Down Memory Lane

[This is another piece Sunder wrote for his school alumni magazine, drawing on the same material he had for his biographical sketch. This piece is a ‘kaleidoscope’ of impressionistic memories of his years at Rishi Valley School.]  

Images Frozen in Time

It is more than five decades since I left Rishi Valley; to look back on life in the school is to recall, from the recesses of one’s memory, a kaleidoscope of images. These images remain frozen in time, as it were, never to be forgotten.

WHAT I RECOLLECT . . . . . .

  • Landing in the school in the hot month of June, 1954, with an uncle, father and his friends in tow, my eyes brimful with tears, and being handed over to Srinivasan sir [then the House Master of White House] who kept me distracted, tempting me with a mango.
  • Those fun-filled, leisurely and laid-back months that followed when one wished that school terms would never end.
  • The bare-bodied morning jogs for a dip in Mallibhavi as a substitute for attending PT.
  • Lounging on the cave and boat rocks and balancing oneself precariously so as not to literally “slide” down sliding rock.
  • Harvesting groundnuts in the school’s farm while stuffing a few surreptitiously in our mouths off and on, unable to wait till we were paid in kind for our efforts.
  • Dancing with locals to folk tunes around bonfires, vying with each other to be the loudest if not the shrillest.
  • Maintaining the dhobhi accounts of Blue House and helping to sell Diwali crackers as the school’s sole representative and being paid in kind in the form of crackers, as others looked on with envy.
  • Being the official cricket scorer and cheering Sardar sir et al as they creamed the poor guys from neighbouring Madanapalle.
  • My futile attempt to learn to play the veena and dance the bharathanatyam only to be chased away by Visalakshi and Meenakshi akkas after barely a couple of days.
  • Exposing my artistic inadequacies further by painting always only two hills, a couple of birds hovering as the sun rose, a lake with a solitary boat by which stood a ramshackle hut and one sat beneath a tree, not to mention the winding road leading from nowhere to nowhere.
  • Spending many afternoons productively in the library, cataloguing books adopting, for the first time, the Dewey Decimal system of classification.
  • Collecting and exchanging stamps as a member of a club presided over by Mrs Horsburgh.
  • Acting in plays in school as well as in faraway Chittoor and Madras.
  • Staging Julius Caesar, a “Comedy of Errors” that would have made the poor Bard turn in his grave.
  • Acting as the errand boy for Shashi Kapoor, carrying his billets doux to Jennifer Kendal in his courting days, both on a visit to the school as members of the dramatic troupe Shakespeareana.
  • The naughty trick played by Ashok on unsuspecting girls as they staged a play and knew not what hit them when two juicy tomatoes dropped from the heavens above and Mr Venks asking the culprit himself to play the detective and help him catch the miscreant.
  • Weak-kneed kids like me who couldn’t cycle and so trekking instead, along with Mahalakshmi Akka, across hills and dales from faraway Peddakonda and reaching school all hot, sweaty and thirsty after losing our way more than once.
  • Mahalakshmi akka’s little sister Hema’s futile attempts to eavesdrop on and join in the never-conclusive powwows between akka and preening senior kids.
  • The disapproving looks of Mahalakshmi akka that could kill if one chose to stray from the straight and narrow path.
  • Trying hard, under the ever-watchful eyes of Joshua Akka, not to throw up at the dissection table over the open entrails of a dead rabbit or frog.
  • The annual excursions–welcome interludes–when I broke Ms Yarrow’s marble compact that she had picked up so lovingly in Chandni Chowk or had to cajole a cop in Agra station to let Vallabh Kothari (who was brandishing proudly the sword picked up outside the Taj) to go free, even as poor Mr Venks paced the platform anxiously worried we might miss our train!!
  • Whispering in the dark, sharing jokes after lights out, listening all the while if Narayan sir was anywhere around to catch us unawares.
  • The first cigarettes smoked clandestinely below the second bridge, with our eyes glued towards the sign post to make sure that Dr Bala’s car was nowhere on the horizon!
  • The sobriquet of ‘Shundal’ so affectionately bestowed upon me. . . Thank God it was not ‘Shundeli’ which, in Tamil, means a mouse, though I was by no means mousey!!
  • The never-ending verbal fencing and fights with Kanna kutti that continue even now whenever our paths happen to cross.
  • Trying, valiantly and without nodding off to sleep, to decipher what Krishnaji was trying to convey.
  • Above all, attempting, amidst all these distractions and without much success, to study and to figure the intricacies of trigonometry and calculus.

While I cherish these memories–and find myself increasingly recalling the days of my youth, the solace of advancing age!–like many of the other contributors to this journal, I have long recognized the importance of my RV education. Recognising each student as a “unique individual” and in the process helping us, as exhorted by Krishnaji, “to understand the conditioning influences” “about” us and “within” ourselves,  our teachers inculcated in us the importance of the dignity of labour, self-confidence, self-motivation and self-esteem; above all, they helped us to become aware of and know ourselves. . . . The Values inculcated in those formative years have certainly helped us to face, with greater confidence, the world around us that is otherwise so full of ruthlessness, petty foibles and jealousies, and (to quote Krishnaji again) to “face intelligently, without fear, the complex process of living and not add more problems to the already existing mess.” RishiValleyites at least can never be accused of adding in any manner to “the already existing mess.” Looking back, I offer silent thanks to the patriarch of the family who was persuaded by a cousin of his to desist from packing me off to a school in distant Dehradun where I had secured admission and to send me instead to Rishi Valley. To conclude, I recall a song taught by Mr Venks that referred to Rishi Valley as a happy land where one could indulge oneself in activities close and dear to one’s heart. If I could be young yet again, I would willingly return to that “Happy Land”. I suppose I must remain content with memories alone of those halcyon days that remain frozen in time and feel grateful that the initiatives of the Pune gang and of all the other RVS gangs of the Golden Decade have enabled me to de-freeze and revisit those years of bliss which, unfortunately, were much too brief. . . .