Tiffin boxes looked different during my school days. I had a steel rectangular tiffin box with a small rectangular 'dibba' inside. Sometimes the coloured steel boxes were in royal blue, purple, golden yellow and a funny green. Some people had an aluminium or a plastic tiffin box. The tiffin box for the school has become bigger and fancier now, with few shelves or partitions or decks. The food has become less nutritious and is usually packaged. Though we left for school at six am, almost all students carried a fresh meal. Thanks to our Mothers, who cooked meals without any house help nor the kind of support structure and ease of living which we have now. Some people covered their tiffin while eating, with the lid. The lid made a right angle with the base of the tiffin box, so one could not see what they were eating, unless you stared at them chewing. Unlike the Mumbai schools, our school was huge. Kids ran out to eat their meals in the sun in the school grounds. There was so much open space. On the first floor of the school, there was a staircase going to the terrace which was always locked. We could eat on the stairs leading up to the terrace. We all had our favourite tiffin time corners on the various steps of the various entrance points to the school building, under the trees, or in the end of the corridor near tenth grade. We did not call it 'Recess' or 'break'.. It was always 'Tiffin time'. The group dynamics shifted ongoingingly and we had one new member join for tiffin or one deciding to eat alone in class. Between two periods, when one teacher exited and another one walked in, we would stuff our mouth with food. Beginning of every period, we said a prayer. Saying a prayer with your mouth stuffed and the teacher looking at you, isn't very easy. During class, if you were hungry, you could eat if you knew how to open your tiffin quietly under the desk. I was a centre first bencher because of my height, The teacher's desk was right in front of me. Even yawning was a crime. I can't believe, I am yawning as I type the word 'yawning'. Words definitely have power.
The school bell gave us some kind of a warning where we all had to freeze and stop talking. After a minute the second bell would ring and we were expected to move to our classrooms silently. 'No talking' was everyone's favourite phrase from the squad leader to the class leader to the class teachers to the school Principal. The Squads were four and named Jyothi, Preethi, Shanthi and Neethi. There were different coloured badges for each squad which we wore every day. 'Jyothi' was yellow and the symbol was a lamp for light. 'Shanti' was green and tree was the emblem for growth. 'Neethi' was purple and logo was a weighing scale for justice. 'Preethi' was a red rose and it was for love. There was a school badge for the class leaders only and it was discontinued later. During Sports Day in school, the four colours were used as Sashes by the girls doing the 'March Past', The silken sash looked great on the girls who were marching. I was not good in Sports so hardly was part of any games or competitions. Remember one instance clearly even now. I was in the sports day where there was an 'Elephant Race or PT. PT was Physical Training and I came to know much later. The senior girls formed a group with an elephant like structure. One kid student was riding atop this 'elephant' and another kid student was to be the elephant's trunk and keep moving her hand. I was light weight so chosen to be atop the girls' back who were the elephant. I was thrilled that finally I can show my parents that I am capable of doing something great . My Uncle, Aunt and Mom came for the event. I was sitting with them. When our race came, no announcement was made. My Uncle pointed out to me to go for my event. I ran to the group of 'Didis'. Yes, we did not call our elders by their names. Didi means an elder sister and was a mark of respect. By the time, I reached them, the girl who was the trunk had been chosen to be on top of the elephant. I was made the trunk in some other elephant group. I was so embarrassed and felt so bad that I lost my position atop the elephant where I could show my family. I had to bend down and move my hand and head like an elephant's trunk. I could not look up and see Mom. I was heart broken. Did not know if I could blame the teachers or the Didis for this 'ditching'. For days after that, I was hurt, embarrassed and pained.
Did not know the word 'ditching' till I came to Mumbai to study. I knew that 'Ditch' was something where people or animals fell down. 'Ditching' is when a boy and a girl are in a relationship and one of them drops the other. When I joined college, 'dating' meant being in a relationship. Now, there are dating Apps. 'Chapter' is a lesson in a book. In colloquial terms, 'Chapter' means someone who is over smart. Mumbai folks use this word often as they refer to people as 'Chapter hai' which means he or she is cunning or a philanderer.
The other day, our child came home with her food untouched. She said she could not open her tiffin box and her friends could not open it too. The Didi also did not succeed at opening the lid of the steel round tiffin box. She said she did take a few bites from her friend's tiffin. I felt so bad that even the Didi could not open her box and no one thought that she will be hungry or to inform her teacher who could open the tiffin for her. I thought of my childhood, I was so scared of teachers and Didis. There is no right way to do things. We keep learning along the journey. Taking different tiffin boxes, opening them and peeping into them.