A for Alma Mater

Honestly, this post should really have been titled “A for Action”. For after quite blithely asserting that I would simply pick my next blog post topics in simple alphabetical order, action is what was found lacking; it has taken me ten full weeks to decide on a topic and share these thoughts.

It did take a trip half way across the world and a visit to my Alma Mater for me to remember and recollect the special place St. Xavier’s Loyola Hall holds in all that I have been, am and can be. This as such, is not merely a hosanna to my school but a long overdue, if inadequate, salaam to the bedrock of my formative years. Since the school itself has its story documented on its website and its own Facebook fan following, rather than repeat well chronicled facts and feelings, I would rather share a couple of personal thoughts about what my alma mater stands for, and why it matters.

Strolling the expansive (and in the monsoon season, decidedly lush) grounds on a muggy August morning, familiar emotions and memories came flooding back. It wasn’t just the classrooms, libraries or labs, the football, hockey and cricket fields, or the volleyball, badminton, handball and basketball courts, the skating rink, the track, open-air stage and indoor theater, the canteen, bookstore or assembly halls – though each one had special recollections from the dozen plus years that several of us spanned in those truly hallowed grounds. The campus remains the same, and in some ways, even more beautiful thanks to continuous modernization and building upgrades. It is however that je ne sais quoi seeped into our psyche, among the bouganvillas and neem trees by an inexplicable, almost  osmotic, process over the years that truly endures.

And by us, I mean the thousands of students that wore the white, blue and red badge at one point in our lives. Decades later, it strikes me how we Xavierites are a band of brothers. Like those memorialized in Shakespeare’s Henry V, we share a bond – if not through the shedding of our blood, definitely through the shedding of endless homework assignments, countless tests and exams, long school days (and even longer evenings), the crisp winter “sports days”, the star-filled scout camps and the incredible Br. Bou tournaments (specially the victories, that still remain more memorable than any FIFA world cup match we’ve ever watched). And yes, we still are mainly a band of brothers. Even though the ladies were belated (and ok, I’ll admit it, a welcome) addition to our ranks, its mostly us guys that continue to stand together, even when the years have bestowed upon us dramatically different circumstances to take us to varied stations in life. We still see, and value in each other, the essence of what we stood for and shared: “the real us”, untouched by the ravages of time or circumstance. That kind of unconditional acceptance and unvarnished camaraderie, especially in today’s age of cultivated personal brand management, is something that, truly, money cannot  buy.

While all coeval schools primarily existed with the aim to teach, and mainly succeed academically, what my alma mater did best was excel at educating us. We had our share of “toppers”: students who ranked in the top ten of the several hundred thousand that appeared in a brutally competitive high school exit examination. However regardless of our exam grade, we all graduated with a quiet humility, a sense of service and an inner confidence that has unequivocally served us well in our adult years. We were taught -and not via direct draconian precepts that never work with teenage boys, but rather through the tireless dedication, personal actions and repeated acts of selflessness and generosity by our teachers and principals through the years- that it is more important to be compassionate than to be correct, and that the joy of giving is far greater than the joy purchased by any material comforts. And somewhere along the way, we also realized that if we “gave to the world the best we had, the best would indeed come back to us” (see, Ms.bf: we were paying attention after all!)

I could, quite literally, go on and on. Or I can just stop here, and sum up by borrowing A.R. Rahman’s superb composition in three simple words: maa tujhe salaam !

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