There is an urban legend that the Sainik School auditorium and the long corridors leading from it to the main block were modeled on the lines of a ship. Ship or no ship, the magnificence of the building lies in the first impression it makes on a cadet when he reports for admission in VI standard. Named after VK Krishna Menon, this is where you arrive, along with other wistful and hesitant freshers, all of 11 years old and your little palm wrapped around your father’s.
As is normal with any reputed public school, you arrive with your belongings for the year–new shirts, trousers, shorts, shoes, Blanco, Cherry shoe-polish, hair-oil, rain-coat, soldier’s housewife(containing the sewing kit) – all of it stuffed into a black metal trunk.
In June 1984, I remember standing in front of the auditorium, the sheer height of it un-nerving, distracted to a degree by the giant casuarinas trees that hummed as the breeze from the Arabian Sea knifed through them. If you turned around, you had a panoramic view of the ‘houses’, the student dormitories, set in well-defined compounds hemmed in by tarred roads, finally merging with the central point, the Cadet’s Mess.
And, then, you had to walk into the auditorium, where the Office Superintendent, his black rimmed glasses perched on his nose, would look up your name in the list, give you that examining glance reserved for fresh meat and then go through the admission formalities toting up tick marks on his check-list.
Once you were in and settled in your fate, the auditorium was where you would converge for the morning assemblies, inter-house competitions, house-days, Annual Day and similar functions. In the morning assembly, where most of us were groggy with sleep anyways, I would keep my eyes peeled on the antics of the pigeons, high up in the ceiling which they had made their home. They were not as groggy as us, taking liberty to send down loads of ashen shit as they went about procreating wantonly.
The trick was in finding seats that were not cushioned with dry shit, and even if you managed to end up in a soiled seat, it was all about parking your posterior strategically to avoid it. Most of us looked like Ben Johnson, prickly and ‘in the zone’, raring to break away from the starting blocks.