Since my dad was in the Indian Air Force, we floated around in a couple of different cities and I went to a few different schools. Bal Bharti Air Force School is where I did my initial years till grade 3.
In 1977, out of the blue, my father got a diplomatic assignment in Russia and the whole family was packed and whisked away to live in Moscow for three years. I was 9, 10, 11 years old while I lived in Moscow. Like all Indians, who are expected to adapt to any circumstances, I too was happily plugged into a Russian school, i.e. Shkola No. 14 (yes, they actually have school numbers and not names). On my part, I too initially would diligently get to school each day and sit in all the classes, but not understand a word of anything that was being taught or said. I don’t think it occurred to my folks that the school taught in Russian.
Over time of course, I learnt to entertain myself, and would walk to school through the Farmer's Market, where they would sell dried sunflower seeds, which one could stay busy with, the entire day, if required. Equivalent to our "bhuna hua channa" in a rolled cone of newspaper, these "sehmuchki" seeds were my constant companion in school, where I would get the last bench in the class and happily toss these little seeds in my mouth and pick up the language with half a ear.
My three years spent in Moscow were apparently my formative years, where actually I did not get to form anything other than my free spirit and the ability to play the "metaphoric" street football. You see, school was best bunked, (utter waste of time) and my parents were way to busy with their diplomatic duties to really keep a track of their kids.
Therefore, to optimize my days and put them to best use, I dedicated myself to activities like riding the trams across Moscow, going skating and skiing, gorging on bricks of ice-cream, walking into these interesting "after work" type of non-alcoholic bars, where they served this amazing drink called Kwas, made out of brown bread. This helped hone my love for dark beer, btw.
I spent a lot of time with the kids in my building, forming clubs, fighting, developing crushes, trying to shake off my kid sister etc. Essentially, I was this un-monitored, foot loose and fancy free kid, and nobody messed with me :) Looking back, I think, these truly were my formative years, I was a vagabond with a few kopeks in my pocket (stolen from mom's purse) and I had a whale of a time doing my own thing.
The highlights of my 3 years in the Moscow sun were the month-long camping and driving trips that we would do every summer. 30 days of self-camping, eating the same rationed food, visiting every museum and church in every city in Europe, having no shopping money, and basically getting a cultural overdose were the typical take aways. These trips made me rugged, instinctive and agile and completely capable of doing my own thing!
Back in New Delhi in year 1980 and back to Bal Bharti Air Force school... but to grade 7! Now picture this... someone who went from grade 3 to grade 7 with three years of only awaaragardi (doing nothing) in between... whoa! Not easy! I remember sitting in class like a moron who understood nothing. I sorely missed my Russian school where it did not matter if I understood anything and I could happily munch on my sunflower seeds and day dream!
Anyhow, I scraped through grades 7 & 8 in Delhi, and in year 1982 my dad took voluntary retirement from the IAF and we moved again, this time lock, stock and barrel to the City Beautiful, Chandigarh. Except that it was more empty than beautiful in those years. We also happended to live across the road from a village inhabited by milk delivery families. So very often we would have all sorts of aroma exuding from cows and buffalos warfting into our courtyard. It was a bit of a village experience.
The school chosen for me at this point was the hard core punjabi Guru Nanak Public School. Cultural shock yet again! I arrived at my first day in school, grade 9, swaying into school like a twangy teenager chewing gum, wearing a short skirt, no tie and no belt! Surrounding me, every where I looked, were the largest, scariest, hairiest and loudest sikh boys I had ever seen in my life! "Welcome to Punjab" screamed every nook and cranny of my new school.
Anyhow, two more years here, and guess what? I scraped through this ordeal too, passed my board exams, kissed school goodbye and was ready for the world of college to take me on.
While my childhood wasn't the smoothest of rides, I cherish a lot of moments from it. As an adult I can't remember any negatives from then, or maybe I don't choose to remember any negatives. I count myself amongst the lucky ones who got such an interesting mix of experiences and exposure and got to learn so many life lessons and life skills at that young an age.