The past 6 days were one of the most awesome and memorable days I ever had in a looooong time. As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to attend my alma-mater's centenary sports day and reunion celebrations.
As I was caught up in office well across midnight completing last minute work and delegating tasks, I was able to pack only on the morning of my flight. After rapidly writing and posting the above blog-post and taking a quick hair-cut, I just literally dumped whatever clothes I could find into my suitcase and rushed to the airport to catch my afternoon flight to Bangalore.
Happy and excited! :D
I was seated next to the emergency exit, and I was so excited that the moment the plane landed in Bangalore, I was about to pull the emergency exit lever to rush out, but the flight attendant stopped me just in time :P
I took a Meru from the airport, as instructed by Nikhil, and soon I was in Bangalore traffic. It had been exactly 10 years since I left Bangalore, and I couldn't recognize a single street or shop along the way! Meanwhile, the rest of the Bangalore crew was already there, waiting for me at our hotel! They kept updating our batch's WhatsApp group in real-time with their photos.
They do look like a gang of skinheads :D At least I wasn't concerned about my balding forehead anymore :P They all arrived the previous night, and seeing their photos made me urge the cab driver to drive faster through the maddening Bangalore traffic.
Stephen flew down from Mizoram, Ujjal flew down from Arunachal Pradesh, Cherian flew all the way from Melbourne and Ashwini too flew all the way from Sydney, while Lincoln and his wife Ruth drove all the way down from Goa.
Kinda made it embarrassing for me that the one who stayed the closest to Bangalore was the last to arrive :(
Finally I reached!
It was only after all the greetings and huggings that I suddenly realized I hadn't eaten anything the entire day. Gobbled down a plate of authentic Tamil ghee masala dosa. And of course there's the famous filter coffee.
After a long chat and lots of laughter recollecting our silly school day memories, we headed up to our room. Nikhil had booked an OYO Room for us, and even though I had heard and read a lot about it when it first launched in India, this was the first time I was actually staying in one. And I was truly impressed with the quality considering the cost.
Soon it was time for a boys' night out. We decided to go to a place that was quite happening, at the same time not too crowded or too fancy or noisy untz untz untz discotheque type. We weren't interested in a place where there were a lot of hot women around either, just a cozy place where a bunch of guys could enter together with no eyebrows raised. Finally Nikhil suggested ABC – Arbor Brewing Company.
The place was a bit crowded than we anticipated, but we didn't have to wait long for a free table.
Once inside, we continued catching up with each other while enjoying ABC's own-brewed ale and beer. Cherian now runs his own Theatre company in Melbourne, while Ashwini works as a "Service Designer" at The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, Sydney. A very interesting profession indeed, a service designer is apparently somebody who designs social services and systems for the marginalized.
The food was excellent, as you can see from the photos below. We hogged and drank while reminiscing about our school days and the stupid things we did and stuff. God I laughed so much that night.
And before we knew it, we were one of the last to remain inside the brewery! The tables around us were empty and quiet.
Took this spy pic from the smoking section in the balcony, which had a really good view of the streets below.
Nikhil dropped us all back later, and it felt great to know that this wonderful occasion was only just the beginning of more wonderful get-togethers to come.
I slept like a baby, though I was slightly hung-over the next morning :P
Woke up at 8 AM because we were supposed to leave for our road-trip to School by 9. Salem is around 4 hours journey by road from Bangalore. And then from there, it would take around another hour to climb up to Yercaud, so we had to start early if we were planning to reach before dark.
Here I was, all set for the road-trip :P
Though OYO offered complimentary breakfast, we were late for it :D and so we had breakfast at the restaurant downstairs, and it felt good eating pongal after so many years. Strange thing was, I could never find a "South Indian" restaurant in Mumbai or Pune that served pongal. I even got a sarcastic "Saar, pongal is a festival, not a food" reply from one of the waiters at a popular Mumbai South Indian restaurant once. Seriously?
Soon after two plates of pongal and many medu vadas and filter coffees later, Nikhil reached our hotel with Vinay, who had driven from Coorg the same morning and who was to be our designated driver till School.
Boy was it great meeting Vinay again after 17 long years. Bugger hadn't changed at all. He spent 15 years in the Middle East working for a French Oil Company as a Regional Manager, and now he's back at his plantation in Coorg looking after his family heritage. As we caught up and headed to the outskirts of Bangalore, we picked up Sriram on the way, our last pick-up of the group (everything had been meticulously planned in our WhatsApp group).
And with Sriram in the house, our group was complete. We stopped to pick up some booze on the way, because apparently, the quality and variety of alcohol in Tamil Nadu was quite bad.
Of course we ran the risk of being checked by the Excise cops at the Tamil Nadu border. We decided to buy a few crates of beer and some other alcohol which were either not available in TN or too expensive there. We loaded them up inside our car. After that, we were ready for the road-trip!
As we kept taking photos and sending it to our batch's WhatsApp group, others too responded immediately from where they currently were, all on their way to our rendezvous point.
Bye Bye Bangalore.
As we drove along the smooth Bangalore-Salem expressway, one thing I learnt a lot was about plantation, as Ujjal and Vinay talked about their current situation. Ujjal's family once used to have a thriving business in timber, until the ban on timber felling in the North East. I also learnt that planting pepper around crops could prove be a life-saver, especially with all the new regulations on trade and worker's union, though I have no idea what I'm going to do with that information :P
We made a couple of pit-stops along the way, mostly for a cigarette break.
And finally, we reached Salem district.
You can see Shevaroys Hills in the distant horizon. That's where Yercaud is situated.
Upon reaching Salem, we met up with John Paul and Nanda. After more hugs and greetings, we decided to have lunch at Salem before travelling uphill to Yercaud.
Rather than eat at the many new fancy restaurants and fast-food joints that had come up in the recent years, we wanted to eat at our all-time favourite "Selvi Mess", opposite new Bus Stand. The place was still open, much to our rejoice.
Now, you gotta understand why we love Selvi Mess so much. Back then, it was one of the few restaurants that served awesome non-veg thali. And especially for those of us we were in different sports team, whenever we travelled down to Salem to play a tournament, if we didn't win, our coach would take us to Saravana Bhavan or some other veg restaurant for food before travelling back to Yercaud, but had we won, the reward was usually Selvi Mess. :)
The place was still the same as I remembered.
One thing I observed (coming back after so many years as somebody who had experienced a lot across different states in India) was that, our two tables made so much noise that day, shouting and laughing as we caught up on old times, all in English. As I looked around, I could see the other customers, the local people, just looking at our group and smiling. I couldn't help but think if this same scenario had taken place somewhere else (I am not naming any city in particular), I'm sure we would have been abused with bhen chods and madarchods by the public already. This is why I fucking love Tamil Nadu.
With lunch done, our next stop was our destination - Yercaud. We drove through Salem, trying to recognize some of the famous places of our days, like Green Park and Chamundi. A lot of places hadn't changed at all, while a lot of new fast food chains and modern shopping malls had cropped up at the same time. We kept driving until we reached the point where the ascent to Yercaud was to start.
THIS spot right here, to me, was one of the most emotionally conflicting points of my career in school. If I was on my way to school from a vacation, I would feel so depressed at this spot knowing this was where the journey to Yercaud was to start. At the same time, if I was on my way back to school from a tiring basketball match or NCC camp, this was the spot where I would rejoice and look forward to reaching school because I was finally going back to a place of cold air and hot water bath :D
Also, the freaking "HOTEL TAMILNADU" sign board that you can see in the pic above had been there since my mom first took me to Montfort back in '93! Dayymmm!
Below we have the first of the 20 hairpin bends. Oh how we all used to count the hairpin bends as we travelled up or down the small and narrow winding road.
We ascended higher and higher in no time…
Took a brief loo break once we reached above 1500m.
It was only then that we realized how goddamn lucky we were! All of us were so brainless - the beer crates that we bought from Karnataka were visible right from outside! Thank God none of the cops stopped our vehicle, they didn't even have to ask us to open the car, they could see it right from outside! lulzzz.
The drive continued…
An MP from Kerala overtook us along the way. He too was an old boy, but much senior to us.
Initially, when that car overtook us, we were immediately like, "Shashi Tharoor?" And so we tailed it closely until we came to a hairpin bend and saw that it was another old boy and not Mr. Shashi Tharoor himself. Quite a bummer that he didn't turn up, I was hoping to take a selfie with him :D
Soon we reached the main town area. Ah just driving towards school filled us with so much nostalgia, all the Sunday walks we used to have in our white uniforms, passing all the iconic landmarks like Big Lake, Shevaroys hotel, Padma Store, Muruga bhavan, Small Lake… *sigh*
Finally, as we circled around Small Lake, our school came in sight.
The glorious structure that you can see above is our school main gate. To be honest, during our days, it was never that grandeur. It was just a simple gate with spiked bars and stuff, and a small arched-board above that simply said "Montfort School" :) Now it looks like the freaking entrance to Caesars Palace or something… :D
We managed to push ourselves through the many parked vehicles, slowly and carefully. Most of the vehicles belonged to old boys who were registering for the centenary event or picking up their registration kits.
Ahhh it felt soo good to breathe the fresh Montfort air once again.
Bio was one of the first teachers we met, and he remembered all of us. As I was in his bio class in class XI and XII, I still remember all those memorable days we spent dissecting some poor frogs and stuff, back when my dream was to become a doctor. lulz.
And of course my favorite brother of all time, Bro Varghese, who is now the current principal!
You know how it is in schools, every teacher always have that one special pet student, their favorite student. Well, I was Bro Varghese's pet student back during our time. Back then, he was our Sports secretary, but basketball was his favorite game and he would be present at most of our coaching and practice sessions, including many tournaments shouting from the sidelines, hence the reason why we were very close.
I was the junior team basketball captain, followed by the senior team basketball captain in 10th std. In fact, I was already playing in the main school team (comprising of 11th and 12th std students) when I was just in 9th std itself. By 12th, I was the school basketball captain and won many trophies and tournaments for the school, all under the guidance of Bro Varghese.
So yeah, the moment we went to meet him, he went, "Kiimaaaaaa" and immediately pointed at my bulging tummy. And then he dragged me and the others down to the basketball court next! :)
He told me about how well the school had been doing in sports, and also showed me the two revamped courts. Back during our time, we had just one court on this area, and there was no paint and stuff. We talked about all the crazy tournaments we participated in during our days, from Salem to Chennai to Batlagundu to Karur to Erode to Trichy to Coimbatore to Madurai to Tirunelveli to Neyveli and so on… Gawd, so many memories.
He also introduced me to the current basketball coach, who happened to be none other than Elias' father-in-law! Elias was our school basketball coach during our days. He was my mentor, my guide, my sensei, and the reason why my game had improved so much under him. I owe everything to him.
And of course Bro Varghese had to challenge me to a free-throw showdown! This was one of our "thing" - every evening, once our practice match was over, he and I would compete with each other to see who could score the most number of free-throws. This time of course, since we were both not who we used to be, the challenge was to see who could put in the first free-throw.
For old time's sake, I accepted his challenge. My first throw didn't even hit the ring! :D
In my defence, I haven't played basketball in more than 10 years now… :P
Of course Bro Varghese won. I really didn't believe him when he said he too hadn't played in a long time :P Man how did I get to this form, from how I used to be back in school? :(
Before leaving, we saw one of the current school players who could dunk.
Damn, these youngsters today got so much stamina. Back during our school days, if you could jump and touch the ring with your finger-tips, you were hailed as God. :D And today, they're not just dunking, but doing that with both hands with ease.
Soon we took a selfie with Bro Varghese to send to our batch WhatsApp group and said bye to him. He was extremely busy as well. We made our way towards the first field. The students were having their rehearsals.
I took this photo of the three house banners. They really look awesome. We never had such fancy designs back during our days :(
Yay, Patrick Houseeeee! :D
Before leaving, Nikhil took a pic with the cut-out of the Centenary Sports Day chief guest, Mr. Kenny from the '83 batch, more popularly known as Vikram, the famous actor.
It was getting dark, so we decided to head to our accommodation.
After around 20 minutes' drive from school, we finally reached our destination - Four Seasons Resort! :D
Like I mentioned in my previous post, our batch had booked the entire resort to ourselves. Basically, we wanted the whole place for us alone, so that we could do any crazy stuff and be as noisy as possible without disturbing people who were not a part of our group.
Love the fishes below, as we walked over them to the reception to get our cottage keys.
One thing I really loved about the whole resort was that it was situated at a very secluded and quiet area, away from civilization and bustling activities. There was no traffic around or people for that matter. No cars passing by outside or the sound of ugly horns honking. Such serenity, such bliss. But the downside to all that was, there was no mobile coverage!
I had to walk all the way up to the reception from our cottage which was at the bottom, just to use the resort's wifi so I could call my girl via WhatsApp. And the wifi signal was broken half the time. But other than that, each cottage was really cozy and warm.
Nice large bathrooms with hot water 24x7.
Every cottage had a small lounge as well.
Once we refreshed and showered, it was time to meet the rest of the guys who came on the first night (many people arrived the next day). There was a really nice pool outside, though it was freezing to swim in it at night time.
The outdoor fireplace was also there, which we planned to utilize.
And so as the others started assembling together and we all hugged and exchange greetings with each other, it was time to lay out the bar.
Apart from the beer that we bought from Bangalore, every guy bought around a bottle or two of expensive single malts. I volunteered to bring the disposable cups during our discussion at our group, and I even forgot to buy that eventually! Shame on me :D
Here are a few stuff that others bought that night…
As we got the fire burning, the catching-up continued as we all moved around from one group to the other interacting with everybody and updating everyone on what we had been up to.
Soon, we ended up talking about the good ol days again, about the experience some people had of a particular teacher or brother whacking the shit out of them with their cane etc. and we all laughed so much reliving the experience. See, this is when you realize that if you had been a good and quiet boy in school, you don't really have much stories to tell today, but if you were the outspoken one, the disobedient student who wasn't afraid of taking chances and even got caught breaking the rules a couple of times, then those were the stories that would make great campfire stories years later :)
Even though most of us hadn't seen each other in 17 years or more, we were so comfortable with each other. It only felt like yesterday that we were all running together in our PT uniforms or rummaging for tuck (food) across our dormitory. My biggest apprehension before I left for the reunion was that I might not recognize some of my batchmates. That never happened :D And I guess that is the beauty of being brought up in a residential boarding school.
The group photos came out pretty well too in spite of how dark the place actually was. I didn't have faith in Nikhil's camera, especially since there was no "flash" :P, but yeah, I am no photographer, so this was really cool.
Soon, we moved to the dining area for dinner, where there was a lot of good food waiting for us. The food was served in buffet style.
My dinner plate :D :P
After that, it was time to call it a night, and we all headed back to our respective cottages to rest our tired souls and bodies. What a wonderful moment it had been, catching up with my batchmates, most of whom I hadn't seen since we all graduated 17 years ago. And then there were some who even left earlier too, so it was amazing to see them after more than 20 years.
So this blog post is Day 1 and 2 of our Reunion. I will update my blog later with Day 3, 4, 5 and 6. I think I should reduce the number of photos next time. The main events are coming up, this one was just an unofficial hangout, the appetizer, the tip of the reunion-berg. Wait for our batch parade and stuff. Until then, cheers :)