When you look back in retrospective, living and growing up in a ‘gated community’ amidst its 360 acres ( visibly shrunk through the years ) of God’s own tropical green, without parental care in the formative years of your life is one of the most exciting things to happen. You realize that those excruciatingly painful early years of separation from home, looking for empathy amongst strangers who would become your brothers for life and the dynamics of an academic setting that keeps reminding you to “just push yourselves a little more, just this one time”, were actually creating in you a foundation that would become the bedrock on which you would build your career and your life ahead. You could sit there with a smirk and in emphatic denial, but you can’t shake it off – the Sainik School campus rewires your DNA in more ways than you can imagine.
Though the younger years were caught in a whirlwind of activities – both curricular and extra-curricular (that “curricular” word has always made me smile bemusedly. It somehow keeps reminding you of the “curry” that I have found myself in), the senior years gave you much more time, space and the temerity to reflect on the path traversed and the about the big, bad, world outside. Beneath all that cocky demeanor of a gawky teenager aka the 12th standard cadet, was an apprehensive pair of hands that twiddled in his private moments, thinking about how it would be “outside”! Would he make peace with Math and Physics for the final Examinations, would he make it through at least ONE amongst the umpteen entrance tests for medical/engineering courses across the country, would he get through with this last shot at NDA while at school – you carried the foreboding around like an invisible cloak in the final months of your life at Kazhak.
But, unbeknownst to you, life at Sainik School, Kazhakootam – those wonder years had already put in place your Plan A, Plan B and the rest of the mad-hatters to ensure that you hit the ground running outside the archaic gates of the school, and you realize, though late, that all those times spent sweating bullets in 12th standard were just wasted time. The Sainik School campus, replicated across geographical locations in this country, becomes an interesting petri-dish (in the broader sense of the word, I do hope someday they put that under their sociology microscope) that inculcates character traits that almost seem to rewire your DNA, and stay for life. The re-engineering happens without your knowledge and consent. Thinking back, I always wonder, without that would I have been what I am today and be thankful for that?
Maybe, under a different set of circumstances, in a different boarding school, the road map might have been different. But I would like to be thankful for this and would do this all over again, if I could. Seriously.
So, what is it about life at Sainik School, Kazhakootam that gets so generously gets accepted and assimilated in you, regardless of whether you are aware of it or not ? Broadly, I believe, it amounts to these.
A strong sense of right and wrong
This has been something that has always got the goat of my superiors and friends from the ‘civil’ world but in the company of a fellow Kazhak, it’s a given. You could blame it on the regimented curriculum but this is something that make you something of an ‘outcast’ in the Principle of Middle-ground Living that you find yourself in, be it your college, out on the streets, in a government office or staring down your boss as the cubicle air-conditioner struggles to keep the temperature low and feebly attempt to listen in on the showdown that might happen any time. We are too rigid to embrace the grey, and although we get weary through the years, that glint of defiant steel in your heart never goes dull. This deep-rooted sense of fairness and fair play have been known to exist in most of us in varying degrees, at times even booting rational thought out of the door.
Resourcefulness and Self-reliance
The average Kazhak old boy is like the proverbial cat that lands on all fours, regardless of the trajectory it chooses. It begins right from the day you attempted to and got successful in washing your own pair of socks for the first time and gently progressing to making your bed and polishing your shoes. Hell, I have seen some in my time who felt disoriented in the common bath for the first time, they never knew where to start though the task at hand – taking a bath was clear as day.
But we outgrew them all, because we were thrust into it, up the proverbial creek without a paddle and GPS, and we outshone them all. We scrounged around and with available resources put up spectacular shows and performance displays that got our team a well-deserved pat on our backs. In Sainik School, we were all we had got, and we went ahead and made sure that we never compromised.
That sense of organic freedom doesn’t come easy to others.
The Discipline that creases Life
Echoing Julie Andrews, for most, inner-discipline is a chore. To us Kazhaks, it is a kind of order that sets us free to fly. Remember the monotonous cadence of ‘marching to school and back’ and then doing that for every single team movement every day, consistently for 7 years? I used to wonder at the insanity of it, but out in the real world, I realize the propensity and conditioning that has seeped into my character as a result. Remember those acts of made-up beds, insanely lined-up cots in the dormitory, or the blindingly white-washed bricks that separated day-old Croutons from day-old Picus in front of the House garden, day in, day out ? All those drove into you, bit by bit, the importance of order in the daily scheme of things, and before you know it, the subconscious had started applying it to your thought processes, neatly laying them out on the table, helping you approach problems with a clear perspective. So, next time you catch yourself with an indefinable, boiling inner rage when you find those shoes casually strewn about in your living room, relax. You just can’t help it.
The Capability for Unconditional Love and Trust.
Probably the biggest blessing that one can receive in their life, as a student and a human being. With both running dangerously low in the real world, it is often amazing to catch ourselves intuitively trusting fellow human beings with a lenience that must have come only out of the conditioning we received in the corridors of Kazhak. True, it has led most up some very questionable and piquant situations in the process, but regimented that we are, we refuse to factor in those aberrations with a defiance that can only be recognized by a fellow Kazhak. These are the two mutually-inclusive tenets on which spins our own espirit-de-corps, the cosmic fuel that powers our alma mater, the glue that holds us together and makes us what we are. It is this unconditional love that makes us do our annual pilgrimage every June to a place called Kazhakootam, and shed shameless, copious tears of joy and warmth at meeting your old House-mate. Soni Somarajan, puts it across beautifully in his moving note at his personal website on the WHY of it,
I remember questioning myself whether I deserved all this love, support and generosity and I was embarrassed quite frankly to draw from this well of kindness. Trained to be self-reliant, I was beset with doubts about whether I should continue to accept the measures of assistance. And, once when I mentioned this to a batch mate of mine, all he said was, “Soni, would you ask the same thing, would you feel the same about all that your parents have done for you, all that parents do for their children?” In one single question, my friend had made clear to me the bond that we shared. And that it went beyond any standard definitions you could find for human relationships.
To a Kazhak, it is a natural thought process. True, some have been scalded in the process, but as I mentioned, even if twice bitten, we are never shy. So the next time your cousin throws back his head and laughs at the way you pulled that gag on your unsuspecting Housemaster, remember, it is in a way validation of your uniqueness as a Kazhak.