walked into class excited to do as they were told.
Not knowing this would be the last phase in which the only rules they had to follow – were the explicit ones. Where the rules were the same for everyone, pinned to the class bulletin board, with no need to read between the lines.
The middle-schoolers followed. Made up of braces, acne, awkwardness and ankle-length pants that they outgrew overnight.
Marinating in the kind of chaotic complacency only young teenagers can. Each of them dragging their feet – weighed down by the burden of the secrets they carried and discoveries they’d made.
Rima was transitioning from a cami to a training bra. Jay was abandoning Tabla classes for guitar lessons. Shashank spent hours chatting with Diya online, but wouldn’t dare acknowledge her in person. And Anurag exchanged his love of cricket for a peer-pressured passion for football.
Each day surfaced a new opportunity – to confront a moral dilemma, discover a hidden talent, make an unexpected alliance, or learn a new slang. They walked into class absentmindedly. A thousand thoughts fluttering through their minds.
They settled down dully, counting down the days to high school.
Not realising that being in the middle is a privilege that is deeply underrated. That “first times” could only happen once. And the seemingly bottomless supply of adventures would run shallow before they knew it. Not knowing that this would be the last phase that they would always be on the brink of continuous discovery.
The high-schoolers were last. Their pants lower and skirts higher. Carrying heavy textbooks, incomplete homework, and the weight of their parents’ expectations.
Leaving no room for them to carry any remorse. For the coffee they left untouched that morning. For the lunch they complained was too boring. For the tantrum they threw to stay out late that evening.
They walked into class with their shoulders slumped, but heads held high. Defeated by the pressures of their exams, college applications and parents that never understand. But winning in their curiosity and optimism for what the outside world had to offer.
An ideal life – carefully crafted by college brochures, Hollywood, and a profound desperation for freedom.
Not knowing that this was the last phase they’d undervalue the ordinary, little things. Home cooked food, laundry, clothes that would fold themselves, mothers that would stay awake until they got home. That never again, would they have the luxury of taking them for granted.
They walked into their class oblivious of their privilege. Not realising that it was the last phase that they could be entitled to things without earning them.
The school bell echoed through the corridors of Scholars Public School, kicking off the great migration. And in minutes, the snaking lines disappeared into their classes and the chaotic bustle faded out into a peaceful silence.
And everyone was right where they belonged. Seamlessly resuming their treasure hunt for the many firsts and lasts that life had to offer.
Just like yesterday. Just like tomorrow.