The responsibility of being young

Recently, on February 18, I was invited to be the guest of honour at the 168th Founders Day of my alma mater, Bombay Scottish School, with strict instructions from the principal not to narrate instances of ‘my masti’ while I was in school, but to inspire 3,000 children from Standards I–XII. As I walked in at 8 am sharp for the morning assembly, which was held over the vast expanse of the football field, I was escorted by the principal onto a makeshift stage, amidst a drum roll of the school band, with sprightly students in navy-blue coats leading the procession with clockwork precision.

The reverend started the service with a word of prayer, which slowly progressed to becoming a sentence, and then a paragraph, and then many paragraphs. It made me nervous to see little five and six-year-olds yawning and swaying gently in the morning breeze, and some even collapsing after bouts of vomiting as their class teachers gently escorted them off the field.

 

I was introduced by the school head coordinator, who used to be my math teacher. She had memories of me as a three-year-old with the vocabulary of a 30-year-old. My flowery language in school could easily be blamed on my Parsi genes, of course.

 

And as she went on listing out my accomplishments, both academic and punishable alike, some more of the young ones began to give way in the heat. Even when we had prayers in our assembly, this was a regular occurrence. As we sang ’Our Father in heaven’, the person next to us would suddenly disappear.

 

Being back at school was like taking a ride in an open-top tourist bus inside my head, passing monument after monument of memories and roguish delights of a childhood so precious, I’d have given anything on that day to take one last ride back once again!

 

As one grows old and goes through college, then post-graduation, and then from one high-flying job to another, gets married and has children, the memories that remain most deeply engrained in one’s soul are those from school—especially if you kept getting into trouble like I did. I saw my parents more often in school than I saw them at home. My principal knew my mother’s number by heart and my father had saved his name as ‘Do Not Disturb’ on his phone.  My mom sometimes accompanied me in the morning school bus itself, knowing she’d have to come in sometime later in the day.

 

Time has a funny way of collapsing when you go back to a place you once loved. You find yourself thinking: that’s where I sat, that’s where we played ‘hitti-kitty’ and basketball, this is where we romanced, or this is where we were made to kneel down (not in prayer). We didn’t realise we were making memories… we were just having fun. Besides a few new constructions, the place hadn’t changed so terribly much, and so, by an extension of logic, we must not have changed much either—except for the fact that most of us have now grown a bedazzling belly and lost our handsome hair—but nothing makes you feel younger than being with those who knew you when you were young.

 

My school gave me an all-round development, curricular and extracurricular. Educationally, it was difficult for me grasp what was being taught in class because most of the time I was made to stand outside of it. Now I believe the rules have changed. School kids today are disciplined by simply a stern look rather than a ruler or duster or multicoloured pieces of chalk that we had to dodge if we weren’t being attentive. That being said, we did study quite hard, and I usually got a rank of 7–10 in class. My parents told me not to worry about grades and that what really mattered was that I enjoyed learning. I only understand the relevance of that statement today.

 

I was also lucky to be part of the school football and cricket team, but due to my size and lack of agility, I was always the 12th man. At least that was good enough to bunk class! In addition, I was part of the school band, only because I was the only one who could carry that huge bass drum on my broad shoulders. And I was always involved in dramatics, having mastered my craft with several visits to the principal’s office, for I have done it all: hung off the outside of my school bus to retrieve a tiffin box, sat in the driver’s seat and started up the school bus in an act of rebellion for being punished for my previous misdeed… it indeed was a vicious circle.

 

While I was never serious in school, I was always sincere. I had a sincere girlfriend. I sincerely got my friends to complete writing my journals for me. I sincerely used to finish other peoples dabbas. My class teacher once wrote this remark to my parents in my diary: “Please make sure Mazda brings his own food, as he keeps finishing food belonging to other students.” Being the Parsi Mother my mom is, after this, my school bag only had food in it, no books!

 

Our teachers were stern with us, yet gentle. We could discuss all our problems with them. In my case, they discussed them with me before I could discuss it with them. While they disciplined us, they took care of us, and it is because of their upbringing that we are what we are today. I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude towards all my teachers. To all those who have taught me to live well, I salute you. I understand that we aren’t as famous as Aamir Khan, John Abraham or Hrithik Roshan (all ex-students from Scottish) but then again, science has it limits. However, as Albert Einstein once said, “Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.” Despite having achieved so much, our only claim to fame is that Ranbir Kapoor was one year junior to us in school.

 

The other thing about school is that it gives you best friends for life. College will not do this, your job will not do this, and travel will not do this. We’ve been lucky to have been friends when apple and blackberries were just fruits, before Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. These social networks will come and go but THIS social network, the one that school has bonded together, will stand the test of time and distance. It will surpass boundaries of space and the universe. It was in school that I learnt one of life’s greatest lessons: to cherish one’s friendships above all else.

 

It will soon be time for my little one to start school, and I wish her a childhood as colourful as my own. And to her teachers, I caution: I will, with no holds barred, teach my children the importance of mischief and the responsibility of being young!