How bad was your first day after winter break?

High school kids play it cool after winter break. They can smell fear - especially in younger students.

Meiryum Ali January 22, 2011
There’s pandemonium in the car as you put on your socks in last-minute uniform rituals that should have been performed at home. You try not to strangle yourself with your ID card as you are spat out from the car and propelled across the courtyard and through the chilly corridors. Your sweater was made for mild Karachi winters, not this 6 am Murree-like cold. “I made it,” you gasp as you hit the homeroom threshold. The class collapses in laughter. The teacher is comforting: “Beta, aur late aao, koi baat nahin.” It’s the first day after winter break.

There are too many high fives to be slapped, happy birthdays to be sung. “How were the holidays?!” Two weeks feels like two years, and you forget momentarily that in another two weeks you’ll be sick of their faces, this family of grades and exams you didn’t choose.

How bad was your first day?

There’s a new teacher on the prowl. All of you wait expectantly.
“I heard she’s a strict marker.”

“But isn’t it a he?”

“My cousin’s best friend’s older sister studied in her/his old school. Great notes apparently.”

Excitement is the wrong word to describe your class’s mood. The phrase ‘sizing up the situation’ doesn’t fit either. In reality we actually turn into the Sunday Bazaar stall owners, who assess each customer who strolls by and intuitively know when to sweet talk them and when to play it straight.
Baaji, for you 100-rupee special discount.”

Or, the less magnanimous,
“Five hundred rupees. Take it or go.”

The minute the new teacher opens his or her mouth, we’ll be ready, guarding our stores against the other hawkers and fixing our rates. Or if we sense a weakness, we’ll muck about and pull a prank or two. But this is A ‘Levels and perhaps the Class 7 days of “Take it or go” are gone.

Still, that doesn’t stop us from smelling fear.

Our first class does not go well. We will pay for it later, but the joy of feeling superior to someone older and better educated than us almost makes up for it. Why else would the ones sent off to detention be smirking?

How bad was your first day?

There’s the boy espousing his surefire way to get 2400 on the SAT every chance he gets. There’s the girl at the back of the class still talking about Columbia and Trinity and Wharton, a mantra she refuses to give up. (Why does no one ever mention KU?) These people reflect your own fears and ambitions, though you try to deny it. The dynamics of your class have changed, with people more charged than ever, a sight that both terrifies and motivates you. You wish you were back in Class 1, when you didn’t even know how to spell ‘college application’. But secretly, you’re glad that part of your life’s over too. “We’ve got little time and lots of material, so you lot better get on board now,” warns one teacher. And this time you follow what he says, opening chapters and revising notes.

How bad was your first day?

You come home drained, only to hear that the governor of the Punjab has been shot. Your class mates are texting.
“Did you hear the news?”

That’s one way of putting it. Does Mr Taseer feature in your binomial equations? Is he more important than your History figures? Is there a chemical named after him? Will you be painting his face in your Art portfolio? You won’t be the ones reading the newspaper editorials, or the ones watching the special prime time talk show.

Tomorrow morning the national flag will be at half mast as you stand for assembly. Our minds seem to process only one thing at a time. We trudge to our classes.
Meiryum Ali A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Meiryum Ali | 13 years ago | Reply @parvez Because thats what actually happened on my first day. You think its going bad, and then something much larger than you or your school happens and by that point you just don't care anymore. I thought it was rather sad if something that monumental doesn't even register with you like it does with other people. @Taha Thanks! I'll keep that in mind next time.
Taha Kehar | 13 years ago | Reply A pleasing - and somewhat nostalgic - start. Furthermore, I admire the way you incorporated Salman Taseer's death into your analysis. It had a refreshing touch of a crude awakening and helped in strengthening the point you were trying to make. Although, it adversely affected the flow of your piece.
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