The Boarding School Syndrome – Part I

Part I

The Boarding School Syndrome – I’d never heard of it in all my life as a boarding school kid or as an adult after having left boarding school. But when it was suggested that I look up the Boarding School Syndrome it made me look back into my life as a kid who attended one of the most prestigious institutes in the country.

I have always considered myself privileged for having had the opportunity to attend my school. There are a lot of fond memories I have of school. I got the opportunity of doing and learning a lot of things that I would’ve otherwise never had the opportunity to do and learn in the smallish city of the 1990s that I belong to. Definitely would not have had the opportunity to play cricket and represent my school, my district, my State and my zone or to participate in the National Camps. Nor would I have had the opportunity to learn to play tennis, a sport that I play to this day. I’m not sure if even today there is any place in my city that offers horse-riding lessons.

So I’ve never really thought about my days in boarding school as traumatic. There have been times when my parents express regret at their decision to send me away. But I’ve always reassured them that they’d made the best decision they could for me. That they made the best choice they could for their daughter. And until today, I was a 100% certain of the truth in this.

For the first time in my life today, I’m questioning my own belief that boarding school was the best choice for me. Did the 10 year old me want to go to a school that was so far away from home? The answer is no.

When I wrote the entrance tests, I was told that if I did well in the tests, I could get whatever I wanted. That it would make my parents happy and proud of me. So I worked hard at it. Class 5 Hindi in a State where Hindi was my 3rd language wasn’t going to get me into a school in North India. So I worked extra hard. Learnt all the Hindi idioms. Studied the GK books thoroughly, knew the 1st person to achieve every single thing by heart. And eventually I cracked the entrances at both the schools I’d applied to. I was happy. I probably asked for some lego blocks or some puzzle that I could build or solve with my brother as my gift. I don’t really remember.

I went to visit the campuses with my parents and they asked me which of the two schools I preferred. For the cricket lover in me, the child who spent every single afternoon after school forcing her brother to play cricket with her till dusk, it wasn’t really a choice. Only one of the two schools had a cricket ground or a cricket team.

But it never occured to me that going to this fascinating new school would mean going away from home, away from my parents, my brother, my best friend. That realisation finally came to me when my mother started packing a steel trunk with my clothes, all of them labelled with the school number that had been assigned to me.

Finally, after a long and tedious train journey that took us to the new city that I would call home for the better part of the next few years, I still did not believe my parents would leave me there all alone. The next morning, dressed in my new school uniform, when we were on our way to my new school, I asked my parents if they were really going to leave me there all alone.

My dad says that after they dropped me off at school, settled me in my new dormitory, unpacked my clothes, made my bed and waved me goodbye, both my parents cried the entire way back to the hotel. He says he can still to this day hear me saying, “Tumaloke muk yaate xosake eri jaba?”

Was that a sudden and traumatic change in my life at 10 years of age? Perhaps it was. But like I said, until my therapist said that I might have “the Boarding School Syndrome”, I’ve always been dismissive of any suggestion that my experience was traumatic. But now I don’t know. Especially of late. But I do recognise that I have issues. And that I want to understand what my issues are so that I can work on them.

Read Part II here

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