Saturday, February 18, 2006

A day I'll never forget - Part 3

(this post took me days to write...)

I was really sad when Binny said it was doubtful if he would make it to the concert as he had an important overseas call to attend to at 6.30 P.M. However he promised he would do his best. Breakfast almost resembled a meal after which Binny headed off for work. Siji would be leaving in a short while later. The little one was up but I gave him time to get used to the stranger in the house. It was also time for me to leave. As I was getting ready I was wondering if my ex-principal's address that I got from my school was the right one. How sad that she did not leave a phone number. Was it to remain private? Would she be here in Bangalore or had she gone abroad to one of her children? I had many questions on my mind. I was just left with the optimism that my hope gave me. Promising Binny's mother-in-law that I would be there for the lunch she was preparing for me I stepped out into Charles Cambell Road to find an auto to take me to the address I dearly held in my shirt pocket.

All autos seemed to be heading in only one direction and none of them were prepared to take me to Frazer Town. Finally I managed to talk one guy in knowing fully that he was ripping me off. Hard to believe that he was Tamil. But I just didn't care. All I wanted was to see J.P, my "Princy", just one more time. Though it was hardly a 10 minute ride, the auto driver didn't seem to know the way. He was asking me to ask people for directions and I had to tell him it wasn't my job to do so. Fortunately wherever I turned to it seemed there were tamil speaking people who gave me directions. Very soon we were riding on Promenate road and luckily the words "Aaron Moore" on the compound of a building flashed past my eyes. I instantly asked the auto driver to stop and turn around. I couldn't believe I was actually standing before the building. I was still in doubt. Would J.P be here? A security guy came towards me and I did not waste time to enquire about Mrs. Jabamalai Peter. When he said that they live here, I thanked God profoundly. He then told me sadly, "You just missed Mr.Peter. He just stepped out. But Madam is inside." That's all I wanted to hear. I enquired about the nearest flower shop where I could buy flowers and hurried to the auto. The impatient auto driver said he would take me there for the same fare but not any further. The florist was a kilometer away. Once I reached there I tried to negotiate with him a trip back to Promenate Road but this time he was almost in a ready-to-fight mood and started his unreasoanble terms. I paid him the fare to get rid of him. For the boquet I chose bright red just-about-to-bloom roses (big rose buds just opening). The boquet turned out to be more beautiful than I thought it would. On the card I wrote "To my most respected and beloved Principal". I tried walking the route back to Aaron Moore but I decided to take the auto for fear of spoiling the flowers. What if princy had to leave the apartment for something? I checked that with the security a second time as soon as I got there. This time I just had to pay the minimum fare for the ride.

As I walked into the beautiful frontyard my heart was already beating fast. Would she recognize me? She used to have a photographic memory. Apart from the flowers, I also carried with me photographs from my school days, photographs of my son, my wife and our entire family comprising my parents, my brother's family and my sister's family and my Canon SLR. My brother and sister had also studied in the same school. I was directed to the first ground floor on the left. As I approached the door slowly, I saw a maid cleaning the entrance. I asked her to call for the lady of the house and told her who I was. The maid went inside. I strained hard to hear the conversation but could hardly hear a sound. I couldn't believe that my principal was inside and it was just a few seconds before I would see her. The smiling maid returned asking me to come in and be seated. "Madam will be here in a moment" she said. When I tried to remove my shoes the maid assured it was alright and that I could enter wearing them. I could already see how impeccably clean and fresh the home looked. "Yogah Karmasu Kousalam" in action. It almost reflected the way princy used to maintain VanaVani. Somehow I also began to get a feeling of the inside of church. Almost everywhere I looked there were pictures of Jesus or the Holy Cross and items related to prayer and worship. There was just two photographs in the room. One I guessed was that of Father Murphy. The other on a coffee table was of three people and of them I could recognise two. They were the daughters of my principal, my super seniors at school. I waited, sitting on the edge of the sofa seat staring at all doorways not knowing from which one she would emerge. A few more minutes went by, my hands were beginning to feel cold and then.....she appeared! Walking in slow steps and slightly slouching on her feet as if there was a limp she approached the guest in the room. Gone were the elegant sari, the neatly done hair ball or the perfume. Most of her hair had greyed but her intellect and will power shone from those dark powerful eyes. The strict disciplinarian she was, she was neatly and plesantly dressed for her age in some kind of skirt/gown/overalls combination. A strange sense of disbelief and curiosity was there on the face that I had not seen in 20 years. She hadn't seen me for 20 years either. Without wasting a moment I stood up, approached her with the flowers and said the words with all the excitement and respect I had for her, "Maam, I am S L Subash, VanaVani student from 1971 to 1985. I have come to see you from Chennai, after 20 years". I saw an intense suprise, excitement in my principal's eyes. I even wondered if she was angry but I was ready to take anything from her. "Twenty years, twenty years...", she repeated in her disbelief and she was almost shaking as she took the boquet from my hand. I held her hands as she almost fell into my arms. It was so intense I couldn't believe I had tears in my eyes. "Idhu Naan Valartha Pulla ma, yen pulla, naan valartha pulla ma..." she proclaimed to her maid in tamil, who was also watching the scenes. "Tell me, tell me, where are you now, what are you doing, why did you come to Bangalore, how did you know I lived here.......", the innemerable questions poured from her non-stop. I answered them patiently. "Sit Down here, I'll get something for you, Kalai inga vaa ma......." her excitement knew no bounds. I just thanked God, He kept her alive all these years for this moment. She asked me sit on the sofa and as she was counting the flowers I told myself, "Oh my God, was the count correct". "Beautiful roses, beautiful roses", she said and quickly got up to arrange them in a vase. "Those are angel flowers" she said pointing to the white small flowers on their green stems that were arranged between the roses. I had something to learn from her even now. For the next 30 minutes or so we were competing with each other with a volley of questions and answers as though we were left with only a few minutes of meeting time. It looked as though we had a zillion things to tell each other and I was surprised to hear and learn many things about school, her life, friends and teachers. Most of the time I would just stare at my principal or hold her hands as I gave time for her to do the speaking. At times when I would caress her back or her knees I realised how old age had caught up with her. Her knees were swollen and in the cold Bangalore weather I wondered how she bravely fought her arthritis condition. As we continued talking she walked to the kitchen (another neat room) to get me some goodies (murukku, the thin vadai and laddus made of milk and ghee). She told me they were all home made. They were very good indeed. I avoided the sweets though. As we talked further I learnt later the truth about several of my teachers. Many of them had died, some very painfully. I did tell her how the English and the education that VanaVani had taught me had been of immense help during my years in Singapore and the U.S.A.

I then showed her the photographs I had brought along. There were pictures of me in my third and fifth standard. My XII Std. photograph was there too but unfortunately I wasn't there in the picture as I had not come to school that day but my principal did. Princy was sharp in identifying most of my classmates. She corrected me even when I got one of those names wrong. Behind one of those photographs I requested her to write for me and sign her name which she gladly did. At 76 years her writing had become a little shaky but I thought 76 was an achievement indeed for a person who had been through a lot in life. How nice it was to see that same signature that used to be on my report cards every month, every year for almost 12 years. I thanked God again for this moment.

(Fifth Standard, J.P is not in this picture. I am in the top most row, standing 6'th from right, the little dark guy with the crooked grin)

It looked we could go on for a full day talking things. There seemed to be an endless list of topics for discussion. It would be another hour or so (I am not sure) before Mr. Peter would turn up. Mr. Peter had undergone a bypass surgery of the heart. He seemed cheerful and young. Not many people could still retain the sense of humour he still had at this age. Together they showed me the house. It was a comfortable house for the couple. There was yet another photograph of J.P in her younger days with her daughters in another more spiritually peaceful room and I instantly recognized my seniors as those were the faces still fresh in my memory.

For the first time in its life (10 years) my Canon SLR let me down. It wouldn't load the film in the case. I tried several times but it just wouldn't work. I didn't know if it was the problem of the camera or the roll of film. "If I had only borrowed my sister's digital camera", I scolded myself. I only wondered when there would be a next time for me to take pictures with princy.

I had to take leave as I know Binny's mother would be waiting for lunch but I just hadn't had enough of talking with J.P and Mr.Peter. I gave my principal my company card on which she wrote my name as she would always address me "S.L.Subash". She then took other details of mine such as address, phone numbers of my home, my parent's home, my mother's name and my father's name. As I was about to take leave promising I would certainly visit her again, stay with her for a day, bring my family...,I bent down to touch her feet. "You must not do that, you must not do that." she cried and with an affectionate hug cheeked both my cheeks with hers.

Mr. Peter called security and fetched me an auto. I left Aaron Moore, Promenate Road feeling accomplished and deeply moved. In all this excitement I forgot yet another thing, to get J.P's phone number. But will I go and visit her again next time I go to Bangalore? Yes, of course.

To be concluded...


chez said...

hmmm...that was quite melodramatic!. Glad you were able to meet them after so long. What made the story more interesting is that I like close to Charles Campbell Road! :)

Mustang said...

that was quite a memorable moment, everyone goes through this phase in life..especially when meeting friends after quite a long time..


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Peters was instrumental in creating a high quality academic enviornment at Vana Vani.

Anonymous said...

Hi Subash. Great. I visualised the whole episode through your narration. I am an old student of VanaVani.

Can I please have JP's contact number. you can mail it to Thanks. Arthi

Xavier Sagayanathan said...

Hi! I am Xavier, Vice Principal Vana vani. Nice to read about your visit to Mrs. J.P. Can you pl. provide your contact details and also email me some old photographs of your teachers, school etc. for the documents we prepare related to the Golden Jubilee celebrations. Need them urgently. My id.


Subash S L said...

Mr. Xavier, It is so sad I didn't know you had posted a comment. I would have certainly talked about it at the 50'th anniversary celebrations. Will contact you via the e-mail address you have mentioned.