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Friday, June 3, 2011

10 years ago on this day...

Remembering the events of a day, particularly something that happened 10 years ago is very difficult. But sometimes, the memory is so strong that it just seems to be cemented in your mind forever. 3rd June 2001 was one such day for me. It began a new phase in my life. It was my first day at a new school - St. Peter's, an Anglo-Indian boarding school located in the beautiful town of Panchgani, about 265 kms from Mumbai. More than a hundred years old, the institute serves as an Alma Mater for thousands of grateful alumni who are now in different corners of the globe. From kindergarten to primary school to secondary school to college years later, I have attended a few educational institutions in my life. But none of these transitions has had a profound impact on me as much as my enrollment into St. Peter's School in the summer of 2001.

The beautiful hillside of Panchgani

I vividly remember helping Dad pack my aluminium trunk, stuffing it with all the things we purchased as per the school's requirements. Newly stitched shirts and pants, new shoes, raincoat, a mattress rolled into a gigantic holdall and a million other things... everything was packed a week before I was scheduled to leave. The school required all the new students to report on the 3rd of June before 6.00pm. I can vividly recall the emotional farewell with Mom (who kissed me and wished me luck) but I don't really remember the long journey from Mumbai to Panchgani. 

Upon reaching school, Dad and I found out that I was assigned to Bason Hall. This was my dormitory for the first year and I was under the care of a very strict and caring matron - Mrs. Peters. It was a rainy day and I could hear the sound of the rain pelting on the asbestos roof of Bason Hall. Rains in Panchgani would ofter get very heavy and the weather at that time quite reflected my distorted state of mind. I was very apprehensive. I was only 11 years old and this was my first time away from home. After we found a vacant bed and locker, we unpacked all the stuff from the trunk that we had carried along with us. I also made a friend - Gaurav Suri. Like me, he was a second generation Peterite (My father attended school at St. Peter's. He was from the class of 1973). Suri would be a great friend for the next four years of my life there, and to this day, we maintain that great friendship. I quickly changed into the school uniform as it as time for dinner. I met Mr. Martin at the linen room and he gave me my striped tie and scarlet cardigan. I had my first meal at school sitting beside Suri. His cousin, Himanshu Suri, had been at St. Peter's since class 3 and was a lot more familiar with the place. He helped us a lot in settling down in the initial few months.

"Comrades on the fields are we,
Comrades in the class to be,
And in all our daily rounds,
Comradeship must still be found... "

Dad left later that evening. The first night, I was an emotional wreck, I missed my Mum terribly and cried for a long time. Mrs. Peter's heard me crying and spent some time talking to me. After she put me to bed, I cried some more until I eventually fell asleep. The next morning was far better. At school, we were addressed by our respective surnames and I was called 'Menon'. Till date most of my friends still call me 'Menon'. Each student was sorted into one of four houses (all named after former principals and founders) - Ashlin (green), Cornwill (red), Drury (blue) and Rowan (black). My Dad was from Drury and so naturally I was asked to remain with it. I was happy to be a part of it under the care of Mr. N. A. Khan. I am a proud Druryite who still cherishes the house motto 'Facta Non Verba' (Action not words).

A few of us at our farewell dinner - March 2005
So began the most beautiful period of my life. For the next four years, I entered the most creative periods of my entire life. I was able to explore my strengths and weaknesses and grew up understanding myself a whole lot more. Skills that would transform me from a mama's boy into a responsible young man ready to face the world. I was lucky to grow under the loving care of great teachers who helped us not only within the classroom, but also outside its four walls. Students don't become academic lovers at St. Peter's, they grow into men with character. There were a lot of memories with the place and every visit to Panchgani brings back fresh ones. I met fellow students who came from different parts of India who would become my best friends for life. We played together, we laughed together, we studied together and we grew up together. I had excellent classmates in the form of Priyam Banerjee, Kadam, Steve, Ciril, Purav, Ash, Pande, Akshay and several others, each of who taught me something unique and exciting.  They are the closest friends I have ever made and the friendship just seems to grow stronger and stronger as the years roll on. Thanks to the internet, although we are on different continents, we are still in contact with one another. 

"Down the avenue of years,
Oft comes a thought too sad for tears,
Of the happy carefree days,
Of a joyous needless ways..."

My class (Class of 2005) was the 100th batch of St. Peters and it was fantastic to have been a part of the centenary celebrations. Looking back now, 10 years seemed to have passed rather quickly. Today, when I am about 3000 miles away from Panchgani, it all comes back to me. The emotions are still very strong. I might have cried on the very first night, but on the last day of school, when my batch mates and I were about to part ways, I cried even harder. I feel privileged and proud to have been a part of this very large family. I could go on and on about the memories of St. Peter's because my time spent there really was that fruitful. It left its spirit in each one of us. Inside me the spirit of St. Peter's, my Alma Mater, lives on every passing second...