“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Reunion

If you ask me if I remember Thankamoni, I would say yes, because she is there sitting on the ground among other children in our Class group photo of 4th standard, in 1966. I see those soulful eyes, looking solemnly at the camera. In the next year,during the summer vacation of 1967, Thankamoni died. I remember vaguely that she died falling into the waters of the canal, in an epileptic fit. I left Palakkad sometime in July 1968, while in the 6th standard.

Years later, my old classmate, Induchoodan, joined me in Class 10. He told me of Krishnadas, that handsome boy, who died a couple of years back. He had bone cancer. In 1974, on the first day of college at Mavelikkara for my B.Sc., I met Pradeep, classmate at Palakkad. We have been close friends since then; as K says, 'Achan's OLDEST friend'.

Pradeep, now a successful businessman at Palakkad, organised a reunion of the old chums. Couple of months back, I went to Palakkad once again, to be part of the reunion - of the classmates who studied in 4th standard at Railway Primary School in 1965-66. There were 24 of us, now in our mid-50s, many seeing each other after 40-odd years. I had the old school group photo, but it was difficult to recognise many of them - those little boys had grey, bald heads, paunches and pouches beneath their eyes. A big man comes up, with a sad expression; I whisper a question to a friend - 'Who is that?' He asks - 'Don't you recognise your old tail, that's Balu!' I am shocked. My friend tells Balu - 'Hey, Balu, Balachandran here didn't recognise you!' Balu slowly turns his head, comes to me and holds me in a Bear grip. 'Da, you forgot me?'. In the resort beside the big dam, we sat around, drinking Chivas Regal that Abe brought from the US. Abe was one of the naughtiest boys in our class; he is a doctor in the States for the past 30 years, having migrated with his family sometime in the early 70s.

Many of the 24 gathered had studied together till the 10th standard. They have much more memories to share among themselves than I have with them. I listen to their bawdy jokes, their crushes on girls, their adventures in the school. Suddenly, I felt sad and left out. I had moved on, from school to school, doing my 10 years of schooling in 6 different schools, flung far and wide across Kerala. I didn't have much to share with these guys, who had not only studied together, but lived close by, in the Railways Housing Colony; their fathers or mothers were employees of the Railway Divisional Office. They had a childhood, a boyhood together. I was an outsider, from the Forest Colony, son of the Divisional Forest Officer and lived in a big Bunglow which had a large garden of Rose plants.

In the evening, a bonfire was lit. We sat around the fire, sipping whisky. Somebody sang, somebody shouted, schoolboy smut was flung around amidst bursts of raucous laughter. These were not middle-aged men, some of whom had married daughters. These were adolescent boys having fun. A few have done quite well - doctors, engineers, successful business men, managers - some others were modestly employed in the Railways or as school teachers.

Balu comes and sits beside me. Balu is a maths teacher in a nearby High School and due to become a Head Master soon. Balu has a tumbler-full whisky with him. He throws his right arm around my shoulders and hugs me. 'Do you remember the wildlife documentaries your father used to show? That was some treat! And those dogs and forest squirrel and wildfowl you had! It was a proper zoo, your house!' Balu chuckles reminescensing. We are quiet for sometime. I think of those days – Balu and Venu, the two Brahmin boys, Cherian and Saji Zacharia – we were together most of the time, playing Ball Badminton or Football.

I ask him about his family. Balu is silent. He sips his whisky. He looks at me. 'You don't know?'. I am shocked at his expression. There is such agony in his face. ' I had two boys. Now, only the younger one. I killed the other'.

'He was good in his studies, you know. Wanted to become an engineer. After Plus Two, he got into an engineering college at Coimbatore. He wasn't quite healthy and he just couldn't take all that ragging. I forced him back to the place again and again and he would come back everytime saying he can't bear it any more. Then I put him in another college. There too, I don't know why, he was unable to adjust. Finally, he came and said he didn't want to study anymore.' Balu is silent for a while. I said nothing, my heart heavy. 'Friends said that I was torturing my boy. I wanted him to get on in life, be successful, not desiccate like me, a poor teacher in a school. Then he wanted to join the Navy. Fine, I said. And he started jogging everyday. I used to wake him up early in the morning. One day he said he didn't feel like jogging. I said nothing doing, lazy fellow, go go run. He went. 15 minutes later he collapsed on the road and died before anybody could help him.'

'Maybe what I did was wrong, pushing my son. Maybe my wife and friends blame me. I have to live with it, this unbearable pain that tears me apart'. I hug Balu, his head is on my chest, and we cry. What we were, what became of us, what is in store for us?

In the two days we spent there, I listen to my friends, to their woes and joys, how lives have flown through these past decades. We peer at the old group photographs. ' He is dead, an alcoholic he was'. 'Oh, him! Went up high in his career, but now suspended from service for corruption'. We tease each other about the boyhood crushes we had on our girl classmates – 'Aye, you should see R now, so fat! She is a bloody grandma!'

I sit apart and look at them. We may meet again next year when Abe comes home from US. Maybe we may not. Maybe somebody wouldn't be there. Like old, yellowing leaves, one by one, we would be taken away by the winds of time.

************* Balachandran, 03.10.2009, Trivandrum


  1. oh my god, Mr B, i can imagine what ur friend would be going through. But how can somebody just die like that...

    This dying business is scary.

    Oh...i simply refuse to grow older anymore. I feel ancient enough at 22.

    And so well written ,Mr B. i saw it all.

  2. very well written B.i felt i was there too..even wen u and balu sat together..

  3. @nadia: long time no see! Read about your great trip. looking forward to the next episode.

    Dying business is not scary; it is weary! One dreads it - it is inevitable but what makes it dreadful is how one would die...

    Send your Dad's phone no. at Kollam so that I can send you the already autographed copy of my book!

    @extremity; It is plain life, shorn of ornaments and adjectives and abstractions. Reminding one how precious and precarious life is ...

  4. Its Rini , mr B. will send the number.

  5. Hi Bala,

    Wanted to get back to you only after reading the book, but no I haven't yet been able. A few things turned up, quite a few in fact.

    Please give me a call one of these days

  6. Baletta,

    Aa Himalayan Odyssey T Shirt Thilangunnu :)

    Nicely Written


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