Life is a two-faced phenomenon. The future and the past.
The future is about foreboding and, no matter how much prepared you are, it catches you by surprise. Given a choice, we swear not to be led by it.
However, in comparison, the past is easier on you. It takes away the element of uncertainty. And then, it has that scrumptious core of memories. We live by them – the good and the bad ones.
In your graying years, when the flame flutters with the escalating tempest of age, the memories begin to rule the roost. We feed off them, we live by them. Life is much easier when you are lost in your memories.
Reunions are the perfect opportunity to re-live those memories; the shards of longing that take on new meaning, a fuller picture is built with the bricks of collective recollection. On such days, when friends get together, the sun goes a shade of nostalgic pink. A familiar face evokes the frantic spring-cleaning of memory for a forgotten name, the quiver of the heart as it takes in the shock of recognition.
Twenty years down the line, on 13th August 2011, we were back with one another – a motley crowd of people from around the world, paying obeisance to their alma-mater, rushing into each other’s arms, hoping that this one day would just remain frozen in time. Old jokes are remembered, mischief recollected, the resultant back-slapping while the odd kinks in the memory pattern are ironed out.
The KovCat is a flourishing species – driven by oodles of pride, a sense that bases itself on the singular belief that IHM Kovalam remains one of the finest hotel schools in this part of the world. In its time, it was one of the youngest but, in a competitive sense, it is probably the only baby that hit the ground running from the very first day. In a short space of five years, it had already built a strong reputation in the industry as the hotbed of competency and excellence.
As the founder Principal, K.V. Simon would oft repeat – we were small, we were beautiful. We missed him this year; he took care to send across a message to be read out in the assembly.
The thatched roof building of the yester years is long gone, so is the main building with its sinking foundations. You have to wish for remembrance to cloud your vision, and then suddenly sepia-toned images bob in to replace these concrete monoliths. You remember your first day, the pressures of induction and the lousy fit of the newly tailored uniforms.
You remember the wind-swept beach just as the first time you set your eyes on it. The reunion becomes an out of body experience; the mind assumes the façade of an 18 year old, as you go floating by on memory’s ability to induce hallucination. We want more of this; this horrible, stupefying concoction that pulls you back every year for a day to become someone else, somebody who you used to be. It is the closest you could come to time travel.
You hang around Mohan Chettan’s shop, the quick smoke for old time’s sake, the wind in your face, as you remember those weary evenings, many setting suns ago, after a long day in the kitchen and sweat soaked chef-coats.
You stand huddled, with arms around shoulders, that reassuring body contact while you mull about that Johnnie Walker in your car. Such occasions come alive when you realize that everyone today has a bottle for himself, while all those years ago, it was a crowd that fought to get a decent swig from a solitary bottle.
Ah, how times change!
There is the levity of surprise and the gravity of embarrassment as you meet each person, depending on the course that your relationship took all that while ago. Most of all, there is the scope for repair and reconciliation, forgiveness at one’s beck and call, mostly due to the haziness that things gain over a lengthy interlude of time. Time does a great job of airbrushing memories.
The Kovcat remembers the days in a sunny fishing village, adjacent to a beach, studying in a college with possibly the most exotic location. Studying was also about fun, often to prankish levels, and I was bemused plus affectionate as I met two women friends from long ago. Bemused because I remember them shocking the college on fresher’s day – singing that very road-romeo Bollywood song Ruk, Ruk, Ruk, Arre Baba Ruk. Of course, both of them now cringed at that reference, though I am sure they are still bohemian deep down. Then, they wondered aloud about what the bloody hell they were up to in those days. KOVCATS ALWAYS, said the memento wristbands they sported.
Then, there are the teachers. You are thrilled because they remember your name, and even if they do not, they would still remember you for the nut you were – a nervous bundle, interested in everything else outside the educational domain, deftly changing the subject at will to deflect petty questions about pending assignments. Sure they suffered us, sure they looked out for us, and there is no mistaking the fondness that shines through even today. Prakash Sir goes one step ahead and gives you that bear hug that means so much more than words. Just love the man.
The flood of dSLRs makes it look as if NIKON is holding a national convention in town. All of them will find their way into Facebook, for umpteen comments to rule the roost for the next fortnight. Everything will die down but the images will remain. They will tell the absentees about what they missed, and remind the ones who attended, for they were not in their senses as it all happened.
There are also the couples who met in college for the first time, their lives brought together in what qualifies to be a culinary twist, in a distant corner of the earth. They walk in, kids in tow, and the rest look on in the knowledge that some things live on, only if you keep the faith, especially love.
The evening party is the best show in town. Letting your hair down, putting on your dancing shoes, and reaching out for your favorite poison – na, for one day of the year, you can’t say Trivandrum aint no cool. There were the usual party culprits, pestering the DJ about the need to push up the wattage from the piped-down speakers, the Bryan Adams remix fans who won’t be satisfied ever, some super-duper ladies who can teach you the latest moves, and, then the snakes who crawl through the night. Slur becomes the new speak, impromptu human trains dissect the floor, you can’t identify your drink or even who you are, and then there are the ones who come ready with anti-hangover devices to tide over the next morning.
Then, there is the long trudge back to your room – the walking-on-air part. You wish it hadn’t ended. You crash into your bed, and its morning even before you know it. You want to sleep some more, but you also don’t want to waste any time; for you are here to make use of every moment with your batchies. Sleep can wait. You meet for breakfast again, the mood is somber, the cameras are out for farewell photos, the thoughts are already about 18 August 2012. If the world doesn’t end, we will be there again, IHMCT will be the centre of the universe, and everything else can spin around it. The snakes will vouch for it.
Of those who could not make it, there is that miniscule segment that still carries its mental baggage from years back. They
give in to its bite, they let go of the best day of the year. They suffocate themselves in the morbidity of bitter memories. The years have gone by, the reasons are now insignificant, and there is the choice to let go. Take that first step towards attending the reunion, and stop punishing yourself. There is always the choice of a new beginning.
The day after the reunion is the saddest part. The world is once again a lonely place. There are calls from airports as flights depart. You mull over the past day. The memento mug finds its place on the mantel. The pink begins to wear off and the day pans out into reality. You are back to where you were, the horrors of daily living flood in, and the world is suddenly imperfect.
As Preetha George, my batch mate and also an outstanding chef, said, “Leave everything else, Soni, try to see it as one of best finishing schools ever.”
Indeed. With an impeccable record.