Abhijit Masih loved the 10 years he spent as a boarder at LaMartiniere College, Lucknow.
He recalls that magical time when he would usher the spirit of Christmas in school.
The uniform, like the autumn leaves, changed colour for us in school. The much-hated khakis, which formed our summer uniform gave way to smart and preferred white shirts and grey trousers with blue blazers.
The change occurred in October just when winter started setting in. Yes, it used to turn chilly in October then, unlike now with the summer dragging itself almost to the end of November.
The winters brought with it the festive air of the season. Now that the brief Dussera and Diwali holidays were way behind us, the next holiday to look forward to was the closing of school for the winter vacation.
The school used to close by the second week of December, around the 15th, and would reopen around January 10. It was not so much as the holidays that we were excited about, but the festivities and other events that preceded the holidays.
The last two months of the year were packed with events like the sports day, annual English and Hindi plays, choir practice sessions for the carol services in church and in the school chapel and the Nativity play in church.
The days just flew by. In between, there used to be a Children's Day social as well. I must mention here that socials -- the four that we used to have during the year -- were the high points of our boarding school existence -- the four occasions in a year that the girls school was invited for a ball to the all-boys school.
The boys prepared for weeks in advance, sorting out their outfits and appearance and brushing up on movie lines to use as conversation during the dance. By the way, there was a uniform for the boys -- all whites! The prefects got to wear black trousers.
Luckily for the boys, the dress code did not apply to the girls. We were told there used to be a dress inspection for the girls before they boarded the bus to our school.
The days leading up to the end of school for Christmas were filled with preparations for the Nativity play in church and the carol service in the school chapel. The Nativity play and the carol service in church was organised by both the boys and girls schools.
Needless to say, this gave ample opportunity for a lot of shared moments.
As the days would pass, the practice would became more frequent and would be held every day in the last two weeks.
The prefects would be expected to do the reading from the scriptures during the carol service and that involved the most grueling practice sessions under the aegis of the then principal, Mr Elton D'Souza.
He would make us do the reading again and again till the pause was
The choir practice was quite the opposite, conducted by Ma'am Whitacker. She was a sweetheart and even though bent with age, her fingers floated like a teenager on the piano. She was graceful and managed a boy's choir with absolute ease without having to raise her voice.
Did I mention we got Rs 4 a month and a cake every Sunday for being in the choir? Since I was in the choir, I didn't really get to check how bad or good we were.
The carol service in church was usually held on the last Sunday before the winter vacation. The church along with the regular congregation would be packed with the uniformed girls and boys of both schools. The old Christ Church must be smiling at the attendance that it witnessed once a year.
The carol service would end with a special rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas by the boys just as the girls left for their buses. I will not spell out our version here :) That would be our last contact with the girls school for the year. Hence, a lot of cards and letter would change hands during the recess.
The last week of school for the boarders was always blissful. There was the feast to look forward to on the last day of school. This was an annual tradition where the teachers and students would share the dinner table. Not just that, the teachers would sit on benches in the midst of all the boys.
But before that, used to be the carol service in the chapel. I think the choir used to be the loudest with the excitement of dinner and the thought of going home for Christmas.
Food used to be -- and I am sure still is -- the top priority for all boarders!
The dinner used to be followed by individual or group performances by the boys. The solos were accompanied by some innovative percussions on suitcases, tables and other such alternative instruments.
My friend Richard McNamara and I had once gathered up the courage to do a Dire Straits number and rattled off Walk of Lifein record time.
The next day would be a mix of packing, goodbyes and exchange of addresses. Yes, we wrote letters back then and sent them through the post. By the time you reached home and started preparing for Christmas Day, it seemed it was already over.
The toughest part was returning to school in January... with the final exams looming large in March!
Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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