Thursday, May 21, 2009

Childhood revisited

Defying orders from the Meteorological Department, monsoon chose to break on Kerala on May 23 itself, setting a perfect mood for the alumni of the Seventh Day Adventists English Medium School, Kaloor, to meet in Kochi (Kerala) the next day.

Many of us literally sat through the night of May 23 (I was in a general compartment of a packed train from Coimbatore) anticipating the events likely to unfold the next day. We had valid reasons. Most of us will be meeting after about 25 years.


Myself, Kenny, his wife and children were the first to arrive (we assumed) at the venue at about 10.40 a.m. The meeting was scheduled to start at 11 a.m.

We were sadly reminded by courteous hotel staff that SDA is not a familiar acronym and no hall has been booked for any event.

As ever, Kenny was persistent. He was the master story-teller in our class. With a good memory to his credit he used to narrate the scenes of movies he has seen, usually Hindi, in all details without forgetting any of the dialogues. If the movie is of two-hour duration, his narration too would extend to two hours without even omitting stunt scenes or the songs.

In his typical unassuming manner, Kenny took a short and quick study class for the staff about the school and ensured that the next visitor will be properly guided to the Durbar Hall without hassles.

And spreading a smile on their faces we entered the Durbar Hall to be received by Suresh, wife and children with a broader smile proving that our assumption was wrong.

"Roy and Johny are expected soon," he said adding Roy had gone to meet one more old student to ensure his participation. "That's why he is not here now." Very few students studied at the school from nursery to Standard X. Most of us left the school when in Standard VIII.

"The reason was obvious," Roy said. "Everybody thought it was difficult to pass ICSE. So some of the students opted for state syllabus. The fact was that the school scored a centum."

Another half an hour and a glass of juice (a mix of mango pulp and a carbonated drink, refreshingly good) saw the hall filling to capacity.


"For the last one month she has been talking to me only about May 24," said Sasi, husband of Preetha. It summed up the mood among us. "Everyday she will have something to add as soon as I reached home from office," he said. "Such was her excitement."

"Did it affect your food," asked Haja, as jocular as he used to be.
"It's me," a sudden shrieking sound of a child had everyone of us on our toes and we gathered around the boy. He was pointing to a child in a black-and-white photograph Roy brought with him. The child had successfully traced his father in the picture.


A hurriedly set-up registration counter manned by Kenny saw 26 registrations within minutes. A majority have come accompanied by spouse and children. The hall had become lively. Laughter filled the air. Everybody was talking to everyone and comparing them with those in the old photographs. The change in hairstyle, wearing of specs, mannerisms formed the essence of the talks. There were exceptions too -- those who have not changed a bit. Like Joseph, who was remaining a bachelor buttressing the point in the proverb "Kochi kandavanu achi venda" meaning those who have seen Kochi doesn't need a wife. Some like Srigopal and Hafiz were seen striking business deal.

"From your smile I knew who you are."

"As bald as before."

"How do you maintain your fat tummy."

"You still walk with a lean."

"Do you draw now."

"Hey, what happened to your beard."

"Your Malayalam has improved."

"Do you still vend comic books."

Thus went the dialogues punctuated with hearty laughter and witty responses.


Since most of those present were guests as well as organisers, inauguration of the show was a tamed affair. The function began with a silent prayer. Suresh started with a brief description on how things shaped up.

"Two long years," he said "of thinking, planning and consultations among a small group of available former students in Kochi led to this event happening here. It started with a regular get-together on Sundays at the Marine Drive which got extended to picnics and tours on holidays."

As soon as the idea of roping in all the former students sprouted the group was recharged. Everybody put in his mite to contact as many persons as possible. A list was prepared and what followed was a chain effect.

With Prince giving an e-angle to the efforts by starting an exclusive group on the net, fishing out missing links gained momentum. Information flew thick and fast. Roy, a specialist in 'satellite' information gathering, ensured that everything is perfect.


Formal introductions followed. Pearls of wisdom, emotional outbreaks, jokes about school days and happenings in one's life after leaving the school weaved a colorful pattern as if in a kaleidoscope.

"I was crazy," said Hafiz narrating the struggles he had undergone after studies. "I was running like a mad dog. Going after anything. I just wanted everything. Reality struck me when one day my wife gently reminded me: "Dear, you have even forgotten to smile."

That was true, he continued. Even during happy occasions, when everybody was cracking silly jokes and laughing I was having my nose up. Then I decided, enough is enough. I was yearning for a change when I received the e-mail about the alumni meeting. I flew all the way from Qatar just to reconnect. I am very happy now, his face lit up as we used to see him in the classroom.

Haja too was specific about maintaining relationships. He explained how painful it was when a relationship breaks for frivolous reasons and sometimes for no reason at all.

Geevarghese brought in memories of Chacko Sir, for whom corporal punishment was a way of life. "I was nicknamed neivarghese," he said. (Nei in Malayalam means ghee).


Very few escaped Chacko Sir's novel methods of "cycling" and "muttadi water supply," pointed out Prince. Using nails of his thumb and forefinger Sir used to catch hold of the culprit's ear and start pinching it in a rhythmic manner. As the rotation of nails acquires momentum, the victim starts shaking his legs vigorously as if he is pedalling a cycle. That's "cycling," for the uninitiated.

The other one was far more severe.

Chacko Sir enters a classroom with a long bamboo cane and shouts at the top of his voice. Anybody who is indisciplined or perceived to be indisciplined is called to the front and asked to bent with hands on his knees.

Swishhhh.... goes the cane on the victim's buttocks. His knees (muttu in Malayalam) start trembling. Anticipation of further assaults opens up bowels and 'water supply' follows.

"It was me who tamed Chacko Sir," Haja remembers. None of his tricks worked. He had to patch up with me.
"I am indebted to my friends," an emotionally choked Camillus, one of the best artist the school has seen, said. When his eyes began to well, Bijo chipped in: "Yes, he was rescued from Kottethodu -- a small canal that passed near the school."

Camillus fell into the canal during a football game. Everyone enjoyed the scene. But when he started gasping for breath, smiles turned to shrieks of panic. Immediately Bijo, Hafiz and others jumped into the canal and rescued him.

The canal has a very special feature, someone from the back row said. "Its pungent smell never leaves you."

"No wonder some of you were readily recognised by others as soon as you entered the hall" the comment from 'back benches.'
[Usually Hafiz is regularly assigned the job of goal keeper by Vinod, who was an expert in the sport. Vinod's speciality is that he stammers but not while singing. Cricket was yet to catch up the fancy of students. Vattavar -- no English translation available -- was the most popular game. Kailas -- did not attend the function -- and Mathew alone were seen with transistor radios (another amazing product of the time) glued to their ears to hear cricket commentary.]

Whenever there is a drawing or painting competition in the school, it only mattered who became second. The first place is assured -- Camillus. He was a specialist in '3D imaging.' And the way he used to go to the details was amazing. For example, when he draws a car, he identifies various patterns on the tyres. His deft hands used to bring life out of any piece of paper, using a pen or pencil.

Johny said he was so busy in life that even marriage was held recently. None in our class can forget Johny. For, he initiated many of us to 'serious reading.' He was magnanimous in distributing freely and with utmost secrecy 'CID Moosa,' 'Irumbukai Mayavi,' etc. We were yet to discover Tintin and Asterix.

Sunil's introduction of himself as the most obedient boy of the class evoked waves of laughter in the hall. "I was so obedient that once the principal asked me ' very humbly' if any other school in the district was willing to take me as a student."

"But I was the most silent boy," Nibu chipped in. "Yes. Chacko Sir's cane knew him very well," came a comment from the backbenchers. "And your mother was summoned to school every week."

Preetha, Sethulakshmi and Jeena -- the only female representations -- were astonished that the boys really enjoyed their student days. "And you have such vivid memories of those days," they said. "Because you were interested only in scoring marks," retorted backbenchers.

At this stage Haja intervened to say how he used to swap tiffin boxes of girls without their knowledge during recess (mind you, there were no intervals).

"Since most of us carried similar type of tiffin boxes it was not easy to identify. Only when you open it you understand that it was not yours." Josey was a regular victim of this vanishing act. "He used to bring dried prawns everyday," said Johny. "But he never tasted it. We were the ones who relished on it."

Suresh had an interesting observation too to make regarding the system prevailed in the school, which might have made the gap between boys and girls wider lessening the scope for interaction.
"Yes," Preetha said. "I have never spoken to any of the boys in the class during our studies. It was in the last two months I have spoken to Suresh."

"There was strict seating arrangements. Boys were on one side and girls the other side. And the severest punishment to boys at that time was to make him sit between two girls. It was considered an insult," Johny said.

So girls were treated as enemies rather than friends. May be vice versa too. None of the 'girls' responded to it, so we are yet to know their view point.

Language too was a factor. It was a strict NO to speaking in Malayalam. The only students who used to speak English fluently was Sethulakshmi and Chanchal (did not attend the function).

"I was garlanded with a board saying that 'I will not speak in Malayalam' for using some Malayalam words," remembers Suresh. A fine was also imposed on students if the law is broken. And myself had to write an imposition 1,000 times that 'I will not speak in Malayalam.'


In between, lunch was announced. And yet again we mingled freely to talk to as many persons as possible. The menu was also e-mailed to many of the participants very early. Aappam, chicken, mutton, fried rice, salad, ice-cream vanished into thin air. We were supposed to wind up by 3 p.m.

Time was running out. BoneyM was playing "By the rivers of Babylon..." inside the hall. I liked to rephrase it thus: "By the side of Kottethod... there's a school...hey hey we were there..." Outside, rain remained a witness to the fun.


When the house reassembled it was announced that there will be three photo sessions. One exclusively of the students. Second along with spouses and children. And finally individual's family photos. It was a sad reminder that it was time to disperse.

A game of tambola revived the spirits of children. They actively sold tickets and were able to raise Rs. 1,000. The air-conditioning system failed. Or was it switched off as we have exceeded our time limits?

Who should thank whom was the problem faced by Kenny. In his inimitable style he did the job satisfactorily. Prince reminded again: "We are leaving now only to meet again. Let's make it an annual event."

Mercifully, the rain has stopped. A small group agreed to meet immediately at the nearest waterhole for a rewind of the events!
1. May 24 is the 114th day of the year (145th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar, says Wikipedia. There are 221 days remaining until the end of the year. But for us, it was just seven days remaining for the Silver Jubilee year of our exit from Seventh Day Adventist school in 1983 to conclude.

2. It was on May 24, 1830, Sarah Josepha Hale published the nursery rhyme "Mary had a little lamb."


SURESH said...

krishna.... superb.....

kp said...

that was reliving the day. 'hindu' is really lucky to have u.

കൊച്ചിന്‍ പ്രിന്‍സ് said...

A cool narration of the event! This fills the gap of not having a video coverage of the event.

crime news said...

Yeah, we keep running after things and away from ourselves and our family. Time to introspect and count our lives with "smiles".