Monday, 31 July 2017

From My Desk: Tales Out Of School

                                               My Alma Mater, St.Helena's School, Pune.

As we went back and forth on the Core Group via WhatsApp, regarding the sequence of events that would unfold during our 25th Reunion on 24th June 2017, a couple of our team members categorically told me that I would have to give a speech! I had been the Head Girl of my batch and had also represented the school during elocutions and debates, and so they insisted I speak a few words. At first I tried to wriggle out of the responsibility, telling them to find a worthier candidate (they found this most shocking!) but both of them absolutely insisted upon a speech, with the remaining core committee chiming in their agreement too. 
And so I thought I would come back from our sojourn up North and would pen down a few words just before the reunion. Imagine my horror when, one hot summer's day in Delhi, I received a message from the group saying they wanted to print my speech in the Memoir Book and needed it before the end of next day. So in the middle of sight seeing and admiring Mughal architecture under a scorching sun and gorging on North Indian delicacies, I had to actually write! I had to borrow my husband's lap top since I wasn't carrying my own and had to sit down and write, after our day had finally ended at 12 midnight. It took me a couple of hours to write this, it was fun after I actually began and got into the groove and I finally finished the speech and mailed the group by 2:00 am! 
Last Sunday afternoon a dear aunt and her family came to our house for lunch. In the midst of all the chatter and feasting on ice cream, she did not get adequate time to go through the memoir book in detail. She herself writes beautifully and so she was especially keen. I told her I had been mulling over the idea of putting up the speech on my blog, so fellow Helenites who missed the reunion could read it and I would do it soon. I have reproduced it verbatim from the original. (In other words I have copy pasted it!). Here it is!

From Anupama's Desk
Our dearest teachers and my fellow Helenites, (notice that I still say Helenites and refuse to use the word ‘ex’! Once a Helenite, always a Helenite!
I would like to welcome you all to the 25th reunion of the batch of 1992. Precisely twenty five years and four months ago, we were hard at work, studying for our much dreaded and much awaited ICSE exam.  Today, we realize it was the first of many challenges life would throw our way. Our teachers had prepared us so well for the ICSE and it is that training which has stood us in good stead. No matter which field we chose in life, no matter where we travelled, we have excelled in our respective fields and continue to do so. We stand head and shoulders above the rest, though I say it myself, I know I speak for all of us. The credit for our achievements, clich├ęd as it may sound, lies in the roots that gave us wings to fly: our teachers.
No matter where we may be, we remember you all at any given moment. Whether it is while explaining concepts of various subjects to our own children or to our students, while reading a poem, or while travelling, or while watching a classic movie and humming each song along with the lead pairs, listening to or using a foreign language, conversing fluently in Hindi, doing the household accounts, making a hand written list, admiring a work of art or while using computers, or exercising or playing a sport to keep fit, you, our dear teachers loom large in our minds. You rank really high for us, the people who molded us, guided us, yelled at us or gently corrected us, as the need may have been. You cannot even imagine how your words remain deeply engraved on our minds. It takes but a WhatsApp chat trail or a mini reunion (or the planning of a mega one!), or a sepia tinted school photo doing the rounds to revive many, many fond memories. I quote:” Recall it as often as you wish, a happy memory never wears out.”  Truer words were never said. Our memories of our school days are such happy ones! Never mind if we got pulled up by Miss. Massih herself for the wrong patterned uniform, or that we were caught eating in class or rebuked for using bad language or chastised for rushing pell-mell down the ancient wooden stairs, at the risk of breaking our necks. It was our safe, secure world, where the only stress was wondering which vegetable Mummy had made for our tiffins, or whether our friend had brought our favourite veggie or pickle that day or whether we would pass the Maths test or if we had enough money for a visit to the tuck shop to buy Zebra sweets or Bobbies! How fortunate we were that our parents chose St.Helena’s School for us. How proud we are that she is our Alma Mater.
Those were the wonder years. The friendships and the little cliques that were formed during our school days remain alive and thrive even to this day. Such is the beauty of being school friends, that  although years may pass by before we meet, whenever we do, we reconnect as if we had never parted that long ago March day. There’s a comfort factor that’s peculiarly unique to each batch and so it is with us. We have all eaten India Ice cream under the ‘shady’ tree, we’ve gone through adolescence together, had fights, burst into tears, gone for sleepovers, laughed at the silliest jokes possible, agonized over miserable marks in a particular test, worn super short P.T uniforms (and imagined that our gangly legs and bony knees looked stunning!) we’ve experienced it all. We knew each other before we knew our college friends, husbands and colleagues, we have experienced so many things together, have had so many firsts as a group. The 8th standard Mahabaleshwar trip experiences, our concerts, choir festivals, debate and elocution competitions, sports events and games, our 10th standard socials with the Bishops boys, our first board exams,  to name but a few. Whenever we meet our fellow Helenites, we fit together like pieces of a puzzle that had been scattered by the wind and has now been safely gathered up.
Many of our girls could not make it to the reunion today and we are missing them sorely. Some of us are here from far flung lands, some of us never moved out of our home town, but wherever we may be, our school and our teachers and all those associated with it hold a very special place in our hearts. The green uniform, which we grumbled so much about during our days, stands out today in our minds, as the one cohesive factor that united us. Coupled of course, with our green bloomers, black ribbons, black shoes and white socks that the teachers and prefects were forever asking us to pull up! See what I mean by comfort factor? Would I have dared mention green bloomers from any other podium?
We were a highly spirited batch. The average IQ for our batch was super high and some of us still have those IQ cards because we were all tested together in school! But sometimes we used our brains to get out of doing work. I guess it’s now time to disclose to our teachers that one really dark and dreary monsoon day, to get out of giving a Maths test with Mrs. Iyer in 9 B, we managed to turn off the main electricity switch for the entire floor. We instigated our bell monitor to flip the switch on her way out to ring the bell. It really was too dark to see and gave us the perfect excuse for refusing to give the test. 10 B had a Chemistry test at the same time and they later told some of us that it really was impossible to see what they were doing, but Mrs. John refused to cancel their test! The switch was turned back on when the monitor went out to signal the end of the Maths period and no one was the wiser that we had actually managed to play a trick a la Mallory Towers and St.Clares!
We were in 9th standard when Mrs. Thadani had Ashwin, Mrs. Dinshaw’s daughter had Lianne and Mrs. Iyer’s daughter too had a baby. Close to Mrs. Thadani’s  due date, we spent every lunch period before every Biology test, praying that the right hormones ( which Mrs. Thadani herself had taught us about) would get to work, land her in hospital and make us miss the test! No such luck! That was also the time each of these teachers put me in charge of their classes, to teach and to productively use the period to make the class do the work they had set out well in advance. I truly tried my best and I can honestly say I learnt how hard it was to be in their shoes, in charge of fifty girls! My respect for all our teachers went up many notches in those few months.
Our children are horrified when we tell tales out of school and they cannot believe how terrible and incorrigible we were! But all good things come to an end and so did our school life….But all said and done, we were good kids, as I’m sure our teachers will be more than willing to testify. Of course we are no longer sixteen going on seventeen, innocent as roses, like in the song Ms. Postwalla taught us! No, for our 25th reunion, we can safely be described as ‘ Roses in full bloom’ but Mrs. Dinshaw herself explained to us ‘ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Lastly, I don’t want to brag or make anyone jealous, but I can still fit into the ear rings I wore in High School!
Thank you.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Genius Girl Geetanjali

It has been a long while since I last posted on my blog. We moved to a new house in Kenya and then had a plethora of guests from India in the new house and somehow I never got around to writing about it. I hope to do so in the near future. Then we came on our annual sojourn to our home town Pune and we went for a quick vacation up north, in an attempt to expose the children to the northern half of their genetic make up. The northern part of India has a ubiquitous charm and there's lots to write about but again, not right now.
While we were traversing across our national capital, I was also a part of the core team on ground zero in Pune, who were hard at work planning our 25th school reunion. And thanks to the connectivity on WhatsApp, they asked me to pen a tribute to a beloved class mate who had passed away in a very tragic accident. I have been wanting to write about our class genius for the last many, many years. I had, in fact, even asked her younger sister for permission to write (and received it too)  but then found it too overwhelming emotionally and so never really got around to doing it, except in my mind. Now, it seemed, my class mates had left me with no choice, as they wanted to print the tribute in the school memoir book we were publishing. And so, on my way from Delhi to Agra I managed to write a few lines about a very dear friend, even as I scrubbed away my tears. So, through a blur of tears, here it is...
When I first joined St.Helena's in class two, way back in 1983, Geetanjali was in my division. Our mothers had been class mates in school too and the family's brilliance was already legendary. This, in effect, meant that whenever Geetanjali and I were in the same division, I had absolutely NO chance of standing first and had to be content with a second rank. My mother fondly recalls a day way back in 1985, when we were in fourth standard, and Geetanjali and I were in different divisions. When my mother came to collect the report card, Geetanjali went running upto her and joyfully exclaimed,'Aunty, Anupama has stood first!' Well, so had she in her own division, but was just too modest to add that! That was our Geetanjali to the core.
But the beauty of it was that we all automatically deferred to Geetanjali's far superior intellect and had nothing but praise and admiration for her all through our school years.  She, in turn, remained humble, helpful, generous in sharing her knowledge and ever willing to explain the intricacies of Maths, Physics and Chemistry to those who needed help in High School..
Geetanjali and I were immersed in reading books, even throughout lunch break in school, much to the irritation of our friends. She loved Anne Of Green Gables. Surprisingly, I never read Anne (with an E) then, and became fond of the Anne books much later. But I can never read Anne without thinking of Geetanjali, even today...Before I left Kenya last month, I watched all the Anne episodes newly released on Netflix and desperately wished I could message Geetanjali to get her view of it all!
 I always had the highest marks in essay writing. During an essay competition in the 9th standard, our teacher had given us the topic, 'My favourite Book'. I had just put down Benazir Bhutto's 'Daughter Of The East'. I had nothing but admiration for the lady in question, after reading about her travails, and that came through in my essay about the book and I thought I had written a brilliant piece! Geetanjali, on the other hand, wrote about 'Anne Of Green Gables' and she won the first prize! As a fourteen year old, it was upsetting for me at that point, but in retrospect I can quite see why our teacher found Anne more delightful than Benazir! Today I'm SO glad Geetanjali won that day... for she was to lose a very major battle a few years down the line...the battle for life.
Due to our surnames being in alphabetical order, a U and a V in school, we sat close to each other during exams. Geetanjali writing an exam was a sight to behold! She was absolutely calm and steady and if I ever felt overwhelmed by a question, I only had to glance at her and observe her demeanour for just thirty seconds to regain my confidence! 
She had a brilliantly fair complexion and actually glowed from within and truly stood out as extraordinary. Her eyes were  glowing, glittering jet black orbs, framed by beetling brows and sparkling with all that knowledge deep within her. An Everest house prefect, Geetanjali was loved by all who came in contact with her. Other friends fondly recall cycling to school with Geetanjali, especially during the monsoon months when she stood out by virtue of her bright yellow raincoat. Yet another friend says whenever she visted Geetanjali's house, she often found her Dad teaching her from books meant for the next academic year! Her brain could easily absorb material meant for a grade higher than the one she was currently in. Little wonder then that she found the current year's work child's play...An IQ test in school in the 9th grade proved what the rest of us always knew.. Geetanjali, with an intelligence quotient of 149, was at genius level...
Engineering or medicine? Daughter of an engineer father and doctor mother, she faced this classic dilemma. Eventually medicine triumphed and she became a radiologist. As a doctor, she once again went out of her way to help and guide friends who had medical issues and is very fondly recalled by every single one of them today.
One new year's eve, fifteen or so years ago, I received a cryptic message on my cell phone. 'Happy New Year'. Geetanjali. I knew only one Geetanjali in my life who would reach across to me, a decade after we last met, with just a short message and a name. I grabbed the phone and chatted non stop with her for more than an hour... We promised to meet and catch up but it was not meant to be, for I moved to Tanzania very soon after that. Then her younger brother and I were in touch through the now extinct Orkut and he gave me the news that Geetanjali had a baby daughter and another little one was on the way. Many messages passed back and forth between the two of us, via her brother, even as her second doll was born. Geetanjali would not live to see her second baby's first birthday. Today, it has been exactly ten years, on this very date.
I will never forget that July night when my mother called me up in Tanzania to give me the heart breaking news that Geetanjali had succumbed to her injuries after a horrific road accident. My first ridiculous thought was ' But she hasn't read the newly released Harry Potter yet. How can she go?'Our common love of books bound us, even as I heard she was no more. I accused my own mother of lying to me because my heart and mind refused to accept the heart wrenching news. Even as tears blinded me and my own then three year old son clung to me, my only thought was for her two daughters. Every time tears flowed down my face my son burst into tears too.I felt as if I could not even mourn for such a dear friend. I had to control myself with great difficulty and often resorted to sobbing in the bathroom, with my three year old toddler banging on the door from outside. If I was in so much pain what did her immediate family go through?
 The two adorable baby girls she left behind are in middle school today and, friends in touch tell me, are as brilliant as their mother was! I am so glad that her legacy will continue after her and I hope I can meet them some day when they are older. We all have so many memories of their mother that we would love to share with them.
She will always be loved and missed by us. We salute you Geetanjali even today, like we did then. We missed you sorely at our 25th reunion and it wasn't really complete without you...We are planning to institute a rolling trophy for Outstanding Academic Performance in your name, in our alma mater St.Helena's School, Pune, so that generations of girls, not just us, remember Geetanjali Vaidya...

                                                           Dr.Geetanjali Vaidya Swami
                                                             April 1977-  July 2007

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