Saturday, July 23, 2016

Silver anniversary reunion

(Published on July 23, 2016 in Business Standard) 

Some years ago, an enterprising classmate from my boarding school, Rishi Valley, created a WhatsApp group for our class. It was a high-spirited space. After the first 200,000 messages, I put it on mute. 87,000 silent notifications later, I texted the group admin to say that I was exiting the group, though I still loved everyone. He sent me teary emoticons. I felt guilty.

The trouble is, I was only at this boarding school for two years, while many of my classmates grew up there together, share ionic bonds, and apparently all have Mensa-style memory. They kept reminiscing fondly about what x had said to y at 3.22pm on that Tuesday in Septemper 1986, behind z building, and then so-and-so teacher caught them—remember? I frequently can’t remember my own name, so I thought I’d slip off and do other stuff.

But this year marks 25 years since we graduated. One of our classmates took on the role of reunion architect, and set about persuading, cajoling, threatening, and browbeating everyone in an organised and timely fashion. He phoned me in March.

Hmm, I said, wow, lemme think about it, I’ll definitely try to m—

“I’ve emailed you your air ticket,” he said. “I don’t trust you.”

That’s how I found myself boarding a bus in Bangalore with a score of people who look exactly the same as they did a quarter century ago—perhaps a touch more tired, maybe because of staying up nights drinking babies’ blood.

But even the best preserved of us was a little slower. Between beer habits, lunch requirements, and weaker bladders, the three-hour journey from Bangalore somehow took seven hours. But finally we were there. Or were we? It looked as though it should look familiar, but if it hadn’t been for the signboards, I wouldn’t have recognised a thing.

And yet I remembered the feel. Rishi Valley is a looker, tucked between trees and ruddy Andhra earth and boulders and blossoms. What’s not to love about outdoor classes, on stone benches under shady trees? The valley is silent, which is to say, loud with birdsong, insects and the breeze in the trees. The air smells of sap and flowers. I went to school here? Lucky me.

I spent my weekend open-mouthed at all the beauty, trying to remember whether I remembered this walk to the dining hall, or that path to the junior school, or the fact that we had a juice break mid-morning. “Remember this?” people kept saying. “No,” I kept replying. The nice thing about a goldfish-like memory is that the world always seems new and fresh. I daydreamed about teaching here for a term, as so many alumni do. We rambled, chatted, wolfed the excellent cafeteria food and coffee, and capped the weekend with a mass bonding session—think the lovechild of Oprah and an AA meeting—in the middle of an operatic thunderstorm.

Reunions can happen anywhere—it’s the people that matter. But being on campus was very special. A quarter century later, it is much clearer how unusual a school it is, for better or worse. I’m suddenly glad, all over again, to have attended it, even though my lifestyle would make Jiddu Krishnamurti spin in his grave. I am not a sentimental person, but returning to Rishi Valley, with two-thirds of my class, revived a note of sweetness in a world energetically going to shit around us.

The whole thing was so good that I asked to be let back into the WhatsApp group. I’m not an idiot, though—it’s on mute for one year.


SR said...

Loved this, (and ratfink that I am, glad to have non-paywalled access to it. :))
It's been 18 years since I passed out of Rishi Valley, but I relate to everything - the sense of good fortune at having studied at such a special place, the forgotten old jokes, nonsensical lingo and memories that everyone else appears to cling to, and er, the Whatsapp group on mute. :)

preeti prasad said...

Dear Mitali,

Truly enjoyed reading this, as is the case with all your columns! My experience is a little different from yours because I went to the same school in Delhi for 13 years. So yes, even now whenever I'm there or driving past, a smile appears on the face!

My organisation is trying to do the same with children from govt schools in Delhi, hoping they remember their schooling with fondness. It would be a pleasure to take you to see our work someday.

Love, Preeti

sonalmattoohelping hands said...

Mitali you are a truly gifted author!

sonalmattoohelping hands said...

Mitali you are a truly gifted author!