5 Things you will NEVER forget if you EVER went to a Convent school

Before you start reading, if you were born in the 80s and went to a convent, raise your hands and say “Hell Yeah”, or more appropriately “Hail Mary.” If you didn’t, no need to feel left out. You were tortured by other adults who were not being stern (out of and) in a habit.

Even though I left a home away from home in the hill convent school more than a decade ago, here are some things that follow me around.

1. Lift Your Feet and Walk

When I see or more likely hear people shuffling about, it makes me want to stop them in their track and correct them. But I don’t, for my own good.

2. Cry for Christ

This one was left unsaid, but after reading enough pamphlets on Christ’s life and bawling at the crucifixion scene in a movie at the school theater, you’re always in readiness to cry some more.

3. Graveyard Gossip

As you must be aware, all Convents are built on a graveyard. No, seriously. A silent windy night, a back-lit statue of the Virgin Mary visible from the dormitory corridor and the glistening graveyard white is sure to make you feel like an extra on ‘Blair Witch Project’ (there weren’t any. and there was no ghost. or else, you’re it.)

4. The Forever Two Minute Meal

When you’ve got a nun parading behind you while you eat the daal-with-no-grains you learn to go faster. My personal best was going from a two hour lunch routine, which involved sitting alone at the table and looking on at nothing in particular in 1990s PC (Pre-Convent) to now eating before you can say “What’s that on your plate?”. Its fun, do try it at home.

5. Cursive is King

At and after a convent school you might begin to think that people who cannot form a word by joining letters together should be shipped to another planet. It might not be so bad. They’ll take your husband away (him with the left slant and floating letters that only martians can possibly perfect). Plus the written world will look pretty and who minds that.

Life within the walls of a Convent bears little resemblance to the world outside.

In your first years ‘on the other side’, you think everyone else needs to be “disciplined”. It’s only later that it dawns on you that the ‘cloistered’ convent taught you a language of life that is stuck in 1885. But you learn to roll with it, keeping your Nun avatar in check, but not without saying a shortened version of Our Father in Heaven for the souls of errant beings.


Feasting on Friendship

Last Sunday, a dear friend and I met for lunch. Although we live less than ten kilometers from each other, we meet less than five times a year. Our last rendezvous was at a breakfast event earlier this year, which she was hosting. In between entertaining others and keeping things in check, we hardly got the time to ‘catch up’.

So this time, there was a lot we had to fill each other on, mostly her trials at running her own business, interpreting mixed signals from a certain gentleman of interest, dealing with her supportive but anxious parents with regard to her 30-year-old unmarried status and mutual exclamations at the horrors being inflicted by our ex-boss at a company we began working for right out of graduate school.

If I had to pick a best friend (among women), she would be it. In addition to being classmates at college, we had found a common interest, namely, commuting from the same location to our classroom nearly 20 kilometers away. When I wasn’t playing (and praying for) the empty bus lottery, I would hitch a ride in her cantankerous white car. Our adventures in that disheveled beast included water puddles at our feet from the leaky roof, lizards resting behind the steering wheel and a disruption in our philosophical ramblings by the sudden demise of the engine on a highway stretch with no help. The final straw was the shocking disappearance of that crippled metal mass from outside the office where we had begun our journey together into paid labor. The car was finally retrieved but by then my friend had fallen out of love with it. She gave it away to the plumber and got a swifter ride. And it has been so long since the fateful day that even the second car is being done in for a fancier ride this October.

Lunch at Cafe LotaShe and I were born in the same year, nineteen days apart. Being zodiac twins meant that over the years we had shared horoscope defined drivel that was supposed to explain our lives. To no one’s surprise, it never did. As we dug into a steaming Vegetable Stew with Appam and an aubergine curd dish with parathas, the conversation veered towards our present lives that couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Even though we spent two years at our first job together, the ensuing joys and sorrows have been uniquely our own. And yet we have been few dialed numbers away, hers being among the few that have been imprinted in my mind, unmarred by memories going digital.

Even though we haven’t been very regular with our correspondence, we ease into it when we do meet. There are no shields, pretenses or hidden cobwebs. It’s confession closet and more.

Nothing compares of course to the one time she called, nearly three years ago after a very long gap.

“Heyyyy (the long drawl is a must for our greeting)! How’ve you been? Lets meet soon. It’s been forever.”

The usual drill is for us to decide time and place, dependent mostly on which new restaurant we want to try, and then we meet soon after. This one time however, when she called I was lying flat on my back having given birth to my little girl a few hours before.

“Dude, you are not going to believe this, but I’ve just had a baby. So, yeah let’s meet soon. Come to the hospital maybe?”

And then we laughed and laughed.

Apple Jalebi at Cafe LotaSince then we’ve met several times, always with the little girl who addresses my friend as her own while distinct aromas pepper our ramblings. This time they posed and paired and shared a meal. And we parted having amassed stories until next time and after discovering that I could enjoy a sugary apple treat (with the right company) even if I’d never given it half a chance before.

For all our feelings of sisterhood, when we meet or call each other to spill all, there are portions of each other’s lives we’ve narrowly missed. That is the shape of things with us and this is how I know we’ll always be; without ceremonious chatter or forced smiles, but almost always with savory bites and hungry ears, waiting to devour the tales of lost time.


Lets (R)ewind

Reunions are always fun. People have always become more/less pretty, fat, dumb, rich. And if they haven’t changed at all its the worst thing that could’ve happened to them. After the usual “Oh my god look at you”, there’s the catching up to do. I’m working here, living there, buying that house, that one’s getting married, having a baby, etcetra. Of course if you’re at somebody else’s reunion, things are a wee bit different.

You can put faces to the names you’ve heard. So that’s the host whose parents are out of town, the couple who’re leaving to get educated, the guy who married his college batch-mate, the girl who is way overdressed for the party (and whose name your husband who went to school with her can’t remember), the girl who’s that girl on TV’s sister (oh okay), the guy who asks how you met (whose surname is all you hear anyone using since his first name has been forgotten), the guy just out of hospital who has given up smoking and can’t stop talking about it and the girl your husband had a crush on at school.

When its not your reunion you’re very aware of it, from sitting on the side, smiling at others’ jokes and memories, but mostly from the overwhelming feeling of missing your friends.

When was the last time all of us were together, pulling each other’s leg, dancing like maniacs, cracking the silliest jokes, making fun of others, drinking till someone puked, singing songs till voices went hoarse and saying goodbye vouching to repeat all this soon (but never managing to).

Most of us have moved away, started our lives elsewhere, made new friends. And yet the years we spent together would always connect us. Across time, cities, even oceans (if need be). And when we find ourselves at reunions (ours or somebody else’s), there will always be a smile for that day, stories of how life has been and memories from long ago.


(M)elody Moods

Haunting tunes of old Hindi music. Poetry set to melodies that mingle with countless emotions in one’s head. Some tragic, some too real to ignore. Yearning for those absent. Waiting for life to begin.

And then there’s the overwhelming indescribable feeling…Sadness? Love? Nostalgia? Who knows.

Memories float in the air, mixed with images of the times to come. The intangible. The unknown.

Songs bring forth thoughts, all but mundane. The playlist, as if by design, reflecting the highs and lows of one’s emotional trajectory through life.

And soon enough its all over…the feeling, the train of thought, the acute sense of the past, present and future.

All that remains is the tune, reminding one of nothing more than music itself. And with that one rests, knowing it shall all happen again.

They say it about love, but its just as true for melodies.

If music gets you to it, music will get you through it.


Cleaning Up My (H)ead, One Room At a Time

There are very few things about interior arrangements that I take seriously. But one that I religiously believe in is that your living space (whether office desk or bedroom) should be free of clutter. Because things piling up around you somehow begin to create unmanageable piles of nothings in your head. So every now and then I have a de-cluttering attack and today seemed like a good day to suffer from it.

There I was among a pile of things that had begun to live together without disturbance. Today I was going to disturb this house of the rising junk. Newpaper clippings that were four years old. ID cards that carried passport pictures of someone who looked like me.

Diving into the piles of things (many of which beg the question: What was I thinking when I kept them so long), I found some things I had forgotten about.

The more than 16 cards I got on my 16th birthday, from people, some of whom (okay most of whom) I have no connection with at present.

The belated birthday card hand drawn for ‘Dear Mumma’ (Man oh Man I could draw and colour with perfection).

A polaroid picture of mom and me having coconut water at the beach in Bombay . The camera we had wasn’t working and we had no pictures of that trip (which was our first to the city). So going all out and doing the touristy thing we thought one picture would suffice to sum up our trip. Now it hangs beside a chidhood picture where mom and I are looking heavenwards (actually at a lizard on the wall) and dad clicked.

Guess what else I found and have enjoyed ‘reading’ the past few minutes. Slam books (remember those?!). For the uninitiated, these were snippets of useless things we wrote about ourselves for the benefit of our friends. I found some prize-winning things in them. For instance, in “Lines for me” a friend had written “Hazel eyed idiot”, another thought I was “a waste of good protoplasm”. That stands out among the humdrum “You’re sweet and generous and a great friend”. Blah Blah Blah.

I noted that very few of the friends have actually become what they fantasized about as a career back then (Or atleast thought fashionable enough to write in a teenage tell-all diary).

Elsewhere, in an ‘Autographs book’ one had made spaces for everyone to write notes to yours truly. So pages were reserved for Grandma, Dad, Mom, Brother etc. The space reserved for younger brother has an arrow pointing to his name and states in my handwriting “You’re a fool”. Now that all those years of screaming and hitting are over, one can just smile at memories of us being enemy number one to each other.

The de-clutter my space expedition was certainly worth the toil. Now I’m waiting for the positive effects of the same on my mind. If only things worked as plainly with respect to the latter. Things your better judgement tells you to discard often stay rooted and things of utmost importance are lost somewhere behind the piles of everyday life.

As my eyes scan the perfection that is my room, I know there’s hope for the mind. And there’s no sleeve-rolling expedition required. Just a recognition of the perils of singing junkyard blues in one’s head.


A Class Apart

If you must run into someone from your past it better not be your Physics teacher. At least it better not be my Physics teacher. She and I only agreed to disagree. Of course if you’re standing in the Men’s section of a clothing store giving your opinion on something that in all likelihood is going home in the backseat of the car with you and your man, then there is no one better to run into than your middle school English teacher.

Ah those glorious days when all English teachers loved me and there was no one else I’d rather meet at a PTA. Now after all these years I recognized my past perfect teacher in a glance but stepped in front and politely put her name in with that all important question mark in the end. She smiled that smile from years ago and there was all the catching up to do. Not that I’ve invented anything since I last met her but there was the obvious recap. To my “And you’re still at school?” she replied “Once a teacher always a teacher”. (I decided not to break the moment up with examples of teachers-turned-something-else). So after I had said all I could given the lost time of the past years she wished me the best (while I swallowed the “Ma’am are you on Facebook?” question) and I got back to the good trouser-bad trouser game.

Over the years there have been so many types of teachers in my life that I could make a not so subtle version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly about my relationship with them. And when I look back there’s no doubt about who I’d rather run into. There’s my first class teacher in boarding school or any of the English teachers over the years or perhaps the man whom I gifted a copy of To Sir with Love (with a special note), not knowing a better way to say thank you.

What’s common among the teachers I miss is that in some way they shaped who I am. Amidst all the confusion of growing up and learning new (and often) un-exciting things, there were those who stirred my mind with ideas that went beyond classrooms and textbooks.

Lectures were always of two types: the ones I ran away from (given half the chance) and those I ran to. The former were presided over by those to whom I’d dedicate Another Brick in the Wall. The latter were given by people I’d be more than glad to run into years later, especially when I’m trying hard to steer clear of dark sarcasm and thought control in the Men’s section of a clothing store.


In Search of Lost Time

Some stories are supposed to be funny, even if they don’t start out that way.

An early childhood image that often plays in my mind is my mother taking a whole bunch of kids on a picnic by the stream. This was in Himachal. I can’t be certain whether I’ve recreated this image after looking through pictures or it always existed within the dusty folds of my memory box. A permanent fixture in all play-time pictures (and memories) from that time is – let’s call him – Nikhil. He was short, (-er than me), fair, chubby, the sort of kid whose cheeks would tempt you. And he was my best friend.

picnicWhen we weren’t playing by the river, he could be found pulling my fake long hair as we played a couple at a fancy dress in traditional Indian dress, or pretend to be a photographer at my theme party when I wore roses in my hair.

And like all best friends we had our secret. Sometimes when we were alone, I would lie down near the bed (his place or mine), lift my shirt (only a little) and he would make patterns on it using the colorful pieces that actually belonged on top of a black board. Even as curious five year olds, we seemed to be aware of this being something we weren’t supposed to do. It thrilled us to bits.

Then the inevitable happened. Our parents decided to uproot us ‘in search of a better life’. I don’t remember whether his family left before ours. Neither do I recall any tearful goodbyes. We moved to a new place and new friendships were established.

I would soon be packed up for boarding school but some time in the interim, we went to visit Nikhil’s family in Delhi. He now had a baby brother. The only image from that visit is Nikhil and I sneaking under the bed, on which his little brother lay wailing, trying to recreate the thrills from our earlier game. Amidst countless giggles we found a way to enjoy lost time.

Fast-forward to thirteen. I was every bit the teenager with one discarded crush and a new one on the horizon. Life was looking up on the excitement quotient when I was informed that we would soon be visiting Nikhil’s family, who now lived in a nearby region of the national capital. This upcoming visit held countless possibilities. My childhood friend and I were now teenagers. Guilty secrets and games of the past could now be taken to a whole new level. And what a story it would be, albeit clichéd to death on screen.

My heart was pounding as we stepped out of the car and made our way up in the elevator. I tried to calm myself. For all I knew, he may not even be at home. My parents hadn’t exactly specified anything so it was possible.

My father pressed the bell and I stood beside him staring at the dark brown door. I had been smiling in my head all this time.

Finally the door opened, after what seemed like forever. And there he was. The male lead in what would be the amazing story we would tell everyone before they went all ‘awww’ on us. I hadn’t gone on to imagine telling it to our children, but they were probably out playing in the garden in my head.

He was (still) short, chubby and possibly fair. I wasn’t sure about the latter because his face was lost among a jungle of dark hair.

I was heartbroken, in the foolish way that good girls with bad dreams often are. I should have known better. How different could he have been from his childhood frame? And yet I wanted him to be something else, something that could bring on the butterflies, something I could have kissed behind a curtain, but mostly something that would make a good story.

We sat across from each other in the living room without saying a word. We had nothing we wanted to say to each other, not even trite statements about school or the weather. Perhaps this was the worst of all. Not growing up to be lovers was one thing, but being so distant was just sad.

We drove back and after relating the incident to my then best friend from school, I forgot all about Nikhil.

Until last November.

My once-best-friend-turned-stranger was getting married.

Ordinarily, I would pass up such non-events. But there were some reasons this could be done:

·         It was a reception the day after the wedding, so things would move faster

·         The venue was at a fairly decent place that was close to home

·         It was on a Sunday

·         And maybe I wanted to see how bad the years had been to Nikhil

So I went, with my parents and my fifteen month daughter in arm. As we made our way to the stage to congratulate the couple and the family, I caught a glimpse of Nikhil, beaming beside his bride. It was flashback ’89. He looked exactly like he did in our pictures from so long ago. Without knowing why, I began to laugh. I just looked at him and laughed, for the innocence of our childhood, the stupidity of my teenage self and the (possible) wisdom of youth.

As my father stepped in front of Nikhil, he looked confused, as all grooms do after greeting a countless array of faces with no end in sight. His father jumped in and in his inimitable style (he was the host of many a tambola night years before) said,

“Arrey, yeh S—– ke papa” (Hey, that’s S—- father).

The bride looked confused (and possibly murderous under her makeup) as to who this girl was. Like many a dutiful parent who embarrass their children to the best of their ability, her father-in-law explained, “There are countless pictures of S—- and Nikhil playing together as kids.”

Perhaps Nikhil’s wife was relieved to see my daughter. She made a polite “adorable” comment before we stepped off the stage.

I was still smiling as I ate junk without guilt and followed my daughter’s footsteps around the wedding venue. I was smiling for Nikhil and Upasana, for my carefree childhood, for my teen prejudices, for being old enough to have a daughter and for the stories that stay locked in, till their time comes.