The Jamaat did run a primary school for boys in 1930s. It had one room and one teacher. The boys in Standard 1 to 8 could be identified from the desks they sat on. The number of students could be constant at about 30 with the new faces taking the places of some who have dropped out at any time of the new year. There was therefore no attendance register.
A student could attend the school with the clothes he had slept in – the shirt with flowing tails out over the short trouser. The only addition for the school was a cap or what was left of it after a prolonged use and abuse of it.
The good thing about the school, if it could be called one, was that it was free and the odd thing, that there was no homework given and it was “chhutti” (rukhsa) for the day when the teacher did not turn up by a certain time.
The school appeared to have served the purpose of letting the boys to “age a bit” before some could be pressed as errand boys (shop messengers) in the family shops.
Transfer to the government boys primary school called Sir Euan Smith Madressa (ESM) – it was not an Islamic madressa – for Indian boys was not possible if the boys from the Jamaat school had to start from one or two lower standard and if the age difference was big.
However, the poor children too began to taste the experience of personal pain of poverty and a bruise of pride, while they were in the ESM School with hundreds of other Indian students. They would borrow the notes book from other students to copy notes of the lessons they had missed because of the absence of two days or more. They were not allowed attendance at the school when the parents had failed to produce the monthly fee of EA Shs. 2 in time.
The parents would be embarrassed when a boy asked why he too should not be on the school list of “mafi” (poor) students like the few others, by his parents too producing their Community’s written recommendation to the headmaster for the fees to be pardoned (maaf). Poverty swallows Pride – and that is the only way to make existence bearable.
The school did not allow any footwear other than shoes. The cheapest shoes for the students were the imported canvass ones. The inferior ones were even cheaper. These would soon produce large holes in front of the big toes, especially when the game at school involved ball kicking. The students had to make do with their pair which was conspicuous with the front holes, for a long time before the parents could involve a replacement. They couldn’t hide their family’s financial status in a school having hundreds of students.
The students could however hide the tale-tell shoes after the school hours. What was required was a pair of sandal (champal) which was also beyond the immediate means of the family. The welcome substitute was a pair of improvised champal whose sold was made from the worn out car tire and the supporting straps cut out from the pieces of the discarded inner tube. This cheap poor man’s champal which was durable and waterproof was called “La Hawla” in Zanzibar.
If any of the boys from the poor families did well at the examinations, and not many did, they would be rewarded with a coin of 50cents of the East African Shilling to buy themselves the costly VIMTO or a newly introduced coloured soft drink which made the lips temporarily red as a proof of the coin well spent. The coin would buy a loaf of bread. They would sit alone to sip the drink slowly handling the jug every two minutes to let the rare moment of luxury last longer, knowing that the sessions of examination were not monthly and success not regular.
With no pocket money, biting in the form of “Fatiha” distributed after a majlis came by very useful to the boys to tease and ease hunger. Being active as boys, they needed to replenish their energy all the time. The opportunities were there only if they could participate in as many short majaalis as there were, including those which could be visited only during the 30 minutes morning school recess time in the month of Muharram. Other boys in minority who had a lunch-coin called “jugu na paisa” in the pocket too joined the rush in a show of a spiritual solidarity.