Once upon a time, there was a pack of boys who spent ten years together in a century old school. The school was up on the hills, looking down on civilisation. They came in all forms, impressionable, nervous, bellicose, shocked and tame. Unlike joining a day school when bonding with friends is interspersed and embellished by time with loved ones, this group were thrown together 24×7, without their teddies – which was not on the uniform list, or a warm embrace to crawl into after a nightmare. All they got was a neat counterpaned bed. They were bathed naked by strangers and they lived out of cupboards.

Eight year olds do not intellectualise sadness like their elders, so they dusted up their tears, and started sizing up their surroundings. Lack of support systems breeds insecurity and this in-turn spawns survival instincts. At the start of their journey, some of them could not comprehend their insecurity, so they did not graduate to surviving. They stumbled, got detained, caned and quarantined. A few others, survived and eventually thrived. The first formed a tribe of their own – the left behinds, a “lower” tribe in the pecking order. Thus they grew up all together, building “character” on the playing fields of their beloved school. They gave themselves interesting names to make life enjoyable. Every facility was available, the food was good, the teachers, friendly, but they were kids and they were not all the same. The rump of the lower tribe fell off, to seek their self-esteem in the teeming plains. Some tried to run, were caught and then expelled. A tale perhaps, that would live with them throughout their lives, on the family dinner table.

They were an uncomfortable lot, but they gelled together, slowly first, then by attrition and then by design – a complex bond. And so, one day they together made it to the adolescent school by rite of passage. It would have been just that, save that a few of them had not figured out their insecurities yet, so they were still confused, in what some would call, adult settings. As a fly on the wall, i saw them experience violence for the first time in their lives. The punch in the face, kick in the scrotum, squeeze on the bum variety.

So, with this initiation, our pack assumed a subterranean life, hiding from adult “children” who wanted their due, from adolescents who thought they were grown enough to ask theirs, and from other children who thought they were adolescents. Timeout’s in this netherworld were activities like marathon, yoga, cricket, football, and athletics. Those who excelled in these indulgences, were called out by adult “children” for special treatment. The treatment differed on whose fancy they took. With some it was light pandering, for favours granted – like a song, a bath prepared, an underwear washed or like. For others, it ranged from being punching bags to public humiliation of the sort that, as a fly on the wall, i have seen and since unseen. The lower tribe, caught without options, were requisitioned for jobs like picking balls on tennis and volleyball courts for the adults and the adolescents – popping just long enough out of their holes, to not to be noticed.

It must be said, that the pack, at their turn to adolescents, gained strides, together with hair to form budding moustaches. Some of them became the adolescents they dreaded a few years back, some others excelled in sport, dramatics and declamation, but with lesser attention from adult “children”, who had moved on to younger, more vulnerable targets.

The lower tribe, finally got their place in the sun, when some from their pack – confident as was their wont, took to the plains to seek better opportunities. The lower tribe were adult “children” now. Having the lights cast on them for the first time, they flinched, peered through the attention, then undecided, chose the worst of what they had experienced, as their model. I suspect, they did not know any better. Like in William Golding’s “Lord of Flies” they applied their blunt instincts and worser though, made an example of it. Thus cast to the frontline for their first time in their lives, they spectacularly lit up the sky with faux belligerence. By the time they signed off as adults “children” from the school, they were all once again scarred, ill-prepared and confused to deal with life down with the civilisation. They had to start all over again. As a fly on the wall, i followed some of them, their angry reckoning with their parents at home, their struggles and a their warped but lucid reflection of the past 10 years.

Where are they now? Ask me in 20 years time and i will say this definitively. But i know that at-least one of was martyred in Kashmir, proudly wearing country colours. He was from the lower tribe – as if that was relevant to this story at all. A few others became corporate honchos, their stories coming alive, during get togethers. A couple others followed their calling to do that they loved. The rest did well enough to marry, have children and provide well for their families. Not one of them sent their children away to a boarding school. They inflicted their madness on their worlds, but it turned out to be all very ordinary in the end. After all, they were a bunch of boys who spent 10 years together in a century old school. They know how to carry on without a fuss.

– Manoj Panikkar (1991)


This piece was shared by Manoj Panikkar on  Jan 4, 2019 over email. This is his first contribution to Oakgrovians Young & Old.

1 Comment
  1. Kanishka Mallick 1 year ago

    A very lucid read, Manoj. Esp, liked the part where most of us, unfortunately, choose the worst of what we experience, as our model. Funnily, the ones who are remembered for a long time, are the ones who lived without a fuss while even in school 🙂

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