The year was 1989. The location: D.A.V Public School, Calcutta.
The new session had begun, and anxious parents had come to leave reluctant kids for their first day in school. The first task the parents was to help their kids find some new friends. Our parents went for the familiarity of South Indian faces in North India. Thus my mom seeks out Srikant’s mom. We kids were shyly hanging behind our amma’s saree. They talk for a while and then kindly, carefully, introduce the kids to each-other and ask us to go play.
Shriram was sitting with his serious face, wearing his dad’s sunglasses in a corner all alone. I go, with a new-found confidence of talking to new people, and with supreme confidence, ask him ” Are you tamil?”.
Thus, the familiarity and comfort of seeking out other South Indian families led to a small cabal of South Indian 1st standard kids in School.
30th January, 1993:
Kalia, the real scary vice-principal of our school, announced during the morning assembly that our school would pay respect to Mahatma Gandhi, at 11:30 AM by maintaining a two minute silence. A special bell would ring at 11:28 for that, and then again at 11:30. After the two minute silence, we were to proceed to the normal lunch break at 11:30.
The 2 minute bell rings at 11:28. Krishna miss had been teaching English or something, and gets ready to order us to stand up silently. Right at that moment, Shriam, Srikant, Jeetendra and I dash out of our classroom and race all the way, about 200m to the back-gate of our school. Along the way, we were too engrossed in our race to notice the absence of regular traffic. One of us went and touched the tree near the back-gate first to win the race (I don’t remember who won the race, but my guess would be Srikant or Jeetendra, they were much faster than Shriram and me). Along the way, the teachers near the classrooms adjoining the play-ground saw the 4 indisciplined boys running when they were supposed to pay respect to the father of the nation. We were summoned to the devil in human form: Kaalia, a person eviler than Skeletor, even before we were allowed to eat our lunch. After a slap that made our cheeks red, and left the impression of Kaalia’s super huge palms and finger, our punishment was that we would not be allowed to eat lunch and we had to stand all the way through till end of school. With sad faces we stood during the 5th period, and the teacher took pity on us (I think it was Ganga ma’m), and allowed us to eat lunch, but we had to keep standing, lest Kaalia came into the room sometime unexpectedly.
That race was our daily game. Right at the stroke of Lunch time, we had to dash to the tree near the back-gate.
Those were fun times. We were in our 9th and 10th standards. All the world around us was crumbling under peer-pressure, fear-tactics of parents (If you don’t do well in the board exams, then you will end up being a waiter in some restaurant). But, thanks to super-cool parents, Shriram, Srikant and I had things awfully easy. With the rest of the kids drowned in their books and notes, we started hanging out more often. Sleep-overs became very common, almost once a week, I would be in Shriram’s house (mostly on the nights when his cable operator would show some soft-porn movie during midnight) and Shriram would be at my place citing joint Mathematics studies. We had stopped racing then, and started to perfect our out-swingers and cover drives. But, we started eating binges, competition on who could devour more dosas. One fine evening at my home, we overdid ourselves, when Amma in supreme form, was making dosas quicker then we could eat, and we were trying to out-match her speed. Finally, we ended up eating around 17 dosas each!!! Another afternoon, after a long morning session of Cricket practice, we went up and found rice, sambar and palak sabji that Shriram’s mom had made. She had gone out for some errand, and when she returned, all the food was wiped clean. She had cooked not only for us, but for Uncle, Chotu (Shriram’s younger brother) and herself also.
One weekend, Srikant and Shriram had come over to my house for a sleepover. We spent the evening playing Brian Lara’s Cricket and Cricket’97 on the computer. We started with a World-cup, won it. Proceeded to Fantasy tournaments, defeated the The Unbeatable Aussies of the 1940’s, Clive Llooyd’s Windies. More fantasy when we decided to change history, remove the horrible partition, and built the strongest Cricket team ever by including players from India and Pakistan. Late into the night, we formulated the ultimate Test championship. To me, the most endearing thing about the whole evening in front of the computer, apart from our heated discussions on field placing, on shot selection, on ball selection, was the seriousness with which we immersed ourselves into the imaginary world. A bad shot selection that cost Sachin’s wicket, even in the simulated game hurst us. A defeat demoralized us. We chased imaginary records and celebrated simulated victories over Pakistan as we would celebrate an Indian teams victory in the real deal.
It is this “return to innocence” that I want badly. It is the innocent pleasure in a simple fantasy that I miss the most.
The next day, the telephone rang, and Srikant picked it up. It was Madhav Mama from Port-Blair, and he said so. Srikant was awe-struck, speechless. People living in Port-Blair was as much a fantasy to him as America and Europe and Australia.
Life since graduating out of school in 2001, has followed all the cliches that Ravi Shastri can think about. You know it, the ones about life taking friends in different directions, yada, yada, yada. Thankfully, this is the age of communication, and we have been in touch for the last 8 years. We have found solace in the old-friendships when the new-ones were going through its troubles, when the new-ones were trying to figure the relationships out. Mostly, and thankfully, as I said in a previous post, we are still our original selves around each-other, no facades, no think-before-you-talk mantras, no hiding stuff because it may be embarrassing. Just our naked personalities.
I can’t wait for Christmas day and our reunion trip to Singapore. As Barney Stinson on How I met your mother would say, It is going to be Legend-wait-for-it-dary!!!!