It always feels like a high to head back home. The weary week across cities slithers, numbing, through my veins. What many around me feel as landing depressurization, I sense it thus as numb euphoria. Instinct drives us to switch back to life. Hurried messages, emails and whatsapp pings glow up as we swerve our way out of what they call Active Runway.
Today there is an urgent missive, among the various humorous posts and forwards that come my way from my MIS schoolmates. Technology has helped us reconnect again, after decades, and indeed it is technology that preempts any happenstance of providing endless excuses. Divya informs me of an approaching deadline. It has to be a 500- to 1000-word piece, and something, anything to do with memories of our time in school. It is clear that to me that the theme has to be homecoming. Perhaps I will want to tell you about how much homecoming is about running out of excuses, as well.
It is daunting indeed for any of us, who have passed through the portals of MIS – for just a year or a dozen, to collate a recollection of memories in 500 or 1000 words. For some, it may be too small a number; for some others too many; and yet for many others there may be hesitation about whether they can put them into words at all. I would like to think I belong to the first lot. I cannot seem to stop, if I can be made to start. Quite like my eating habits, I daresay.
The taxi ride back home is spent redolent in recollecting memories that I could share. The usual stuff and suspects – stories and anecdotes , includ
ing apocryphal ones, about classmates, mates at the sports fields, teachers – who taught us, some who thought they taught us, and yet some, whose teachings I am only now able to appreciate and even about a classmate who stepped up to teach us. I can feel the quizzical stare of the driver on his rear view mirror, at his quirky passenger who breaks out into sniggers every now and then.
Since it has taken me over 300 words to get through the prologue, it is clear again that what could fill a book cannot be crystalized into the remaining 700 or so words. I will share with you but one story that tells me what MIS means to me in my life. It’s something that I actually felt long after I had graduated.
Studying in MIS can be daunting for many, at least that’s how it was when I was allowed to join in, in 1984. I use the word daunting in its myriad senses. Attending class at the MIS involved many different things to be done and worn, quite different than most other schools. Yes, we had uniforms like most others, but we had soft “keds” shoes all the year through. We had to sing when we began our day, unless one had good reasons and stamina to sweat it out in the sports field during the morning assembly hour. One could feel this otherness way early in the morning, right there standing waiting for the DTC School Bus to arrive. Of all the uniformed folks that got shepherded into institutions of learning, we were evidently, in some inexplicable way, quite different. At the very least, we had the most comfortable shoes.
Life in MIS was about this yo-yo of comfort and challenges thereto. Just when one was getting comfortable with balancing molecular counts in equations of chemical reactions, the teacher would let you know that one has but grazed the surface of periodic table shenanigans. PT sir would let you know, just as you huffed and puffed your way in after a run around the field, that you are now poised and ready for an additional two rounds. And that free period, where each of us had to try for a perfect pronunciation of the French word “J’exige” (I require) – that, I am not even going there.
These stories are many, and most are common among us. Oft repeated in reunions and now even calls or chats across seas. Only the size of the bouquet of the stories in our respective collections differs. And that depends on which years, and how many, were spent in this school that has a rare distinction of accommodating an apostrophe in its name. It had as well, rather uncommon in those times, an access to a huge Ashram campus, of which a very generous portion was carved dedicatedly to the sports field of the school.
And therein lies my tale. It was not the life in MIS that was so daunting to me, as much as the life after MIS. After graduating, a decade had passed in a blur – across unforgiving terrain of a professional course in Architecture, and indeed yet more unforgiving path thence carving out a place within the profession and society, by the dint of skills, stamina and sheer servitude. Suffice it to say one had quite lost bearings in the hurricane of happenings and in pursuit of a daily routine, the larger questions of such bearings and purpose in life was quite lost. Not really lost, but they would spring back from time to time, in excruciating pain – a pain of a sailor who has lost his sextant. Every day was indeed an endless dream. This was the pre-Facebook era, pre-Orkut even. With friends and mates from the professional college away in pursuit of their studies and work, it became all the more painful to be unable to share this predicament with an empathetic ear.
Around this tumultuous time, I found myself one evening, quite past the twilight hour, standing smack bang at the centre of the soccer field at MIS. I am not quite sure how I came to gravitate to that place. It wasn’t really any planned meeting with MIS classmates. I had by then used up too many excuses to opt out of very many 26th January-sessions. I was not sure if any school mate would have responded to a plan of meeting up there. Anyway, with my muddled mental state, I was more looking forward to not bumping into anyone who might recognize me. That might have led me to choose the twilight hour. I still do not know to this day how or why exactly I chose to be there.
What I felt thereafter is the reason I write this. I had my eyes closed and must have stood there, at the centre of the circle, for over the better part of an hour. It began with an immense rush of memories flooding into my head. Of feats achieved on this ground, of opportunities swindled away, of sweat and tears seeped into that soil, of glories that got gloated over and over, and of glances held for just that long enough to make hearts glow. Soon, the collection of thoughts, messages and voices had gripped me motionless to the spot in a vortex of vivid visuals in the fading tricky light. The shroud of the evening had draped me in, with a light breeze. Meditation is typically not an unknown phenomenon for someone from the MIS. But it may have been the first time for me, to be meditatively standing like that. The voices in my head slowly quietened. The anxieties died away. I felt no pressing need for explanations. To anyone, even myself. And certainly, no need for any excuses. Even to myself. Just a quiet feeling of what the famous song spoke of being comfortably numb. There was complete acceptance of what the past had plied to me, and unequivocal hunger of what the future might hold. Just that none of those mattered immensely in this present which I just wanted to savour for a little longer. I was home!
This story should have concluded here. But I could not resist an epilogue. I consider that moment to be one of the most important mile markers in life. A crossroad where I could clearly choose a path to be taken, going forward in life. And quite like what the seminal poem had promised, it was indeed the choice of the road less traveled by, that has made the difference. One positive difference that hopefully my MIS classmates can vouch for, is that they now get to hear and suffer seeing me, way more often. I realize that here’s a bunch of people who know me from days when, while we were not always quite the innocent, we were hardly ever in any need to pretend. A bunch of people who will hear me out and give honest feedback to the best of their abilities, for I shall be to them what I have always been, no matter how many barnacles blister me, or how many typhoons I trample. So here, Divya, is my very personal piece of why I need to get back, to give back. I recall now the smiling face of a Hindi teacher who chided me on why I never could have the gumption to turn in a piece in Hindi for Navchetana, when I could do it in English and French. I did take up the challenge, and she had reciprocated by correcting some tukbandi on what I wrote. I smile now, for it was she who had reminded me once of a jewel from Kabir ke dohey: “Dukh me simran sab karey, Sukh me karey na koy; Jo sukh me simran karey, tau dukh kahey ko hoy.”