Now I come to the hills of Mussoorie as a tourist. Back then it was home. Those days, we used to travel by trains. There used to be a lot of luggage: a trunk, bedding, a tuck box and extra bags. For two brothers, double the pieces of luggage and quadruple the agony and negotiation abilities required to fit luggage under other people’s seats and empty spaces near the train toilets. As most of the train was filled with other students and their parents, there was tacit understanding amongst everyone to occupy common areas. I could see the train ride was a nightmare for passengers not going to Oak Grove, hence not a part of unstated rules of encroachment.
Now, we travel by road and with back packs. To begin with, it is about how you feel and back packs always make you feel like a tourist.
Those days, the whole train journey would take almost two days. We would start at Muzaffarpur in Bihar on our train of choice – The Barauni-Lucknow Express. At Lucknow, we would have to change trains-the next train being Doon Express. We would already see a lot of students, friends and their family at the railway platform in Muzaffarpur. Bihar was the dominant state of representation at Oak Grove. Once inside the train, there would be a constant urge to convince your parents for permission to see your friends in other compartments. The entire bogie would be vibrant with activities-family dinners, group dinners, playing chess on magnetic chess boards (an extremely popular possession during our time and valuable to protect pieces during jerks and jolts on India’s trains), playing cards, reading books, conversations about schools, parents comparing notes on their ward’s performance and so on.
We would reach Lucknow in the late morning. Lucknow was an endeavour in its own way. We would be excited to see other friends coming in from other cities and towns (not in the route of our preferred Barauni-Lucknow Express) to eventually ride along in the Doon Express. But before catching the evening train, my family would do a whole list of activities in Lucknow- eating Kulfi at Aminabad, shopping for chikan (traditional Lucknow embroidery) clothes and eating lunch near the railway station. There would be a debate on whether to take away dinner from a restaurant for the train ride. The alternative was to use the services of the pantry car on the train. I would always side with the pantry car (a confession: I love pantry car and Indian railway food). Eventually, we would have to move our entire luggage to the other railway station just in time for the Doon (Lucknow had two train stations next to each other).
The train to Dehradun used to reach in the morning. Once again, the entire coach was full of students: classmates, seniors and juniors. Some families seemed to be in a hurry and their children used to get into school uniforms in the train. My family was unusually relaxed. Everyone slept on their berths till we reached Dehradun. The coolies on the station were paid to take our luggage to the nearby railway rest house. Everyone got freshened up and the cold water reminded my parents how Mussoorie would be so cold followed by the advice to always cover myself with woollen clothes. The first priority for my family in Dehradun was not to find a taxi for my school but to shop. They shopped for basmati rice, bakery products and woollen clothes. Then we used to have lunch on one of the restaurants near the railway station. My brother and I saw other taxis going past us and only a constant pestering forced our parents to hurry up a bit. I was always worried about how painful the whole process of registration at the school is: running to the dormitory supervisor, house master, hospital and then to the M.O.D (Master on Duty). If you reached late, the entire process was much more troublesome. Boys’ school was better; my brother in junior school took double my time. The most time-consuming part in junior school was counting of tooth pastes, cold creams and bottles of hair oil. Also, the clothes.
Finally, after all the shopping, we took the taxi to Jharipani. When you travel from Dehradun upwards towards the hills, at a certain place, a cold breeze touches you if you sit near the window. At this point of time, you finally realise that vacations are over and next half of the year will be between oak trees, friends and building up of lot of memories for the future.
These days, when I travel to Mussoorie, I come here as a tourist. Back then, it was home.
– Shrikant Avi (2006 Batch)
Shrikant Avi has recently graduated from London Business School, UK and is based in Washington DC, US. He attended Oak Grove from 1996 to 2004. This article was written as a very short piece for his personal blog in 2011. It was expanded on and shared over e-mail a fresh submission on November 07, 2017.