June 10, 2006

The Legends Of Kazakh

Nostalgia is a complicated word. According to this scholar Nostalgia was originally a medical condition identified by a young swiss medical student to define severe homesickness of soldiers far away from home. The common symptoms were tightening of chest/throat, pain in stomach and severe depression. Of course this was a curable disease (the cure being allowed to return home). Later, Kant observed that the people who thus returned home were usually disappointed because "they did not want to return to a "place" but rather to a "time", time of their youth". What this means is that people generally idealize the past and when faced with the not-idealized present and the fear of an uncertain future somehow yearns to return to an airbrushed past which never existed!. Thus, Nostalgia moved from being a curable medical condition to a psychological "prop" one can use while eking out a drab and often lonely existence.In fact, wikipedia says "Studies show many people believe that years or decades past people were better off than they are now, and that there had been a higher standard of living then, even if this is not always the case. This belief can be very characteristic of nostalgia, of the good ole days". .

By now you must be wondering, what my point is!!!!. Well, like everyone, i am occasionally under attack by the Nostalgia virus (especially when lonely and under the influence of 2 pegs!). Today is one such day as my dear nephew joins my alma mater. I myself joined Sainik School Kazhakootam (SSKZM)16 years ago (Jan 12, 1990 to be exact). When I started blogging, writing about school days was definitely in my mind. But then I figured that everyone has a school life and almost everyone is nostalgic about it, particularly if it is a residential school (where there is a lot of clannish pride involved).But today when i heard that my nephew joined the school, this kinda broke the dam. So, the earlier paragraph was an attempt by me to negate the super-saccharine nostalgic words that follow :)

First a brief intro about the school and why we consider it "special" . The school was a part of a chain of 17 (or 18?) schools set up in different states soon after independance by the govt of India. The idea (attributed to VK Krishna Menon, then defence minister) was to integrate the officer corps of Indian army (which till then was the preserve of princes and aristocrats) by training and encouraging students from middle-class background to join the officer corps. A parallel could be drawn by Arjun Singh when he moans about the lack of social diversity in higher-learning institutes today. Anyways, the school was modelled after the public schools of Britain (and the desi versions found in pristine valleys) where the eltie send their kids. So we were the poor man's public school (a concept which was later used by Rajiv Gandhi when he launched the Navodaya Vidyalaya system) and true to the original purpose, SSKZM has since sent more than 1000+ alumni into the officer corps and also several 1000+ into other worthwhile civilian careers!. While the original concept has been diluted a bit (with current fees not really within reach of a lower middle class family and Indian Army anyways is much more integrated than it was earlier) the system has developed admirably well.

So much for background..now lets get back to my nostalgia :). Honestly, when I heard the news about my nephew joining SSKZM, I was more worried than happy. Worried because I wasn’t sure whether he will be able to take the rough introduction that I am sure he will get. He has lived and studied coupla years in the US and I somehow couldn’t imagine him living in a tough environment like SSKZM. But then I met him last month and his infectious enthusiasm really got to me and I remembered I was like that too a long time back!. I introduced him to a dozen of my class mates who had come for my bro’s wedding and he ignored the docs, mba’s and enginners. He only had ears for the military guys and was extremely disappointed as I couldn’t fetch any Navy guys (he wants to join Navy and hence my army/air force friends didn’t impress him much!!). Anyways, I am sure Tharu will have a wonderful experience over there (just like i did) and hopefully he wont be classified as a thallu kolli as i was :)

Over the last few days I have been talking to a few of the staff members and it brought back a lot of memories. The most enduring memory is my first glimpse of school. The vast parade ground and the nearby games grounds (350 acres for 600 students is as spacious as it can get in the space-constrained kerala school system)all under water after the heavy monsoons!. It’s a memory that even today I occasionally dream of!. Oh boy, what an adventure the next 7 years turned out to be! 143 of us joined in 1990 and another 20 joined us later. Ultimately 73 of us passed out of the institution and became the class of 97!. Despite my ambitions to the contray, i really didnt set those fields on fire (i was the nerd rather!). However, the opportunities that SSKZM gave all of us were even more valuable. It gave us succesful role models with whom we could connect, it made us feel that we are special and that we could be what we wanted to be.

Almost everyone must occasionally wonder about “that moment” which forever changed their lives. To me, there is no confusion about the moment. It was when the 4 feet short, scrawny lil kid that was me had the first glimpse of those parade grounds. I guess now i will occasionally write more about some of the memories of school and there are many memories..most are sweet, some bitter-sweet and an occasional bitter experience as well.

Alrite..the title is a sham, plagarized from the novel written by late O V Vijayan. But today I had to write a blog about my school, and we answer to the call of “Kazhaks” through out our life!. Now you know why I had to use this title!