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Those were the days, my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way

La la la la… (Lyrics my Mary Hopkins)

I loved days spent in school. They were so carefree. I had an indifferent academic record through school, with Hindi being my Achilles heel. I experienced no pressure from home to improve my marks or get a rank. My parents were quite chilled in that respect. It’s only when I got to plus 2, that I started to feel the stirrings to do well in academics and then there was no looking back.

So what do you do when there are no academic pressures. What else would a carefree child do – Just have fun! I recall most of my time was spent cycling to several of my friends place. There we would play cricket, with all the neighbourhood children and time would just fly. Occasionally a kind parent would send down evenings snacks which were hurriedly gobbled.

Once I landed at a friend’s place. He was a young Sikh. I knocked on the door and waited. His sister opened the door. Her hair all wet and flowing down her shoulder. She looked at me and smiled cheerfully. I felt very awkward and muttered that I had come to see Raja her brother. She burst out in laughter and I felt myself getting even more ruffled every second. Then from behind Raja’s mother came to the door, and she said to her mom, that I had come to see Raja. They now both laughed uncontrollably. It was only then that I realised that this ‘girl’ was actually Raja himself. We still often meet and recall this incident. How hilarious it all seems now.

Then there was that awkward moment when three friends went across to a friend’s birthday party. He had asked us to bring along some music to play at the party, so I carried my brother LP’s (Vinyl Records) to the party. Everyone thought we had brought this as a birthday present for him (can you believe we had not brought along a gift) and it was so embarrassing at the end of the party to ask for the records to carry back home. Today, I would never go anywhere without carrying a gift!

Or this horrible moment, when I was asked to place a chit inside a text book of a girl at school, whom my friend secretly doted, and we watched with horror when the text book was borrowed by her friend for the day. I remember that long evening both of us pacing the terrace of my house on Park Street imagining multiple scenarios that would play out the next day at school. I never saw a young man in so much agony, and never could there be a more loyal friend (me) in that momentous crisis, repeating stupidly, ‘Everything is going to be alright’. We invoked existence to come to his rescue, hoping the text book would come back unread, (the chit unseen), and then we grappled with the question how would we extricate the note.

Or the time I was acting in a lead role in a school play, and my ‘spouse’ in the play happened to be the girlfriend of Altash, with whom I did not have a good relationship. In the play, our ‘son’ comes back from the grave (upon a wish made by his mother) after 14 days. He is heard knocking on the door, and the sound grows stronger and more chilling. As part of the play, I am supposed to grab my ‘spouse’ wrist and hold her back from rushing to the door, as I fear the worst. The thing is, I was so into my role, so fully into it, that it seemed impossible for me to lightly hold her wrist. My own intensity caused me to tighten my hold on her wrist each time we practiced, and she howled in pain. Altash who was a regular bystander in our rehearsals was all to ready to land a few blows to my face. He assumed I was doing this on purpose, and saw no excuse for my continuing to hurt her, despite several warnings. Even today I enjoy acting and I really don’t need much stimuli for actual tears to start rolling down my cheeks.

Then there was a time when a few of the girls going back home from school were regularly teased by a few boys on bikes. Without letting the school know a few of us boys (in misplaced bravery) decided to carry our hockey sticks to school the next day and wait for the girls to be teased again on the road. The cyclists never showed up, but our headmistress got to hear about us armed with hockey sticks and came out to see what was happening and caught us red-handed, all armed to the teeth. We were all trooped in the next day to her room and given a dressing down. Did we realise what we were trying to do? Months later during the annual school function, I was awarded a ‘loyalty’ medal for that foolish act of bravery.

Ah, I could go on, but I recognise I could be embarrassing many of my school friends, so I will stop here. I will end with a lovely song Lulu sang titled, ‘To Sir, with Love’ to help us acknowledge a mentor who deeply influenced our lives when we were young.

Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone

But in my mind I know they will still live on and on

But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?

It isn’t easy, but I’ll try

If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters

That would soar a thousand feet high ‘To Sir, With Love’

The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end

And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend

A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong

That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start

But I would rather you let me give my heart ‘To Sir, With Love’

Do share what childhood memory this narrative has evoked in you? Do you have a story to share. Would you let us walk with you down memory lane?

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