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Remembrance of Things Past

A new picture, from an old friend, opened the floodgates of memory today.  Only the picture was new, the white washed walls, blackened with age and rains, the red tiles of the roofs nicely weathered to a comfortable brown, the curtained windows, the creaky wooden staircase just out of sight in the picture, the broken tar on the narrow driveway and the trees lining it, the several name boards painted over the entrance to the portico, (did I spy a couple of new ones there?) the parapet walls, the broken concrete steps… nothing had really changed…except for the person on the driveway.

Down Memory Lane

pic courtesy : sabin iqbal

Yes, nothing seems to have changed about my beloved alma mater, Kerala University’s Institute of English, tucked away among the verdant greenery behind the Senate Hall, hidden away, like a beloved secret.

I could picture the tamarind tree just out of the frame and the famous basketball court beyond it, a favorite haunt that saw many a courting, the worn stone steps leading up from the court to the main buildings on a higher level, the dark, dingy library with its treasury of books, the high wooden ceiling of our classroom where we had listed all our names under ‘four ‘n twenty blackbirds’, the umpteen anthaksharis played under that roof… some images are just burnt into memory and I guess they are there to stay for life. Memories so powerfully evocative that I just had to close my eyes to be transported back a couple of decades.

It was on that driveway that I had my first experience of a real ‘samaram’ as I stood shocked, watching a couple of young political activists callously smash the windows and windshield of a ‘state car’. Probably mild acts of violence to those who grew up on tear gas and water cannons, but to someone who had spent all her academic years till then in pristine, decorous campuses run by nuns in Tamil Nadu, such acts, needless to say were unheard of.

I still have a piece of that shattered windshield, nestling in my ‘memory box’ back home, right next to the bottle of sand I salvaged from the hem of my jeans, after an unforgettable trip to Kanyakumari. Yes, memories can be good, bad or ugly. And you collect them all, whether you want to or not.

Like another memory I think quite a few of us share, of a ‘Classmates’ moment when we suddenly realized just before a very important mime competition, that our cassette with the background score for the performance had been ‘lost’. And the long journey by two friends, back to the city from Karyavattom, to try and get another copy of the music. They made it back in time… that much I remember. But did we win or lose? I have absolutely no idea. Somehow puts things into perspective, doesn’t it, as to what really matters and what doesn’t.

How many times has it been drilled into us that winning or losing does not matter, it is the experience that does. I don’t think any of us have forgotten the experience: the anguish at the discovery of the missing cassette, the speculations about who could have done it, the frantic search for a solution, the prayers for the quick return of the two who went to get the copy, the final sense of accomplishment at being able to perform despite all the odds that had been stacked against us, and the incredible joy as we realized that our whole class pulled together as one on that trying day… Those are what remain with us.

institute of english

pic courtesy : the hindu

And today when I saw the picture, I was thankful to my friend for bringing back a lot of beautiful memories. It was a picture tinged with the tears of remembrance and some shared laughter; the unwavering bonds of friendship and the heartache of lost loves.  He said memories are the cruelest friends. No my friend, they are your best buddies. They take you back to those magical days of youth when you saw rainbows in shards of glass, away from the mundane days of reality when you view everything through jaded, jaundiced eyes.

They take you back to a time when you believed you held the world in your hands; a time when your whole life lay ahead of you waiting for you to take your first steps out there on your own two feet; to a time when you believed anything was possible; when the word ‘impossible’ was just another word in a dictionary, lost in lexical oblivion, somewhere between ‘dream’ and ‘triumph’.

And that is why those memories are your best friends and you need to hold on to them. Because when you are at your lowest, they can recharge your failing batteries and remind you of who you really are, beneath all that flab and frustration.

Read as originally published here at :


One response »

  1. Ah Remi. Nice.
    Agree with you.
    Cruellest friends don’t bring a mind-smile, do they.
    And I still love that parapet. Best seat ever.



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