Late that night, my phone started ringing with WhatsApp notifications.  It was from the group we had formed with all school friends. I am sure  everyone has a group for their school and batch these days. I could see a  conversation thread going on mentioning a school reunion. First thought was something like yeah as if that would happen in a million years.  

Talking about a reunion is easy, but the execution is always the tough  part. With everyone scattered across the globe with different work  schedule, everybody’s availability was a key concern. Also, how many of  us do even care about those days?

I had a reputation amongst my friends for being busy all the time and making silly excuses to escape any sort of get together. So some of them made sure that they personally remind me every week to  make it to the event. I wasn’t very sure it would happen as normally the  energy of the team usually goes down with time. Eventually, the event  ends up never happening at all. Can’t blame anyone, we are all stuck  with our daily routine of busy life and round the clock work, trying to  keep up with the necessities of life and family. It is not abnormal to  lose track and be out of touch.

But when this idea came up, I was really hoping it would happen as  there were too many sweet memories and it would be great to re-live  them. The time when greatest of your problems were writing exams,  finishing homework, forgotten leave letters and incomplete lab records  as opposed to all the hell you face in present day life. The time when  Backstreet Boys, a young Shah Rukh and Enrique were your heroes and you  had no clue about politics. You were proud of Pokhran Atomic tests but  had no idea why and knew Monica Lewinsky case was something you weren’t  allowed to discuss when parents are around

I wanted to go back. Walk down the same old school corridor where a  thousand words were spoken and promises broken, where we kneeled down as  punishment feeling much embarrassed when your juniors or your crush  walked by giggling.

Retrospect

I have many fond memories from my childhood, almost all of them are  from my school days. I had spent a majority of my schooling at Santa Maria Academy,  a CBSE school on top of a lovely hill, away from the hustle and bustle  of town. I joined in the year ‘94 and I still vividly remember that day.  My father had just quit his central government job to settle back in  Kerala to do business. I was eight years old at the time and wasn’t very  happy about leaving New Delhi, which was my birthplace and my home.  Kerala was good enough for an occasional visit and wasn’t excited about  staying for long. So when we landed in Thrissur with all our stuff, I  knew it was going to be different. The only question was how much.

I could speak Malayalam since that was the medium of communication at  home. But I had zero reading or writing skills. So when I was taken for  an interview in one of the Malayalam medium schools, I struggled to  answer questions. Written exam was a disaster. But in spite of all the  screw-up, I still got admission as it was the same school where my dad  had completed his education and the principal was once his teacher. But I  wasn’t amused with the idea of going to a school where I did not know  the language to write or read.

On the day before my joining date, my mum spoke to a lady from our  neighbourhood. Her son was studying in Santa Maria and she gave a very  good opinion about the school. Additionally, the school was affiliated  to CBSE syllabus, which would make it easier for me to follow as I came  from a CBSE background. Instead of joining the school, my dad and his  uncle took me to Santa Maria for admission.

It was a very rainy day and we took an autorickshaw to the school. As  we reached the bottom of the hill, I could see water flowing down on  the side of the path up to the top of the hill. Classes had already  started a week back and I was already late for admission. We climbed up  the hill, I was holding the umbrella that I got a few days back as a  part of my preparation for school in Kerala where somehow the monsoon  coincides with the reopening of the schools. Walking up the hill, I was  very worried about more interview questions and stuff. My little mind  was trying to imagine how the school might be. But I thought it would be  fun to study at a school where you had to trek up a hill every day.

Since the Principal was out at the moment, we were ushered into the  office of trustee Mr Joy Thayyil. He spoke to my dad for a long time and  asked me few questions. At the end of all this, I got admission and I  was to attend from the next day. I started going to school from the next  day and that was just the beginning of my ten years at one of the best  places on the earth. The start wasn’t easy. It took some time to settle  in as I was a new student. But once I did, it was smooth sailing from  there. Years of studies, laughter, fun, games and sports, fights etc.  followed.

Out in the world

Standing on the dais, I wasn’t sure what to speak. I have been here  for 10 years now. There are so many memories flashing before my eyes. In  a few days, I have to leave this place… forever. With difficulty, I  finished my farewell speech. Looking at the teachers who took care of us  as much as our parents did, my eyes filled up. Leaving is going to be  hard, very hard.

I have seen the school grow in leaps and bounds that by the time we  left, we had hosted Sahodaya inter-school youth festival, became  runner-up champions in the Kho-Kho championship in nail-biting finals  with Guruvayur Devasom school. There was growth in all aspects -  education, sports, infrastructure etc. I was proud to be where I am as a  student.

Being in school felt safe. Once you leave, you are no longer within  the safety net of your teachers. You are out there in the world. No  longer considered innocent.

Back to reality

On 20/11/2016, we arrived at around 1:45pm as the program was  scheduled to start at 2pm. As I drove up the hill, I remembered the days  when I used to climb up every day. The road felt much narrower,  probably with all the vegetation growing on either side and lack of  maintenance. As we neared the gate, I felt the excitement grow in my  heart. As I moved past the parked cars, Merc, Audis and BMWs, I could  see that few of my friends have already arrived. The place looked very  different and our assembly playground had very tall grasses growing all  around. This looked nothing like the Santa Maria I knew.

Assembly Area

The entire place looked eerie. I had heard that the school was going  through some tough times, but did not know to what extent it had an  effect. A glimpse around told me that things are a bit different. It was  not being maintained and flora had grown all around the main building.  The area where we walked around and played hand cricket using ice-cream balls are all gone, covered with wild plants. The empty space near the washroom where we played kabaddi in 8th standard was all gone.

This is how the place looks now:

School Collage

Not a very pleasant sight. It was the same with the classrooms. It  was all deserted with some junk stuff lying around. The dates on few of  the black boards went as far back as 2014 telling a grim story of how  the place has been deserted ever since. This is not the memory I wanted  to carry back with me. Whenever I thought about my school, it was always  bustling with the energy. Morning assembly was strictly followed and  you had to be in full uniform - including the blazer, which wasn’t too  suited for the climate but anyway was a part of the uniform.

Once the classes start, usually it was the wait for the lunch hour.  We all had good metabolism those days and by lunch hour, we were all  pretty much exhausted with hunger, or at least I was. In between, there  were some hours where a teacher would’ve planned a question answer  session. Now that was dreadful. Normally they’ll walk in with a cane.  Yes, we used to get beaten up those days and trust me it shows in our  personality (that whole upbringing thing you see

Till about a couple of weeks from the event, I was thinking it is  just going to be all of us meeting and spending time together and then  dispersing. But thanks to careful planning by my friends, there was much  more than that. We had a formal gathering with our dear Ma’am Mrs Molly Thayyil and few of our beloved teachers. Before we started, we had informal chit chats and I also got to explore our school more.

Remembering the days

It was a mixed feeling. Looking down the corridor where I have traced  countless steps over the ten years I have been. Sometimes in happiness,  sometimes in anxiety. Sometimes with expectation, sometimes feeling  dejected. There are too many memories to list here, but the truth is  that I could relate every single location within the building with  specific events in my school life. My first classroom when I joined 3rd  standard, the same old window through which I used to look out at the  forest behind the barbed wire. As the wind blew, the bamboo shoots made a  scary creaking noise and the steel sheet roof lifted up and down with  the steel bolts straining to keep them down against the power of wind.

There was the hostel mess next to the classroom where all the  hostellers had lunch while we ate in our classes. We had homemade food  and were satisfied, but I am yet to find a hosteller who praised the  mess food. I wonder why we did not have a good cook. This classroom  block was right next to the big basketball court where many times we  have played, enjoyed, got injured, fought over games. The court had a  grey sand floor and if you fall, it wouldn’t feel pleasant. This was  also the venue for conducting Founder’s Day events where students  danced, sang etc. Sadly we lost the basketball court as an  administrative building was built here which included admin office,  computer lab, principal’s office and madam’s residence on the top.

The above-mentioned area is completely inaccessible now with shrubs  and plants growing all around. It was gloomy around. So was the main  courtyard where we had crossbars and parallel bars to hang. All the  classrooms were deserted. The same classrooms which once echoed with our  laughter, our fights, our screams and our cries. As I moved through the  corridor, I could hear the foregone conversations, the classes being  taught, the whooshing sound as the cane came down to hit the palms of  the students being punished. I swear if you could listen intently, you  could hear it as well.

The ever dreaded staff room, which was a nightmare, especially if  your notebook comes back after correction with a “meet me” above the  teacher’s signature. You are done. That means you need to be in the  staffroom and you are going to be humiliated in front of other teachers  and as an insult to injury, also in front of your juniors who for some  godforsaken reason happen to come into the staff room at the same time.  As one teacher starts, the other pitches in with their points and before  you know it, all your wrongdoings from past five years are being  discussed, scrutinised and added to the case before the final verdict.

Final verdict. This was the moment you never wanna face. There are various degrees of punishment:

  • Level 1: Level one was the least painful. You usually  get away with just a warning along with the humiliation. The only  problem with this one is that it seldom happens.
  • Level 2: Level two is level one with added punishments  which aren’t physical. Like impositions, re-test etc. This is still okay  as all you need to do is sacrifice your play time and write the  impositions
  • Level 3: This is where things get painful (literally).  All the above levels are added with a round of caning. Now caning can be  at different places depending on the age group. If you are below 6th  standard, you would end up getting caned on the back of your legs since  you would be wearing shorts. If you are wearing long pants, then your  palms are gone. The number of times you get beaten up depends on how  pissed off the teacher is. Usually, it is one one each hand.
  • Level 4: Now this is ultimate horror. Along with all  the above, there comes a command to bring a parent or a letter from the  parent or a signature on a diary entry by the teacher. This is a double  screw up. In addition to the abuse in the staff room, you are gonna get  beaten up at home as well. The worst part is breaking the news to the  parents. You wish you don’t reach home. Unexplainable terror rises from  within trying to imagine the moment when you reveal the bad news at  home. The next day, the humiliation is even more as your parents get to  hear all your stories with all the masala added by the teachers.

That same old staff room beneath the main stairs is abandoned and  empty. While crossing the corridor, everyone acts decently while passing  in front of that place, thinking that teachers are watching them. Now,  the entire place is empty. Given a chance, I would take a thousand more  “meet me” on my notebook. I so wanted to re-live those moments. The  walls were invisible with all the weeds and shrubs growing over them.  The entire school looked completely different, like an abandoned city.  It hurt me to see my school all silent and abandoned.

There have been several issues with management which led to this slow  demise, but all hope is not lost yet. We had some sessions with  teachers and students speaking. I sang a song (I’m yours by Jason Mraz)  with my brother (who’s also an ex-student) playing the guitar. It went  on till evening with some snacks and stuff and lot of photographs.

Missing friend

The real reason we all came together was to remember our dear friend  Antony, who left us 9 years ago. Every time we friends get together, he  is always missed. We had invited his parents to be a part of the reunion  as well. My memories of him are mainly from tenth standard onwards,  especially eleventh and twelfth. We used to sit on the same bench and we  were in a group of very close friends. He was a very genuine guy. What  is inside is what you see in him. A soft-spoken guy, he generally kept  out of all troubles and was good in academics as well.

A few days back I was looking through some of my old stuff and  happened to stumble upon my school autograph book. As I turned the page,  I found the note you scribbled down almost 13 years ago. I am sharing  it here for our friends to see:

Antony Autograph
Dear Pal,
Ur one of the kewlest, best friends I had and will always have, I hope. Do remember me, Atleast in your thoughts.
(Signed)

Yes my dear friend, we always remember you. Always. Never in the past  9 years have any of not spoken about you when we met. If what they say  is true and you are watching us from somewhere, I hope you saw us last  weekend. I hope you saw us talking about you and how much we missed you.  I am sure we cannot replace you in your parent’s world, but we want you  to know that we are going to be there for them always.

You are that fallen star from our little sky who turned into a  beautiful and bright supernova and shines brightly in our lives covering  us in your light. We always remember you, dear friend. Always. Whenever  we meet, we know that you are right there with us.

Real-life angels

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they  who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living  well.”
― Aristotle

All the while as we grew up, our teachers were always with us.  Guiding us, moulding us into what we are now. Teaching us the difference  between right and wrong. As teachers, they were our second parents.  They cared for us unconditionally. Yes, they punished us for wrong  deeds. But it is the result of those punishments we are what we are. Our  personality has been built on values instigated into us by our beloved  teachers.

Being a teacher is one of the most honourable things to do in life.  They have an immense commitment towards creating a better generation.  There were moments when you might have hated them, felt that they are  being cruel. But every step that they have taken is to make you a better  person. They had their personal life sacrificed a lot in order to make  life easier for you. We never think of this as we grow up. But  sincerely, I have immense gratitude to every single teacher.

When we met for the reunion is when we understood this to a greater  depth. Our Malayalam teacher Mini miss said that the biggest thing for a  teacher is to see the students come back years later and meet them.  This just shows how selfless they are. Their expectations are just that  the students remember them and the values that were instigated into  them. Keep your teachers in your heart, after your parents, they are the  ones who have done the most for you.

The only thing that makes me sad is that in spite of being such an  important part of the society, teachers seldom get what they deserve.  There are blamed, underpaid and rarely recognised for their  contributions. In a society where doctors and engineers are given a high  standard, we forget the teachers who sculpted these professionals. If  anything, they are the ones who deserve all the respect and recognition.  I am not just talking about subject teachers, arts and physical  education teachers, all included. Because in some way or the other, they  have had an influence in our life. Take a moment and remember them,  visit them, call them. Do something to make them feel special. Trust me  it makes them feel really good. I could see it.

Our principal, Mrs Molly Thayyil or Ma’am as we call her, is genuinely the Iron Lady as Ann mentioned in her welcome speech. She has been the backbone of  the instituion since its inception. As the school grew in leaps and  bounds, she was always at the helm, driving and steering us carefully  all the while. The values and principles she shared with us as a vision  for the school are with us even to this day. No amount of gratitude can  pay back for what she has done for us.

Why is it special

School day memories are very special to most of us. We do many things  for the first time when we are in school. We make friends for the first  time, we stay away from our parents for the first time, we start  learning, we understand discipline, we learn to make and break bonds  (not chemistry bonds), we have crushes, heartbreaks etc.

As you sit down at your workplace wishing you were a kid again, you  are going to miss every single moment that you spent in school. So if  you are like one of us, go back and have a reunion. Visit the place  again, meet your teachers again, spend some moments together. Because  nothing feels better than spending time with people who were once such a  big part of your life.

I extend my sincere gratitude to all my friends who made this  possible. Just to take few names, thanks to Ann, Manu, Sreerag (for the  awesome caricature), Abheesh, Saneesh and everyone who were actively  involved in making this happen. Thanks to Nishi for coming up with the  concept for the gift for teachers and getting all the gift stuff in  place even though she could not be a part of the reunion. If I have  missed mentioning someone, it is not intentional. All your efforts are  sincerely appreciated.

School Collage

Overall, it was a surreal experience which I am willing to re-live  many many more times. If you are a student who cares about your school,  plan a reunion and include your teachers, they will be incredibly  grateful for the gesture. I am looking forward to more such reunions in  the coming years.

Thanks to all the attendees and their families for making it to the event:

Teachers: Lalitha Miss, Mini Miss, Shylaja Miss, Jessy Miss, Shirley Miss and Siby Sir

Students: Sreerag, Manmohan, Ann, Divya Manmohan,  Merin (with family), Abeesh, Sonu, Chackochan(with family), MD John,  Manu Hari, Sanju, Punith, Geons, Siddharth, Roopa(with family),  Rani(with family), Saneesh, Sushanth(with family), Nigil(with family),  Athira(with family), Shabeer Ali(with family) and two of our juniors  Neethu and Shankar (both family). A very heartfelt thanks to Antony’s parents for gracing us with their presence.

For now, I am just gonna stay high in this nostalgia shot that I took  over the weekend and let it take me back to my old memories. Memories  where I could be a kid again and look at the world in an innocent way as  we did… many years back. As someone said:

School may be hard, annoying and irritating. But when it ends, you are going to miss it.

Go and visit your school with all your friends and teachers, you will love it.


If you liked this article or disliked it for some reason, drop me an email and we shall have a chat. I love having good conversations. You can find me at: vp@vishnupadmanabhan.com