Transience- Tales from school

Apartheid; I read it again and it reads ‘Apartheid’. I don’t know what it means. I remember reading it in my social science textbook in class 10. I remember the word being thrown in a number of answers in school. I remember a teacher repeatedly explaining what it means and I remember thinking that given the frequency with which the word is brought up in this class it will take some hard work unlearning this. However, here I am, having completely forgotten the meaning of Apartheid.

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I remember having participated in an inter school competition in class 11th. I was sitting in the waiting area with my team when a girl walked over and beamed- yes, literally beamed- at me. She was a friend from my science tuition in 10th. She hugged me and said, ‘Milna nahi hota kya’. I remember feeling warm in that cold foyer. I remember feeling welcome. I remember making a mental assertion that welcomes ought to be this affable, not any less. However, here I am having lost her and  her warmheartedness over the years.

In that very competition, there was a quiz round where in my desperation to win home a few points, I had given two extremely foolish answers. I remember growing red in embarrassment at the sheer stupidity of the words that had escaped my mouth. I had a ‘Sita’ moment, that is, all I wanted was for the earth to break upon so that I could rest inside its folds. However, here I am having forgotten that quiz, those answers and the desire to disappear over the years.

Once in class 7, I had stained my skirt on the second day of my period. The teacher who noticed it behaved as if she had never witnessed anything close to a period. Everyone in my class looked at me with an other worldly expression. I felt stung that day. However, here I am , having completely moved over that emotion.

I had moved to a different school in class 4. I was a quiet kid and I still am, meaning which seldom did I take initiative to participate in class discussions or in interacting with my classmates or a teacher. Often, my teachers would show surprise on how someone with such little zeal in class could score so well. My science teacher in class 5- who taught me Chemistry through the next six years- took special interest in me. She would constantly nudge me to answer in the class or pick a conversation with me or ask me for my notebook which no other teacher has done in my life. I always believed that I shall remain in touch with her. Maybe, I am too lousy at sustaining long term contacts or maybe I am incompetent in conveying my emotions – both the quantum and the content- to others, so here I am, not having talked to this teacher for for a good five years now.

I used to have a best friend in school. I called it quits with her in class 11. It felt how adults feel when they walk out of relationships. It happened because she never meant well or she never meant as well as she tried portraying. At that point in time, I had come to believe that I will never be able to trust another person, their words and their intentions. However, here I am, having set aside those beliefs and having fostered deeper connections in the aftermath.

In English, we were once taught a chapter called ‘The Address’, where a World War II survivor visits her former neighbor- who her mother had trusted with their belongings. However on coming across the artifacts , the cutlery in that cramped, strange environment she finds them alien. So she leaves the house abruptly and resolves to never see them again. I had written a short note on the story, trying to rationalize the myriad of emotions that take hold of the protagonist in that house. That answer was dear to me at that time. However, here I am, reading it again and again, but it just doesn’t appeal to me now. I stand as disassociated with the answer as Marga was in ‘The Address’.

You may wonder, why am I writing of all these long forgotten instances from school; only to bring home the point- that everything passes, whether good or bad, whether dear or heart wrenching, everything in our lives fades, first out of sight and then out of memory. As we make space for newer experiences and newer beliefs (and newer words) in life everything from our past grows smaller and smaller. Things in life have a shelf life and come to think of it, howsoever despondent my present seems to me presently, this too shall pass, soon.

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These days, I am trying to be solicit hope, be it in positive experiences or in an odd trail of thoughts, like this one.

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Of stories and school trips

It was September 2009. I was in Manali on a school trip. I had contracted cold as soon as I had set foot in Manali or to be more accurate, as soon as the wheels of the bus had impressed upon the first skid mark on Manali. I had a strong urge to lie in the bed for the day sunk deep in the embrace of quilts. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been a bad choice because facing the bed was a wall sized window that looked out to deodar trees and mountains. That is the kind of view that complements being ill and being in bed, being in bed and reading, reading and drinking copious amounts of coffee. But sadly school trips don’t function that way and even if they did, I did not have uninhibited access to neither coffee nor novels on that trip. So I had walked from my hotel, along with many other students, to the mall road and then to the Hidimba temple and then to the Mall Road again.  I don’t remember much about the day except that there was a lot of walking. When your body is functioning on a Paracetamol, your natural instinct on being welcomed by the insides of your hotel room is to hop onto the bed and call it a day. And I had decided to do just that.

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We were eight in an enormous room; enormous because it had two rooms joined by a common sitting area for two. It was a colossal space and hence that evening witnessed a lot of frantic walking from one room to another. Like every huge group, even ours had a tendency to break into smaller fractions, fractions that could be spotted nestled in different corners of the room voicing their concerns or their discontentment over the day and the trip and their companions. Caught between the movements and the whispering sounds, I failed to fall asleep.

Those were the pre Zindagi na Milegi Dobara and Queen ages. The times before spontaneous backpacking trips, adventure sports and impromptu visits to little known places had come to define fun in our lives. Our idea of fun was centered around singing our throats out, playing cards, playing truth and dare, having conversations about paranormal activities while continuously fueling our bodies with chips and coke. We wanted to make it a fun night but we had already had exhausted our avenues of fun on the previous nights. The thing about fun is that there has to be a newness to it, a certain element of surprise, an element of thrill that makes you skeptical to opt for it and leaves you exhilarated at the culmination of it.  But we had no such ideas, so all of us sat on the bed and started talking in the hope of stumbling upon an interesting idea. With zero ideas ahead of us, I proposed narrating the story of a novel I had read that summer.

It was about a young girl who had made the move from Phoenix to Forks. Phoenix was sun, light and warmth but Forks is darkness, rains and cold. The girl abhors the latter three. It was about the girl’s fascination with a young boy at her school who was quiet and kept to himself. He moved in a group at school, a group that comprised of his other four siblings and was never seen socializing with someone other than the family. It was about his evident discomfort around her. It was her bafflement at his irrational hostility. It was about their conscious attempts to stay out of each other’s way. It was about the intersection of their paths at every juncture. It was about wanting to grow apart but ending up being more drawn to each other. It was Twilight.

I had narrated every episode of the book to them- of them becoming lab partners, of the fury that reflected in Edward’s eyes, of his composed demeanor the next time in class and the changed colors of his iris, of blood typing, her nausea at the sight and smell of blood and his attempts at avoiding it as well, of him leaping in to save her from the speeding car in the parking area, of him protecting her from lewd men in Seattle and his uncontrolled rage at them, of Bella recognizing Edward as the cold one, of her confronting him about being a vampire, of his acceptance, of his expectation for her to withdraw, of her determination to not alienate him and of them falling in love.

I had spoken for an hour before I paused to drink water. Nobody had inched the slightest from their place nor had they uttered a single word during that hour. As I sipped on to the water, I contemplated if they were liking the story or not. I have this weird habit that once I begin recounting a story, I immerse into it so deeply that I turn oblivious to my surroundings. My concern was if I had failed in registering their disinterest towards the story. So I popped the question, ‘do you want me to continue or else we can quit this and think of another idea for tonight’. They had outrage painted on their faces and insisted that I continue the story. Hence I obliged and that was a ‘fun’ night. Because they wanted me to tell them about New Moon, because they could not quit talking about Bella and Edward, the charming Edward, because they wanted to watch the movie next and because I had forgotten about the Paracetamol, the dizzy head, the tired legs and the tingling sensation in the throat. Because we were all thrilled in our own way.

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That was the night when I had realized my interest in narrating stories to people. I had always been the story teller, whether it was a television show or movie or a book, I loved delivering a word by word, emotion by emotion description of it. And I have the skill of holding an audience, of keeping them engaged in the narrative. I always joke that if I live past sixty, I would want grandchildren, a lot of them, which is strange because I don’t see myself wanting to have kids in the first place. But I always foresee my old age circled with kids enthusiastically listening to all the stories that I have to offer.

Why am I talking about this today? Because every morning when I take the stairs to my office, I do a quick brainstorming session of all the alternative means of livelihood than what I am doing right now. Among other options, I decided that one of these days, I am going to sit under a banyan tree and narrate stories to people in lieu of money, akin to the character Piyush Mishra played in Tamasha. All that I have to do is go on reading incessantly so that I never run out of tales and then eventually make them reach a larger audience. Because not everybody enjoys reading, some people appreciate stories being read out to them and I can build a life on that. Someday, someday maybe.