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Monday, June 18, 2007

Alma Mater?

Sunday, 17th June, 2007. Sitting on an Air Deccan flight; flight number DN 710. Route? Chennai (MAA) to Hyderabad (HYD). "On schedule", said the board before it began to clackety-clack its way through a virtually endless list of airline logos, times, and destinations; another aircraft ready to take another group of people to another place. It's been a fun weekend, for the most part. And so far today, things have gone smoothly. Now, on the plane, waiting for people to figure out whether they want the aisle or the window seat, I glance down at the seat pocket in front of me and pull out the in-flight magazine. Aah. How quaint. The main feature is about boarding schools. The memories begin wafting back. It seems like only yesterday that I was recounting crazy tales of the lives people led in school. Perhaps there is an outside chance that images of that great school will throw themselves at me so that I may briefly relive the yester years. A deep sigh, as I turn the pages, and the plane begins to taxi out onto the runway.

The cover of the magazine, Simplifly, has a picture of five school boys. The one "white" boy in the middle seems to stand out, both as the odd one out and as an apparently desperate reminder of the fact that he represents most of what is "international" about these schools. No matter, I'm sure there is plenty to read inside. And, if nothing else, there is that hope that I may come across a line or two about Kodai school. I think to myself, momentarily, about why I seem to seek out reminders in the present about the past with such frenzy? Perhaps it was this past weekend. Or perhaps it's been the kinds of things on my mind, of late. Or perhaps the word "boarding school" has always held a different world of meaning for me. Maybe I just want to see a picture or read a name that I can point to and shout, "I know this person!" No risk of that happening yet, as I wade through the many ads and write-ups about places to visit. And then, as I turn the next page in a long series of pages that I have already turned, my eyes catch the title, "In a World of Its Own". The smile returns to my face. A sense of relief.

Scanning, my eyes breeze through the lines looking out for the 'keywords'. Kodaikanal. International. School. 1901. Nope. Nothing in this one. Onto the next article four pages over. This one's titled "When Education is Great Fun". Maybe I'll have better luck this time around. Again, the brain instructs the eyes to scan, readying itself for the inevitable, the now imminent sighting of something familiar. So, this is what Google must feel like...except at like 10,000 times this capacity. A slight sense of panic sets in. I've flipped through, what, four pages already? Still nothing. "Who cares about newly established international schools in Bangalore" I think to myself. The answer is obvious, but at this point in time my disappointment doesn't allow for me to be considerate. Another article gone through, another furrowed line on my forehead. Frustration. Are there any other articles on this topic? Phew. Sure there are. In fact, the title "All aboard: What makes boarding schools so special?" seems to tell me that the search is finally over. It begins with a brief description of Woodstock School, Mussoorie, one of our sister institutions, if I remember correctly. And I lean back in my seat by the window, to let the good times roll, again.

The Doon School, Dehradun. Number two on the list. Not bad. I mean, I do realize that there has been a whole lot of stuff said about Kodai school in the years since I went there, not all good either, so it's possible that it has slipped a couple of spots. But then, I realize that this isn't a ranking, it's just a list. Phew. So much for having to make excuses for an old school. Next up, Rishi Valley School, Chittoor, followed by St. Paul's School, Darjeeling, Scindia School, Gwalior, yada yada yada, and last in this list of brief write-ups comes The Lawrence School, Lovedale. WTF? No Kodai International School. Maybe it'll be in this table at the bottom of the page, the one with the heading "Some of the good boarding schools across the country". Scanning...scanning. Unbelievable! A list of 25 schools, and "some of the good boarding schools" at that, but no Kodai school. In fact, the only school from Kodaikanal that makes an appearance in this list is Kodaikanal Public School. What? KPS? Since when? Now it's like I'm grieving; first the denial, then the slow realization. I'll be damned if I start sobbing uncontrollably, though. Shock. Gives way to horror. Gives way to shock again. And then, without realizing it, I'm looking at the person sitting next to me with an expression on my face that is an unholy amalgamation of a what-is-the-meaning-of-life sort of questioning and a grimace of extreme constipation. Poor guy. All he managed to come up with was to offer me his packet of chips, hands trembling all the while.

And then, in an instant, it all comes back to me. Moments of the 10 years that I spent in that place, along with all the faces of people I've met over the years telling me what a wonderful place they've heard it was, or that someone had told a friend of theirs that there were drugs in that school. And then it's the emotions that make a whirlwind curtain call, beginning with the sadness of the first few years of going there, followed by the apathy of the middle years, and soon on to the sadness of having to leave. Finally, the yearning to relive those days seems so near...but that was a long time ago. And, I remember how I answered the question, "Wouldn't you love to go back and live every single moment all over again?" "No," I'd said. Why not? Well, that was a part of my life that I feel I had to go through, and now that I'm here, it's time to go through this next part of my life. Simple. Or is it?

Sitting there clutching the magazine, my fists clenched, I am a picture of a person wound up so tight that I could explode if the aircraft hit another pocket of turbulence. But why? Maybe it was the weekend. Again, I seem to have come to a crossroads in my life, and again the terrain seems very familiar. Graduating from school, on to college, "What do you want to do with your life Rohin?" Well, I don't know. Maybe I just want to see what next. Maybe I just want to let my head settle a bit. Maybe I just want to let life settle down around me. And it will, I know it will, as the tires of the plane make contact with the runway. We're here. I'm back. Right back to where I started. Another stage in the journey. Another phase in this life. Glancing down at the magazine I smile. What a waste of time that was. I know what things were like for me. That part of my life is that part of my life...my life. Why do I need to see it in some book for it to make sense to me? Another afternoon, another city, another another in a long list of anothers.
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