A school reunion 25 years in the making

What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

-Julian Barnes, The sense of an ending


A bus rumbled through a sleepy town, past rocky hillocks and green fields, past garish hand painted walls, past a greying sky pregnant with nostalgia and the chance of rain. Little did we know the rain were to play a cathartic role in our trip.

Oblivious to the varying landscape, inside the bus sat 23 stories bound together by the destination. Laughter and untold stories reverberated across every seat setting the stage for a magical weekend. 

It was my 25th year after I had left Rishi valley and here we were together travelling back in time to rediscover hundreds of memories walking the 350 acre campus. I had joined the school 34 years ago as a little boy. 

We had come together from destinations around the world to meet again and find ourselves. London, Hong Kong, California, New York, Abu Dhabi and from across India my batch mates had traversed and hopped aboard the bus at Bangalore. 

We never missed a beat. One hug and we were perfectly back in sync, back as little kids without pretense cloaked in an aura of trust and camaraderie. 

Rishi Valley School sits nestled as a valley between rocky hills and lush green trees. Over 80 years the school still retained its soul, choosing to stay untouched by technology or modernity. Rishi valley wears it austerity proudly and this serves as one of the greatest catalysts for students. 

We stared silently as the campus and the neighboring hills loomed through the windows. A 6 hour bus ride riddled with food breaks, pit stops and leg stretches had brought us now to the gate of our childhood. Grinning 40 somethings arriving at a campus that had once transformed and evolved each of us. 
RV as we called it fondly, was exactly as we remembered it. Each of us hopped off the bus, to be welcomed by the splendor of this picturesque campus. A gentle breeze ran across Neem leaves, past tamarind and eucalyptus trees. The wind scurried past and swung open metal doors that creaked, it shook yellow petals down onto the road into a beautiful carpet. The architecture stood simple and austere, hand in hand with the scenic campus amidst chirping birds. 

The caretaker Gopal walked out of the guest house timeless,exactly as we remembered him. De ja vu could have been his middle name as he near perfectly guessed each of our names and welcomed us back. We morphed into school kids in an instant as we nosedived into our school days. The reunion had shifted gears. 

Over the next 2 days we immersed ourselves in our school days reliving each moment. We walked to every corner of the campus, to our classrooms through the years, meeting teachers, visiting the hostels, the assembly. Having current students on campus made it even more real as we saw ourselves in them. 


We shared anecdotes at each location, reminding each other and shaking up forgotten events. We relished the food, sang songs together in the music room, danced old folk dances we were taught, climbed the hills and played sports too. A few woke up at the crack of dawn and jogged to the mouth of the valley and back and survived to tell the tale. It is amazing what the sound of birds, silence and the lack of wi fi can do for the mind. We were instantly refreshed wearing the grin of our school days proudly on display. 


On the last evening, we sat on the terrace together. The moon hid behind dark clouds as we peddled ghost stories and played songs from the eighties. The mood shifted with the weather and a magical connection wove its way across each of us. We were suddenly amongst friends, people we knew for over 3 decades, people we have grown up with. As the clouds parted and it rained heavily, something magical happened. 

We opened our hearts and shared our thoughts without fear of judgement. Amongst our oldest friends we rained our stories, we bared our soul and spoke of happiness, of trials and challenges. That evening we suddenly stood united as one unit. We felt lighter and realized that these are friends who will be there for each other no matter what. Within that paradigm shift, we suddenly wove a wonderful web of trust and connectivity that would now stay with us for the rest of our lives. 


We travelled back from school as one close knit family. I discovered so many little anecdotes and stories realizing how they have shaped who I am today. I left younger, clearer and recharged. I left school with a bunch of friends suddenly much more closer than I ever knew them. I left school discovering myself a lot more. I left school with a warm fuzzy feeling and a glow. There was an energy and positivity inwards that even days at a holiday retreat couldn’t bring alive. 

That’s what a school reunion does. Nostalgia is one helluva volatile catalyst of positivity!

What I left behind when technology came calling!

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When you look at technology over the years, my childhood seems like centuries away. When you stop for a moment to breathe and reflect its unbelievable how we contended with difficulties earlier.

Everything around from my computer to my smartphone, my email, calendar, design and management software, my apps and my social media seem to become my lifeline now. When my phone drains and blacks out of battery, I panic and feel naked and stranded. Life comes to a screeching halt!

Looking back its amazing how we managed and how wonderful everything was. When I reflect back, suddenly I realize the joy of little things and the immense pleasure around the simplest of acts.

I remember as a little child sitting in my grand mothers house in a village in kerala. Our estate caretaker had this radio he would tune into in the evening as the power would black out. Sitting by the old bulky radio in the candle light, he would place his ear close to the speaker, eyes squinted behind his soda thick glasses. We would hear the crackle of voices fading in and out and disappearing to static again. I remember the joy of suddenly hearing a song magically emerge into the darkness of the room and create a new dimension of myriad emotions for all of us.

I remember the first LP at home and every record we had. Sholay and Nazia hussain’s “Disco Dewaane” were my favorites and Qurbani came in a close second. When I had fever, my father would play Sholay and as the hissing sounds that accompanied the silence receded and the songs would play, I was magically healed.

I remember being surrounded by audio tapes and growing up to slowly buy my own. I had distinct memories of learning to create selections and record my own from old tapes. I would record over old tapes and put my favourites as compilations listing them in the cover. My chest would swell with pride when cousins and friends complimented the mix and the efforts I had made to put the songs together. I still remember every song to date.

My memory is etched with clarity on the first VHS tapes at home; Gandhi, Annie, a selection of Tom and Jerry and 3 Hindi titles. Then when television beamed into our home, weekend lunch was a picnic in front of the TV and Spider-Man would swing into our living room.

Photography, the excitement of walking upto the studio days after you gave it for processing and fighting over seeing the pics with my brother and sister.

I still clearly remember writing letters. Sitting down and finding the right paper and making sure my writing was in straight lines. Finding good looking stamps and adding illustrations to my pages. At one point I was churning almost 4 letters a day and receiving 2 a day from friends. I remember waiting excitedly for the postman in the afternoon and brimming with eagerness. The joy of receiving letters!

Then there’s phone numbers. I would know each one by heart and I didn’t need to know more than 20 at most.

Today, in contrast I have over 10,000 songs stored in my iphone, iPod, old flash drives and back up. I get bored of my playlists in a day. I can access radio stations anywhere in the world and any genre and I don’t know what to listen to. I get confused what song to play in my car often. I have over 1000 movie titles and television series collections, my kids have every movie and serials thinkable. My smartphone has close to 3500 numbers and most times I forget my office number. I am taking over 3000 pictures every month and hardly printing any. I receive 100s of emails everyday and send at least 50. My friends are in my pocket and I can knock on their door at the other end of the world when I want. I receive 100s of messages as sms, what’s app and over my social media. I tweet, blog and update my status periodically. I read and devour articles and research and data.

Strange times. Maybe it’s time to stop and breathe and bring back the simplicity and joy into all these everyday tasks. Within the sea of data and excess, find an oasis of magic in the simple simple things. Maybe it’s time for frequent technology detox and cherish the romance of limited availability all over again.

 

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