26 January 2016.
A blaring sound wakes me up from a dreamy sleep. I rub my eyes and scramble toward consciousness as I realise it is my alarm going off. I splash some water on my face, tie up my hair; all set to kick off the routine. Just then, a realisation hits me. It’s a holiday today. I don’t have to go to work. But I do have to be somewhere today….
I dress in the darkness, lest my husband wakes up. I bundle myself up in warm clothes, heading out. I am excited about this early morning ride albeit travelling down the same route as usual. I stop enroute, pick up a friend and on we head.
I reach my office, and yet after so many years of coming down this route, I take the ‘right’ turn…
The campus seems smaller somehow and yet innately familiar. The steps are cold and yet we seat ourselves there. Welcome strangers into this ambience. A familiar tune plays up and a voice on the microphone catches our attention immediately…
“Rashtriye zende ko salaami denge, salaami de!” Flashback to the 90s. Dressed up in warm clothes, sagging socks desperately trying to stay on. An ironed uniform, bleary-eyed me still recovering from last night’s dreamy sleep. I gaze up at the stone building, the big round window my focus of attention. The last time I looked up at that window and sang the school song with such gusto was 9 years ago.
Funny how it took so long to turn right when every single morning I just take a left to reach my office. And that one turn transported me to times long gone.
My friend and I sat through the Republic Day function; each aspect that we once counted our way through, now being thoroughly enjoyed. Function over, we walked over to the teachers with hesitant footsteps. It had been long, we weren’t regulars, no chance they’d recognise us…we consoled ourselves. And yet the first teacher who spotted us, immediately smiled at us. As we gazed back into her eyes that had lit up with recognition, we were there. In the moment. In the school campus. In the building that gave us so many memories and perhaps still preserves them for us…
We slipped up the staircase, touching each surface of ‘our school’ with a deliberate reverence. We peeked through windows. We strained our eyes to see if the benches we once sat on, still bear our imprints. We skid down corridors, our laughter echoing through the building.
“Remember, how we used to wave Hello here to each other?” “Wasn’t that where you used to sit?” “Who was your bench partner then?” “Oh no, I had been punished outside this class in Std 6…” The memories flowed freely and we realised being ex-students was just a state of mind. In reality, we hadn’t really moved on. Our childhood was still safe here, still very much alive. We rang the school bell, just as slyly as we used to back then. We cast around guilty glances lest some kaka or moushi rushed to scold us.
Everything was just where we had left them; the classrooms, the libraries, the staff rooms. Exulting in the nostalgia, both of us came to a standstill in front of a classroom. We smiled at each other. This was the classroom where we first met. Where we first looked at each other. And where we first started to avoid each other despite being neighbours.
13 years later, as we stand outside the same classroom minus heavy school bags and an embarrassing uniform, a realisation hits us deep. School taught us many lessons. But the greatest teaching ever was of Friendship.
And here we are, outside the shrine where we first bowed down to a long-lasting friendship…
26 January 2016.