Would we ever get bored of that Second Saturday in June every year, ever? I haven’t thought about it nor do I want to, even at this OBA 2011 meetup.With the hubris that seem to pile on with the professional arrogance of passing years, the bonds of childhood as a casualty is almost a given. So much so that one of my batchmates, getting back in touch with the rest of the buddies, was hesitant at first to address each one of his childhood buddies with that ‘common term of endearment’ that we are so often used to, from School (You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?). He had most of the telephone numbers painstakingly lined up in his mobile phone and thought about it. He went ahead with the profanity anyway. Thank God for that.
It is almost surreal to still discover a part of the campus that seem to have been blissfully asleep in a time warp. The NCC Store still squats in the same corner, with the same sickly yellow Snowcem coat, and a set of precarious pillars-and-eaves. Do the cadets still get a pair of lefties as standard issue? Or a Size – 7 and Size -8 bundled together in an official knot ? Does anyone remember the puzzling link in the evolution of hydrocarbons that was wrapped in waxpaper and handed to you in the blessed name of Washing Soap? I can bet my bottom dollar that it could even generate electricity on a rainy day. Standing in the semblance of that clearing, if you listened real intently, you can still catch the faint echoes of Sub Major Bhika Chasker’s bellowing “Keep Shilenssh!”
Gone are the cast-iron single tables with their equally clumsy and heavy single chairs that once populated the cadets’ classrooms. The cold cement floor has gladly given way to its ubercool cousins, the walls are cheery and adorned with students’ creativity. We had complex patterns from pigeon excreta to power our drowsy Zoology afternoons. But I still do hope and believe that some where deep down,even with the current generation, the fundamental bonds still remain strong as steel. Just as we were fortunate enough to even have our younger ones heap you with genuine affection and caring that was nourished even without our knowledge. Without which, it would have been really difficult to step back into your class room after two decades and sit there , convulsing with laughter, ribbing each other and themselves, amazed at the way those doorways which actually turned out to be gateways to something that was definitely worthy.
A steaming steel tumbler of tea sits with chosen disinterest in a corner of the big table. Across which leans Mrs. Mary Thomas, at the Stationery Store, patiently handing over new notebooks against old ones with the respective subject head’s bonafide on the last page. The smell of freshly pressed note books, accentuated by that unique odor of the cheap glue that was used, the steaming tea and the hurry to get back in class without losing a minute in the queue – that non-decrepit door was another hurdle that had to be strategically addressed in the daily week-day business. She always caught you when you forged signatures, ever noticed that ?
For this Naval Officer, this had to be a special homecoming. Being unceremoniously asked to leave the school at a point in Cadet Life when you have just paid the dues to the Growing years and looking forward to the last two years of unmitigated fun and academia, the event becomes more earth-shattering and benumbing than disturbing. It unsettles you. For whatever reasons that culminated in the final act, life seems to have sailed past the bitterness and left it at an unnamed distant harbor. There are a handful of my buddies who found themselves in this curious position of what emotion to associate with their School years. This seems to be warm sunshine, after all.
I am always curious as to why we never gave the old NA Harvard a fond term of reference in all our school years. It was always this benevolent, deeply tolerant, yet silent grandparent who always sat there and watched the children grow, play on its shoulders, listen into their grandiose dreams as they played Biggles in the cockpit seat, and with a weariness see them fly away to new horizons. Though it has changed places, to me, is the most profound symbol of patience, resilience and hope – the very same qualities that the Alma Mater seem to instill in you by the time you graduate through those massive gates.
And it waits, to see you return. Again. And again.