Twenty years

The 'search button' in Yahoo Mail can uncover a lot of treasure. I was on the lookout for some email exchange from last year, and stumbled upon this 'email' that I sent to a few friends from school in 2004. I left school in 1984 and felt twenty-years was a milestone in our lives and wrote this reflective piece about what it felt to look back on the past two decades. Since then, I've got in touch with numerous other batchmates, and in fact, two-weeks ago, we had a mini-reunion of sorts at Shada when Gayatri and her two kids visited Bahrain from Philadelphia. And Rajesh, who currently lives in Dubai, phoned me today to say that he is here in Bahrain till Saturday.

There's something about meeting classmates from school that is so different from any other meeting. One can actually be oneself in their company, and no artifice or diplomacy is required. I suppose one cannot because most of them have seen us at our most formative state and have witnessed some of those crucial events: first moustache, first crush, first heartbreak, first exam, first attempt at sports, first everything really.

Twenty years. It has been exactly twenty years since we left school. And what incredible years these have been. A leap from immaturity and brash post-adolescence to creeping middle age. Not a pleasant thought if your memory of those school days is still fresh and vivid, as if it all happened only yesterday.

Those years seem like relics now, a reminder of what we were and can never be again. Our youth in full bloom was eager to take on the whole world and sought more challenges than we could even handle. We were still school kids and we could dream. We lived with our parents and so bread and butter issues were not a priority. Dreams and desires lay before us like goats before a hungry tiger. And we honestly believed that we could realise all that we desired. Reality had not yet crept into our radar screens.

Twenty years ago, we did not mourn saying goodbye to school. We were glad we were getting out of those restrictions and getting rid of the so-called narrow mindedness of some teachers that made some of our lives uncomfortable. Of course, there were some of us who were sad about leaving school – it was the only educational institution that we ever knew. Saying goodbye to all that meant adjusting to a whole new educational environment. It wasn’t that we weren’t sure if we could. We were just not sure if we wanted to.

And, yes, we were sad and pathos coloured the farewell reception the XI standard gave us. As our friends sang, "may God be with you till we meet again", we realised that some of us may never meet each other again. This was the final goodbye. The end. The last opportunity to ever see each other in the flesh. This broke our heart and crushed our spirits because it became painfully clear that lifelong friendships will soon suffer separation. Best friends, tennis partners, football team mates, bum chums, sweethearts, possible spouses, cheating partners, fellow conspirators, bus companions. All of them would soon disappear from our physical space and enter the elusive arena of aerogrammes.

We are now in danger of becoming like our parents and other elders who talk fondly of the "good old days". Strangely, we now understand and fully empathise with our elders’ fondness for nostalgia. Whereas earlier we simply frowned at their stories we now find a kind of kinship in those narratives. We empathise because we understand. We understand because even we do that a lot. And constantly, compare present circumstances with past events and irritate the hell out of those who don’t share our perspective.

We lived in a different world, too. Back then, the "evil empire" still ruled with iron fisted ferocity and the US was the so-called benign alternative.

Today’s unipolar world has forced its own dynamism. Black and white has disappeared into the greys of moral ambiguity and we have nothing to say to the young. Our words do not have the same force as before. We are less passionate and so less convincing. Our passion is gone because we are more realistic now. We call ourselves ‘pragmatic’ because that’s what grown-ups are supposed to be. And today, we are those grown ups.

Some of us have families, some are single, some separated. Some are employed, some have their own business, some doing higher studies, while some are still searching. And some may have also moved on to the Higher Place. . .

We are altogether different creatures than what we were, totally unrecognisable from our earlier persona. But if we look closely enough, we will realise that we are still the same. We haven’t really warped into something else, into something hideously different. We are now nothing but a culmination of what we were: a sum total of all our experiences, circumstances and events. The past is not a mere fossil or a useless footnote for nostalgia buffs. The past is the crucial DNA that has shaped our present. The motivator for what we are now.

Twenty years ago, we left school and a life of relative comfort and ease. But those years haven’t altogether disappeared, they find their echo in the person we have become. They have not only made us what we are, they have defined us. They have shaped our character and given individuality to our personalities.

And the fact that I am able to write to you is proof that our relationships haven’t disappeared into the misty past. We are still able to keep in touch with each other. That alone is the most important thing.

I am not sure how many of us would be around in the next twenty years. To imagine what we would be doing at that point of time is hard to fathom. But I am confident that the foundations that were laid in the past would continue to shape us in the years and years to come.

God be with you till we meet again. Till then, let’s continue keeping in touch.



Anonymous said…
I recently met my classmates and we studied together 23 years back.....
bint battuta said…
That was a beautifully written letter, Ashish.
Manju Nair said…
Ashish..yes those were the days my friend! and aren't you glad one of them who studied with you is here commenting. Ashish there is another side-splitting post of your about some of our teachers....if we didn't respect and like them so much despite all the ribbing..I would all it highly of my favourite emails of yours! :-)M

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