Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life In A Metro — Back To School After 25 Years

Why nostalgia may not always be a good thing

It feels as if I never left school or the neighbourhood I grew up in, even though more than two decades have passed since I left both. Every now and then, during the past few weeks, the screen of my laptop turns into a mirror in which I see myself sitting obediently in the classroom or playing cricket in the neighbourhood playground that nourished me as a boy. The reason: Facebook.

Sometime ago, an enterprising senior started a Facebook page for our school; and even though I already had many of my classmates on my list of friends, the new page opened the floodgates. People I had forgotten all about, people I thought I would never see again, people I was eagerly searching for, people I idolised, people I didn't look forward to seeing again – they all came rushing in to the Facebook page with a collective cry of joy, exactly the way we rushed out to the school playground at the sound of the bell. Overnight, the page had close to a 1,000 members.

After the initial joy of seeing the all-too-familiar names came a series of grim realisations. Realisation no. 1: how much time has passed since we last saw each other! Two-and-a-half decades is a long, long time. And there was no escaping this fact since there was pictorial evidence. Young men, who barely had beards sprouting from their chins when I last saw them, now looked like what their fathers looked like back then. They are the new ‘uncles' – who now have children as old as we were then.

Even the women – I mean the girls – had changed beyond recognition – not to mention their changed surnames. When I was 15, I had a serious crush on a girl called Payal Gupta (name changed, as journalists often say), but after I left school, I never saw her again. When Facebook – the ultimate missing-persons locator – arrived a few years ago, I searched for her. I came across many Payal Guptas, many prettier than her, but not her. Then the other day, one Payal Kapoor, who happened to be a member of the school page, sent me a friendship request. She was no longer the ‘girl' I knew, but a middle-aged mother of two teenage daughters!

Realisation no. 2: I too must be appearing to them an ‘uncle'. My father was 44 when I passed out of school, I am myself 40 today.

Realisation no. 3: You don't have much to talk about even though you are reconnecting with people after a quarter of a century – the same people you looked forward to spending time with while in school. After the passage of 25 years, you don't even recognise yourself in the mirror; how can you expect to connect with a long-lost schoolmate with your heart and soul, that too when he is not in the same profession as yours? Maybe that is why after the initial, enthusiastic bursts of Hi's and Hello's, most members on the page slipped into an uncomfortable silence – wishing each other only on occasions such as Janmashtami, Eid and Vinayaka Chathurthi.

I am not trying to boast here, but I did try to generate some conversation by posting this message on the wall: Those who passed out in 1988 and before: How about recalling your first crush in school (with names and all), now that a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Perhaps a nice way to warm up middle-aged hearts? The idea was to engage schoolmates who are now 40 and above in a juicy conversation – not that I expected anyone to spell out names.

But a senior of mine in school, whom I idolised once, rebuked me. He posted a comment saying that if the girls are named, their husbands may not take kindly to it and that might cause a storm in their lives. I was so amused by the comment that I did not feel like telling him that I was only kidding. Instead, I decided to play along. I posted another comment, saying: “You are so right. If I ever found out that someone had a crush on my wife while she was in school, I would file for divorce.”

Upon which yet another senior, a woman, pounced on me. “On one hand you are asking people to name their crushes, and on the other you are threatening to divorce your wife! You are the biggest MCP I've ever seen.” Even before I could reply, yet another senior commented, “You should respect your seniors. That's what our school taught us.” I wondered if it was really necessary for me to revisit the school.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, September 24, 2011.


Desi Babu said...

Dear Ghosh Babu,

Perhaps this makes more sense to people like you and me, who are in love with the metal beasts on the tracks of steel -- life is a one way train, with no return tickets.

On our journeys, we cross many stations, meet many new people, and gain much new experience. On a long journey, if you look back at the first station you halted at, you will realize that what you saw there, was a really small sampling of what lay ahead. If you ever go back and met your fellow passengers from the first leg of the journey, who traveled locally, and perhaps, never went outside their state, you will realize that your rich experience makes you stand apart, from them. And sometimes, at the end of the journey, you will discover that there is not much in common any more -- between you, and your fellow passengers. From the first station, that you boarded your train at.

Facebook is a strange contraption, that interferes with the train of life. It's much better being on the train without it. You will pay more attention to the stations ahead of you. And, what you left behind, well, that's history...


Anonymous said...

I am laughing so hard! You have a great sense of humor...I am sorry your seniors don't get it!

Paresh Palicha said...

Let your senior browse your blog to check what a MCP you are & she'd learn what grown up means.

It is such a sorry state of our E-life so to speak that people miss the joke if you forget to put a smiley at the end:P

PS.Hope you're not the khadoos shayar that Big B played in Kabhi Kabhie (Pun intended).

Anonymous said...

now Mr Ghosh,
you will think twice before you write :P


Madhurima said...

Desi Babu

Very beautifully written, I totally agree with you.

Sepiamniac said...

Kisi shayar ne theek hi kaha tha: aadmi musafir hai... aata hai jaata hai... aate jaate raste mein yaadein chhod jaata hai.

But, as regarding, revisiting the past: it is painful.

Amri said...

So true.. As I am approaching the magic 40 myself, reconnecting with "close friends" from high school had its own charm - until the few stilted conversation attempts... I wish I had thought to start a FB thread like yours :))

Sudeep said...

A very close friend of mine contacted me via Facebook after many years. We have met for short duration a few times in different places, but we were very close, when I was not even married, and he had no children – a decade and a half back, or even more.

Now, I wondered how he had four kids, and lots of free time. He wondered why I had no free time when I had just one kid. There wasn’t much of reconnecting after that – the gulf had already been created, which could not be breached.

Sunil Bhanap said...

You have a terrific sense of humor...Every Saturday, I eagerly wait for Hindu MetroPlus to read your 'Life in a Metro'. ‘Back to school…’ is definitely one of your best blogs.


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