Jab We Met
February 24, 2008
"It all started with a mere phone-call”
Once in a lifetime pictures below..
How can one forget..
It took nearly 3 years (yes, meticulously documented by Mani) for the impulse to grow, from casual exchanges- “It would be nice to meet”- between Viji, Krishnamurthy and Mani in Matunga, to questions such as “But who will organize it? Who has the time?” to the first phone call by Mani in August 2007.sdsds
And Mani who initially wondered, “Is it really possible, after 39 years?” nevertheless persevered and managed to contact 10 people by 2nd October. When he was almost convinced he had bitten off more than he could chew. Selvaraj reached out to many because of his catering business and hope was revived.
“Ganapathy from Rameswaram, Rajaram from Salem and Govind from Mumbai” also called Mani. Suddenly the impossible seemed possible!
“I decided to cast my net far and wide” (try to imagine our sweet, gentle Mani making this wicked, manipulative statement, and you can understand how powerful the motivation must have been!) - the ‘net’ now included not just “boys” from Tamil divisions, but girls and Malayalam sections too.
“I was like those Amway reps- sleep, eat, walk, talk only reunion”!
What were people’s first reactions when they heard the news of a possible Reunion?
There were “the enthu cutlets” - “Wow” “ Great!” “Excited” “Very Happy” “Could not believe my ears”
“Curiosity”- “wanted to see my classmates”
The steady, careful types- “Why not? A good idea but how will I be able to make it from Chennai?” “Happy and also apprehensive”
And the cynics- “It will never work!”
What followed is nothing short of a miracle.
Almost everyone called someone else, and chatted, for long minutes, exchanging notes, catching up - and what a lot of catching up had to be done! - imagining what it would be like when everyone met after 39 years.
Magically, the voices changed, the smiles broadened, the walk became springier.
Families got used to loud guffaws, and excited laughter, and the strange new language littered with words such as “boys” and “girls”, “Tamil section” and “Malayalam section”, “classroom”, “bench”, “Satyannasti”, “Muthuswami Iyer”, other teachers’ names etc.
Many families enjoyed this excitement vicariously, and some even had helpful suggestions - “they told me to shed my red shirt and wear some light dress”.
Along the way, these phone calls from across 39 years, worked many minor miracles. For example, here’s Ravi describing his moment of wonderment.
“Ravi, do you have the class photograph of X1-B” was the terse mail.
Class photograph? Was there one? Not only did I not have a copy, I even had no recollection of having seen one or for that matter of the event of the photograph. So much so – I said to myself – Oh my God, I must have been absent on the day the photography was done.
Desperately excited and absolutely keen to see the photo, I shot off a few e mails to my classmates asking if they had a copy. I was in luck. Govindan, my “benchmate“of 4 years, sitting in Calcutta wrote back to say that he probably had a copy at his home in Bombay. And then the wait started… a couple of days later, I received this heavy e mail, several megabytes big and as the e mail slowly downloaded to my Outlook Express and I saw the sender’s name …, my pulse raced as I started scanning for my face on the still crisp photograph of XI-B. And there it was, loud and clear, the silly face staring right back at me. It was me alright – even my son could pick it out from the rest! “
What happens when you try to contact someone after 39 years?
R Balakrishnan asked Mani if he remembered him. Mani’s reply- “a tall. lanky boy who used to win English elocution competitions”- makes Balakrishnan laugh loudly!.
We can’t seem to stop talking! Vasudevan and Mani talked for 30 minutes . Even when you don’t remember the person, the school bond works- Pushpa and Mani “communicated like long lost friends”. Similar instant bonding, with Ramesh Verma. Nalini recognized Mani as “Oh you the studious bookworm!” and Mani laps up the compliment coming after 40 years.
Conversations sometimes got emotional. “Did you really remember me?” “I have never forgotten you.”
What strange outcomes of this tryst with the past! “ I learned to use the computer on a regular basis”
“I saw myself as a new person- as I repeatedly tried to think of responses to either “ Who is this Subramanian?” or “How come this Subramanian?!”
Mani says that being a doctor in Matunga became useful as he “(mis) used his patients’ contacts”! Met several “brothers and sisters” of classmates and planted the seed of reunion in their minds too!
For those not based in Mumbai, the phone calls came as a bridge across time and place and the nostalgia was double, perhaps.
G Krishnan impressed Mani with his “elephantine memory”.
There were surprise discoveries- Ragini and Shalini- “I have been their family doctor for years without realizing they were my batchmates!”
Lalli had to leave for the US a day before the reunion, but gave Mani lots of encouragement before.
Mani felt that batchmates outside Mumbai- Anuradha, Bhanumathi, Radha, Mahadevan- showed much more enthusiasm than some ‘locals’-and he wondered “maybe you don’t value what’s easily available”?
In the midst of all this overflowing happiness, some worked hard to prove the skeptics wrong. Meetings happened, and plans were made.
The suspense builds! “Sleep came fitfully to me that Saturday night; my subconscious mind perhaps was running riot with my school days.”
On the day, all are eager, excited, anxious, no one knows what to expect. What a journey it was going to be!
On Sunday morn, February Twenty FourthI had my heart pounding, as I set forthMet a few friends, sooner than I thought. At Nahur station, the same train, we got Ananthi, Janaki and Gauri were there ‘Hi’ and happy smiles, all of us sharedWe moved real fast, not to be late.Soon we were at the SIES gate…
“After a short bus ride, Sunday morning found me walking the familiar strip of the KA Subramaniam Road (then called the Bramhanwada Road) past my old building – where I had lived till Standard XI – and thence on to the school.”
Have you ever seen so many smiling faces all in one place? Handshakes and controlled feelings, backslaps, warm embraces, tight hugs, excited voices, squeals of delight( yes, yes, “the girls” of course!), total chaos as voices floated over each other.
Everyone was “ looking for a familiar face”. Panic- “Oh my God, I can’t recognize anybody!” “Ah there’s Janaki!”
“ I still can’t believe this is happening!”
Oh my God, there’s Satyannasti!
For many, there was a feeling of “homecoming”, “renewed energy”, And all this right under “Muthuswamy Iyer’s stern face”!
“By and by, people started streaming in; I had almost no trouble recognizing the boys from my class – but alas, I could not recognise a single girl – not one. Each time, I heard their name, my reaction was :”Oh! My God; you look so different. “. And then came Prema – thank heavens, she was the first one I had no trouble recognizing – she was still the same .. “
Was it the same, in reverse, for the “girls, I wonder?
“It must have been a little before ten, that I spied him entering the gate. I ran down the steps, shook his hand warmly and said: “Sir, Let me have the pleasure of being the first one to greet you today ….I had no difficulty in recognizing him – not that he had changed much – though the famous hand-kerchief in his hand (and the snuff) were conspicuous by their absence.”
“This day’s special school began at 10 with the school bell. Shekar took on the mantle of being the master of ceremonies.
Shekar’s call for rising to the National Anthem was another “lump in the throat” moment. Those years of singling the anthem and ending it with the inimitable SIES patented .. “Goood Mooorning Teeacher” flooded my mind with nostalgia.”
We should have had a competition for “how many did you recognize?”
This is a sample typical conversation of that day. “As we sat down after the anthem, I introduced my self to the lady sitting next to me and she responded .. I am Radha from XI-D. It was time for one more “Oh! My God”
When asked, people said they recognized 10, 12, 15, 30, 50 ( really?!), almost all.
One person said, 80% of the girls and just a few “boys”. ( Now why is that?!)
Over the next few hours, some stayed glued to a few friends, while others caught up with as many as they could. It was a tough call- so much to do, say, and listen to, and so little time! But many people managed to talk to almost all 75 batchmates, and exchange pleasantries with spouses too.
“The ceremony continued , so many of our friends had their day made by being given the opportunity of welcoming and honouring their teachers. Some teachers in turn said their wise words of “Thank You”. There was a continuum in all this … and it was said in so many words by so many teachers - The teacher student bond is eternal.
Along the way, Subbu mentioned that our batch had joined the school in its Sliver Jubilee year and today 50 years later are meeting in its Platinum Jubilee year – what an amazing Golden Jubilee reunion!!”
Then there was “a slide show of the Class photographs of all divisions. We dutifully moved up to the screen and tried to identify ourselves in the sepia colored memories. And then there was the show of strength. We wanted to see which division had the maximum attendance. We in the B division manipulated to include all those that were in B up until the 10 standard and came up with a winning score of 18. We were ‘B” for nothing but the best.”
What did people mostly talk about at last year’s reunion?
Would you believe it- teachers were the most talked about topic!
Vying for second place are :
“Do you remember…” conversations
“What are you doing now?”
“This is unbelievable!” type of exclamations, and
“How to take this further”
Important on people’s agenda was taking contact details. Another competition idea - who manages to get the most telephone numbers or some such!
A small percentage also seriously attempted matchmaking!
Did all this talking leave people feeling exhausted?
“Not at all”, say most people, “it was as if I was on steroids!”
And that night, some slept deeply and soundly , after having worked hard to make this most memorable meet happen. Some were too excited to sleep, reliving scenes and conversations, and some regretted not having spoken to all or spoken enough, vowing to keep in touch.
What people remember- the Kodak moments !
“I became a 16 year old that day”
“It was a dream come true”
“Experience of a lifetime”
Realizing that these are “friends with no baggage”
“It’s a nice feeling that this will happen every year”
“Meeting the teachers, KRK’s maths class, sitting in my old classroom, making new friends among the batchmates - these are things I never thought I would experience.”
“The whole show was wow!”
“I was watching the CD every day!”
“The before and after photographs- when realization dawned on me that some strangers were in fact my friends- the feeling was terrific and cannot be expressed in words.”
“The spontaneity of interaction amongst us, whether boys or girls - unimaginable in our school days!”
Shanta was inspired to poetry by the occasion :
“We could feel the animation in Sir’s voice
Knew the commitment to his professional choice
He taught us Maths, contemporary style too,
The hall shook with laughter without any taboo”
“Renewing contact with my Primary teachers Vasantha, Seetalakshmi, Mahalakshmi and Rajam.”
“ I did not know how much this Reunion meant to my wife until I saw the happiness on her face today.”
“I nearly wept for joy as I saw teachers walking in, and being felicitated by KRK sir was a feeling beyond words.”
“On 24th “ I was literally walking through a dream”
Shanta was inspired to poetry by the occasion.
Truly, we could all see the years dropping away from all our teachers as they spoke of the joy of meeting their students, and finding the bond only grown stronger. As Ravi mentioned in his speech, maybe we only realize now, grown older and wiser (we hope!) how difficult it must have been to teach the basics of a language or a subject.
Post lunch, was more time for exchanging notes, gossiping and catching up- and arranging for the teachers to be dropped off to their homes, we the kids, got back to the hall to discuss “ serious business” – On how we can give back..
The discussion went on for about two hours, and at the end of this we more or less decided on:
A corpus to the Ex. Students association to help the school in any way they deem fit.
See if teachers can be provided advanced opportunities for training
Help in counseling of children
More than anything else, we decided we will meet each year on the last Sunday of February – perhaps in the school perhaps elsewhere.
(Amazingly, we have since fulfilled all the above through our School enrichment programs!)
“My heart was full, and my eyes were moist
I consider this Reunion, a new flag hoist!” perhaps echoes the sentiments in all hearts that day.
Compiled from responses received from many people. Thank you all, and specially Mani and Ravi who rose to the occasion with detailed descriptions from which large sections have been liberally used, and Shanta for her poem.