A Roller-Coaster Ride.
Soni Somarajan, a year junior to us at Sainik School, had sometime back written a deeply moving and reflective piece on what Sainik School and the friends that the school gave him, meant to his life and his perspectives. It more or less sums up, across years and batches, what Sainik School means to a Kazhakian.
I am reproducing it verbatim, lest its innate beauty gets lost in transmission.
Monday, February 1, 2010 at 3:49pm.
On quiet afternoons, especially the ones on which you are a bit ruminative, I begin to wonder about my years in Sainik School. When the shadows begin to stretch out as the sun falls in a gentle arc on its daily run, time makes known its singular ability to be the eternal arbiter of memories. If I had my way, I would let those afternoons play out forever for long now they have become my lifeline, a reminder of the time well lived amongst a band-of-brothers.
When my mind harks back on those memory hikes, I wonder what was that set us apart, what was so unique about our experiences in a public school that led us to believe that we were and still are part of something sublime. Was it the rampant espirit-de-corps, was it the eminence of character, and was it our seasoning in fire to face the sunshine of life that set us apart? When I put these lofty terms to the confining expanse of this sheet of paper, I wonder if we really were special as we were led to believe.
I wonder if it was the umpteen football grounds and facilities that could put normal schools to shame or a generation of teachers, some of whom went beyond their call of duty, determined in their extraordinary pursuit to create men out of boys, well-rounded in character, zeal and meant to serve the nation in ways unimaginable. Unimaginable, I say, because most of these boys came from backgrounds not so privileged, backgrounds that could not boast of providing a spring-board for guaranteed success in life.
These boys, young as they were, shone in their limited circumstances and were identified to be a part of an institution for the gleam in their hearts. And they were provided an opportunity, a term around which I would like to base this writing, to learn and excel just as any other privileged child. My afternoon memories might have been a lot less colorful if not for this opportunity which I continue to cherish and celebrate. And if the argument were to be about how successful the institution has been in inculcating character and values, I would not go far and quote about the numerable successes that have been charted by the outstanding alumni of my school. I would rather speak about my own experiences since they ring best to me.
In 1984, when I walked into the campus along with my father, both of us had differing thoughts. Invariably, as any father would, I am quite sure his thought must have concentrated on his visions for my future. In those times, sans the Internet or specialized access to information, it must have involved an immense sense of vision to take the decision of admitting his only son to a fantastic institution which he thought would help achieve for his son those things that he never could because of his unprivileged background. I can thank my father today profusely for that decision of his even though it must have been heart wrenching for him to leave his 11 year old child in the care of something he could not comprehend but on which he pinned his greatest hopes.
The years passed by and I left school in 1991, enriched in no small measure by my share of experiences friends for life, excellent teachers who also were my surrogate parents, a system that promoted opportunities for cadets to thrive upon. And as was expected, things happened the way it should with most of my batch mates, most of whom have done us proud by their achievements in their walks of life. But, as the cliche’ goes, fate had something else in store for me. In the later part of 1991, I was diagnosed with Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, a debilitating condition that leads to neuromuscular wastage and subsequent loss of locomotor ability over a period of time. Now, as predicted then, I am completely wheel-chair bound.
It is almost 20 years now since I was first diagnosed and I am asked very often about it all. And I hear congratulatory tones in answer, praising me for the fight I have put up and for keeping myself productive in spite of the fell-clutch of circumstances that has threatened my sanity and my ambition. It has not been an easy journey so far, and as much as I have put up with my disability, I have been nurtured and protected by a circle of love that is a direct offshoot of the relationships that were cast in iron during my years at Sainik School.
My classmates rallied around me, taking their time out from their own busy lives to support me as I tried to live my life on my own terms. They have contributed, not in small measure, for my expensive treatments and funding an electric wheelchair which would help me at work and make my task easier. Considering my penchant for travel and being mobile as much possible, their sensitive gesture has gone a great way in enabling me to remain productive and relevant.
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.
My life has not been easy. In fact, it is not easy for anyone. Maybe, it has been a tad harder considering my condition. And over a period of time, I have realized that, if it had not been for those loftier terms I earlier described, I would have been another victim of circumstance. I could have taken the easy way out, of giving up, and staying as reclusive as possible, cursing Fate for everything. It is not easy to carry around a bundle of ambitions inside a body threatened by irreparable damage. Everyday becomes an exercise in mental discipline, fueled by a spirit that can only originate by having been part of something supremely enlightening.
The very grit which powered me for three rounds around the infinite space of the parade ground on an empty stomach, the very grit that stood in my stead as we limped our way up the last uphill stretch of the cross-country race, the very grit that helped us survive ten days of pure hell during NCC Camps in the middle of nowhere in near desert conditions, the very grit that rallied us as we spent endless hours laboring to make the campus spic and span, the same very grit now powers me in a totally different way helping me find that extra ounce of strength to last each day with the satisfaction of having lived it in a way no less than a normal person.
Even though Fate handed me a gift I had never asked for, it helped me in numerous ways to fuel my determination to live my life on my own terms. Amidst the pain and disappointment that threatens to paint itself as a specter over my soul, I chose my well-placed grit to paint a different picture on the fabric of life, each warp and weft a standing testimony to the brotherhood that we found in the enabling atmosphere of our alma-mater. It is with everlasting pride that I stand bolstered by the spirit that emerged from the sylvan surroundings of my school.
On those warm afternoons, I still wonder whether my father is a disappointed man vis-a -vis his dreams for me. I will never really know what he thinks of me now but I know for sure that somewhere underneath that quiet and sad demeanor, he must wish that things could have been different. But if you were to ask me the same question, I am tempted to wish the same that my father does, but I wonder if it would be as exciting and enriching as it has been in this lifetime.
It is a roller-coaster ride that nobody else has a ticket for and I am glad I was chosen.