There are altogether too many people who mistake their imagination for their memory. Do we not have a tendency to view the past with a tinted vision that is certain to conjure up images far better than what the reality was? Or maybe, far worse than the reality? It’s hard to tell for sure unless you have the chance to revisit the past and live it again through the vicarious eyes of an outsider, almost as if all were an out-of-body experience. And all of a sudden, you can feel the pieces fall into place with a precise clarity.
I had just such an opportunity recently when a very old friend of mine came visiting. Even before he had left Calcutta, he elicited from me the promise of taking a trip up to our old school. Sanawar. And even though I wasn’t too excited at the prospect of going back up the hills, I couldn’t bear to dampen his ardour. But, truth be told, even I was a little pleased to go back to school with someone whom I had shared a lot of its joys and tribulations with.
And so it was that a bright Saturday morning saw us set off for Sanawar. The gibberish that nostalgia evokes had started the night before-the food, the clothes, the studies, the dorms and, of course, the girls- we went through the entire gamut of experiences which for us symbolised our years at that little hilltop. Wherever one of us ran out of conversation, the other would pipe in with a forgotten anecdote and soon, the conversation would become animated again. Smuggling chapattis out of the dining hall to use as a midnight snack with ghee, lighting a paper bag full of monkey-shit outside the housemasters door and watching him try to stomp it out, sharing a single packet of uncooked Maggi among 5 friends, signing up for boxing to impress your latest crush and getting hammered senseless in the ring ! Many, many memories of a carefree and innocent time- a time gone by, never to return.
And right when we reached the last bend short of school, some more memories kicked in-the hockey sticks raining on our backsides, the rotten food, getting beaten up over a pack of biscuits, early morning runs and late night errands and the ubiquitous homesickness. Maybe it was the nostalgia and the fact that we were finally out of school that made it possible for us to reminisce so fondly about it. For while we were there, there was many an occasion when we would have given just about anything to exchange places with the millions of kids who went to school just for classes and then went back to the warmth of a homestead-while we rubbed our sore posteriors and put up a brave face for the world, frightened and forlorn as we were from within.
At almost the same instant, the same question crossed both our minds-what did we miss so much about Sanawar when there were clearly so many bad memories attached to it too? Getting kicked around, polishing shoes for our seniors, getting a fresh change of uniform only after 4 days, spending the bulk of our 50 rupees worth of weekly pocket-money on seniors? Was this the life that we missed? Driving past the school gates and towards our dorms gave us time to mull over this question.
As we drove onwards, every bend in the road, every tree and every building seemed to smile at us in welcome. A smile that could be shared only between those who had lived together, shared joys and sorrows, been there for each other. We drove past the nooks which cloaked us when we wanted to sob after a particularly bad beating, the staircase from atop which we yelled out our triumphs, the pavement that still resonated with the chatter of our adolescent dreams. And by the time we reached our dorms and stood before the nameplate proudly proclaiming the name of our house, the truth had sunk in with an unmistakeable clarity.
We missed Sanawar and remembered it fondly because regardless of our experiences, good or bad, this was the place that had made us who we were. This was home for 8 months every year and even your fiercest rival was in truth your best friend. We certainly did get a bundle of agony and anguish along the way but it was also the place where every success was yours and yours alone-you had earned it and could relish it as you chose. We were the masters of our destiny, independent and untrammelled in the vista of choices that lay before us. And although an aeon had gone by since we passed out of its portals, there wasn’t the slightest doubt that we could never have been even a pale shadow of our selves without this very special entity in our lives. The entity that gave us the benefit of its own form of disinterested guardianship and moulded our fledgling forms in the brand of its legacy.
And that seems to be true of life too. It is surprising how much of remembrances are built around things unnoticed at the time. Yet, the slightest moment of reflection would reveal that things were never as bad as we today accuse them of being nor as good as we so wistfully remember them to be. Most of the time, they were just the right blend of bitter-sweet occurrences. And together, they have given us the moments that we remember as our life thus far. The life that has made us what we are today. And the life that we choose to make of it from this day forth.
“Life is whatever you want to remember of it”