Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lure of the Back Benches (NaBloPoMo Day 19)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November
What is the lure of the back benches? When we were kids, we were told to studiously avoid sitting at the back. That was where the students with the wrong attitude towards their studies sat.

Good students, the ones who wanted to do something with their lives, stayed far away from that lot. The philosophy was as intractable as Good girls go to heaven, and let’s not talk about where bad girls go.
In our school at least there was no fear of front benchers ever losing their way and ending up on the back benches, at least at the beginning of the school year. On the first day of school we used to be divided into four rows; the girls in each row would stand in order of their height. The shortest in front, the tallest behind. That was the method that served to handle the tricky subject of seat allocation. Of course occasionally there would be a tall student who would complain that she could not see what was written on the blackboard or parents might request the teacher to seat their daughter in the front so the teacher could closely supervise her work. When that happened, the delicate seating arrangement in the class would be seriously upset.
The short students, who had been dislodged by the tall ones sitting in their place, would look pathetically out of place on the front and middle benches. Since the tall ones up ahead would effectively obscure their vision, there would be constant bobbing up and down to the consternation of the middle benchers now forced to sit on the back benches.
One academic year, one of the teachers went overboard with an idea that must have seemed very revolutionary to her. She arranged us by order of height, but then decreed that students would spend a week on every bench, then move to the bench behind the following week. When you reached the last bench and spent a week there, you moved up to the front bench, a position described as “right beneath the teacher’s nose,” and started the cycle all over again. The method was meant to allay the anxiety of parents whose children were so tall that they had to sit on the back benches. While the move sought to introduce an aspect of equality, it only ensured confusion every Monday morning, not to mention the mandatory bobbing that continued throughout the year.
Back in those days, conscientious parents used to believe that the back benches were where the no-good students used to naturally gravitate. Much later when a certain APJ Abdul Kalam became one of India’s most respected presidents, we learned that he had been a backbencher in his day.
Of course, back then most parents would not have been fazed by this piece of information. They would persist in believing that the back benches were a hotbed of unrest where students dozed, read comics, played noughts and crosses, nibbled on snacks (with their elbows on the desk and their palms firmly covering their mouths), lobbed crumpled paper balls or paper rockets at the front and middle benchers, passed notes to each other in class (how grownups dreaded this one) etc. Today’s back benchers probably spend their time texting or surfing or chatting.
Generally teachers went through life with a deep suspicion of the back benchers. They always assumed that the back benchers were up to no good. In thinking so, the teachers were not always right, but of course, they were never totally wrong either.
The smartest teacher, however, was rarely able to catch a back bencher red-handed, in the act of doing any of the aforementioned activities. Sometimes she would make a vain attempt, but would have to cross so many hurdles, in the shape of school bags and umbrellas, on her way to the last bench, that it would give the culprit enough time to hide the crime and wipe away the traces.
In college, I came to know of people who would reach class 15 minutes before the lecture began, just so that they could grab a cosy seat at the back.
The funniest incident of migration between front and back benches was what I had a chance to see during my time in SCM at Sophia’s. I won’t name names but there was one particular male professor, not particularly good looking, but a renowned author and journalist and a proficient speaker, whose lectures used to see the class of all-girls struggling to get a place on the front benches. This professor’s class would be followed by a professor, a practicing lawyer, who took the Media and Law class. This man had an unfortunate tendency to eject squirts of spit when he became vociferous in class. Naturally, his classes saw all the girls tumbling over each other in their haste to catch a seat on the last bench.
This year, La Nina, my daughter, started her first year of kindergarten, and I found myself telling her to make sure she sat on the first bench, as close to the teacher as possible.
Ah, well, that proves I’m a parent. Some things will never change.
In case you’re wondering, I was always a middle bencher.


  1. What a lovely post, Cynthia! Took me down the memory lane too! :)

  2. Thanks, Shilpa. I had a great time writing this one. I kept thinking of my school days.

  3. Hilarious. You made me go down memory lane.



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