Y. organised a call with the girls (women?) from our Class 10 batch that she was able to get in touch with, and it was the best thing that has happened to me in months.
I remember these girls in their white school uniforms, pigtails, ribbons, and all; so, when they suddenly pop up on a screen with children of their own, it can be quite disarming. But when the girls-turned-women speak, you realise that the change is mostly physical — deep down, they still nurse those crushes on Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, laugh with their eyes, and brighten up your day. They were the reason school was fun, and they have carried those carefree elements into their sober, grown-up lives (or lives where they pretend to be grown up).
This was one of those rare calls where everybody turned up on time — or a couple of minutes before the call was due to begin. Messages flew back and forth on WhatsApp through the afternoon, as we were excited and grinning all day at the prospect of seeing one another, in some cases, after years. The girls scrambled to put their young kids to bed or thrust them into the arms of an adult in the vicinity (not always successfully, and because I know the children’s mothers, I know why!). For me, it was like being invited to a birthday party and spending the day in anticipation of time with friends. It was a good thing I didn’t have to speak on the work calls that day.
Finally, when we logged in and six faces appeared on the screen, there was a flurry of excited greetings, followed by a long pause as we took everyone in — the loved, familiar faces, only slightly changed with age, and as full of life as they were all those years ago.
When we started talking, we couldn’t stop, of course. Memories came bursting forth from different corners, no sequence or pattern to them — hours spent on the large playground, temperamental teachers, our own shenanigans — and we don’t know where the minutes went. We spoke of nail polish and the favourites we swapped — Elle 18's Icy Cool, Mystic Mauve, Can-Teen, Clueless. We recollected the punugulu at Indira Gandhi Park (which I never tried, so a trip back is in order), the new music teacher whom we bullied mercilessly, the games we played, and the books we read. Aptly, we opened with an incident that was embedded in our memories: one of our friends scribbling a note that described a pentagon as a ‘gun filled with penta (manure in Telugu)’, which riled the Maths teacher so much that he spent the rest of the period matching the ink from different pens to that on the note. We looked back at the time after the last day of each set of exams, when we lolled on the playgrounds with tiffin boxes packed to bursting.
There was a lot we couldn’t cover. There were more people we wanted on the call. But it was a terrific start to what all of us, despite the pull of daily life, hope can be sustained. A few hours every month of being fourteen again can be highly therapeutic.
We tried to speak of the present, but you can only think of the present so much when you are dwelling on school memories after nearly twenty years. The unbridled laughter, the empathy of people who know you inside out, the embarrassment we went through together, brought us closer. It is true that I’ve been the worst at keeping in touch over the years, but I want to turn over a new leaf. Especially if we are going to make things a little lighter for each other, and have more such calls where voices go hoarse with laughter, sleep eludes us, and the next day passes in a pleasant haze. That is an excellent kind of disorientation to have.