A school reunion
While removing the cigarette packet from my breast pocket, something dropped on the floor. I picket up the small envelope that had fallen down.
The envelope had arrived at my office address in the afternoon and I had shoved it into my pocket, thinking I will read the letter at my leisure later. But because of the busy schedule at office I had forgotten all about it.
Usually, after reaching home, it is my wont to relax for an hour or so while reading the newspaper and sipping a cup of tea. In the midst of sipping tea, I reach out for my packet of cigarettes just as I had done now.
It was an ordinary envelope and my address on it was written by an unfamiliar hand. It is for this reason that I had not been very enthusiastic about opening it in the office.
I withdrew the thin one-sheet paper. "There is a school reunion on Sunday and you are cordially invited for the same," the crisp note said while going on to inform about the timings and the short cultural program that was to be held on the occasion. I tossed the envelope into the dustbin. School reunions do not interest me.
But the letter set off a chain of thoughts in the mind. It was 35 years since I had passed out of the school. The arrival of the letter was not a surprise since there was active alumni association which regularly inserted advertisements in local newspapers seeking information about the past students. I must have responded to one of these advertisements as a matter of form.
Funny to think that I had ever been a 16-year-old lad. I had come to believe that I had always been a 51-year-old no-nonsense manager in a private firm. No, I had never been a 16-year-old!
Life has its ups and downs and I had my equal share. It was tough moving up the ladder, but I had managed to obtain a management degree and was now a manager. I was earning a good salary, had a loving wife and two children. Yes, I have been successful - I went to office every day to earn my fat salary, took my wife and children out on weekends and enjoyed life. What else could I ask for?
The mobile phone rang shrilly disturbing my thoughts. It was Vincent. He was one of the class of 1977 who was still in touch. "Have you received the letter from the school?" he asked. Vincent was an active member of the alumni association. I said I had. "Come over then. We haven't met for a long time and this will be a good opportunity to catch up on things," Vincent said. "I have the phone numbers of Ashish, Gurmeet, Naren, Thomas, and few others who are still in town and I will call them too," he said and rang off.
There had been 50 of us in the class of 1977 and most of us had settled down in the same town, but there were others about whom I had never heard or seen after passing out of school. Vincent, like me, was a manager in a private firm.
On Sunday, I excused myself from home and the wife was agreeable since it was a school reunion. I reached the school, which was just a few kilometres away, and found Vincent already there. Shortly afterwards, Ashish, Gurmeet, Naren, Thomas, Anup, Pradeep and Subhash also arrived. Ashish was an engineer, Gurmeet had become a general manager, Anup had his own catering business, Naren and Thomas were successful entrepreneurs, while Pradeep and Subash were bankers. The class of 1977 had really done well!
All of us got to talking and recollecting the good old days. The talk naturally veered around the most successful of us - Rajeev who had obtained his B.Tech from IIT and Neeraj who had topped in MBBS. Both of them were settled abroad. Then, there was George who had become the president of a multinational company and was hardly ever in the city since he had to hop from one country to the other.
"I had called up Makrand too and he should also be arriving any time now," Vincent said. At the mention of Makrand, we had a hearty laugh. Makrand had not been a good student in school and was always on the wrong side of the teachers. But, he had made amends later and had obtained a few postgraduate degrees which ensured him a professor's job in a business school. He, the others told me, was a very popular professor.
Makrand's mention set us on a different line of discussion altogether and we recalled the dullards in the class of 1977. "What's news about Avinash?" I wanted to know.
Avinash had been the most mischievous boy in our class. He would just manage to scrape through the examinations. He was actually not dull but never took an interest in studies. He was better in sports.
"Remember the time when he ran away from home?" Gurmeet asked and we all laughed at the recollection. As an eighth standard student, Avinash had once run away from home. His father had been angry at his poor grades and had thrashed him. Avinash had left home without informing anyone. He had reached Mumbai and had worked as a waiter in a restaurant for a few days. But when the money, that he had picked from his mother's purse, ran out, he returned home few days later only to get a much more severe thrashing from his father.
"Must be making a living by driving autorickshaws now," I surmised. "Yeah," Gurmeet agreed, "he could have done better had he tried but he was a blot to the class of 1977."
"Hi guys, sorry I am late, but you know I live far away," the voice was unmistakable. It was good old Makrand. But he was not alone. Accompanying him was a man of our age who walked with a slight limp - just the hint of a limp.
"See, who I have brought along with me. Recognise him? This is Avinash ..... Major Avinash," Makrand told us. "The same Avinash who had run away from home," he added by way of explanation.
Avinash did not take any offence. Instead there was a wide grin on his face as he shook hands with all of us - he had the grip of steel.
"Chaps, Avinash is a real hero," Makrand continued. Avinash put his hands on Makrand's shoulders to stop him. But who could stop Makrand once he had started!
"Avinash was commissioned in the Army and has served all over India," Makrand elaborated. "While serving in a sensitive area, he had an encounter with terrorists. His vehicle went over a mine laid by the terrorists. Avinash survived but both his legs were blown off," Makrand narrated. Avinash looked visibly uncomfortable.
"But?" Makrand immediately realised the question that was on everybody's lips. "He is wearing artificial limbs and he even cycles seven kilometres every day with them," Makrand said. "No one can ever tell, by looking at Avinash, that he is wearing artificial legs. He has conquered his disability that it is no longer a disability."
Our hands involuntarily reached our foreheads in salute. The tie I was wearing suddenly felt very tight, almost like a noose, and I had to remove it. The coat I wore every day to office because managers had to adhere to a dress code, also felt very warm and I took it off.