Sunday, October 19, 2008

On being the ‘Official representative of the dormant alumni association’

Lately, I have been trying to get in touch with school mates. Now people who know me will think this to be out of character. Keeping in touch with people and maintaining a social network as it were, is not exactly my forte. And it’s my hunch that I am not alone. That’s the reason social networking sites are such a rage. Contrary to popular belief, or should I say, marketing strategies, social networking site are for people who can’t keep in touch or don’t want to make the effort. It’s a feel good factor, this whole bunch of names of your friends list and you think you’re in touch with them, no need to make all those phone calls, write epic emails, have coffee with people who have nothing in common with you. And when there does arise a situation when you desperately need to contact them, hey, you have everything it takes, they’re literally a click away. I sort of ended up in such a situation and that’s why I’ve been trying to contact class mates from school this past week. And boy have these sites worked like a charm.

One of my cheeky ex class mates asked me a few days back “Since when have you become an official representative of the dormant alumni association?” I was a little amused and taken aback at the directness of the question. At any rate, it was a refreshing change from “Hi! How are you, it’s been so long, so good to hear from you.” Or even worse, “It’s so nice that you’ve taken this up, keep up the good work.” As if I do this for a living. But coming back to this guy’s question, it got me thinking about the exact turn of events that got me in this situation. This blog’s an attempt to put things to perspective. I will hopefully stop whining about it at the end of this piece. And guys, if any of you are reading this, I don’t want to be the official representative of the alumni association. So if any of you would actually want to do this, please mail me at the earliest.

School had been one long drawn affair for me. I was miserable at the subjects I chose- Math Chemistry and Physics and my teachers back in school did a very good job of helping me hate those subjects. I was one of those kids in the class who had no clue as to where I was headed, so when the time came to choose a stream, I did what 80% of my class mates did, picked what seemed the only subjects with a future. I suppose it didn’t help that I hung out with the brightest kids in class. They were nice people, but just very quick at all the things that I would take weeks to figure out. To top it all, I was teachers’ kid. Amma worked as a biology teacher in the same school, and was very popular with the students. Somehow, I suppose at that point in time, there was always the need to live up to a cool mom. And I certainly fell short by a large margin. But this post is not going to be a ‘let’s whine about school’ session. I will certainly do that in another post, but this piece is set five years later, in the present, I have in the intervening years done the sensible thing of opting for a stream that I actually like and have the aptitude for. I have completed my Masters in English Literature, a subject which I grew to love and presently work as an Instructional Designer.

I am home, in Chennai for a short vacation, and as usual I am comfortable in my complacency, not having kept in touch with anybody from school. I have always been amazed at my sister’s capacity to keep in touch with people, a thing I have never quite managed to do. So while she was off gallivanting around, trying to keep up with the schedules she makes to keep track of her social life, I am glued to the good old TV, perched on the ugly but very comfortable sofa that my parents recently bought. I am eagerly waiting for Amma, who is at work, despite it being Saturday. I run for the door when I hear the characteristic impatient knocks on the door that follow the door bell. After the initial hugs and enquiries, she drops the bomb shell. I am to attend an alumni meeting at school that evening. I moan, whine and complain to try and get out of the situation. But the damage is done, she’s told the whole world (everyone in the staff room) that I am in town and there’s no escaping the meeting. I sigh deeply, realizing that am not done being the Teacher’s kid.

At five in the evening, I find myself in the audio visual room of my school, desperately looking for my batch mates for the first time in many years. I don’t find any of them, many have headed to that land of opportunities to pursue the next course of action, post a bachelor’s degree in Engineering. The rest were just a little more sensible than me, and didn’t have moms for teachers. The school’s hardly changed, unless you count the green walls, a tad bit too bright, which have replaced the brown of an earlier era. Unlike the others, I am hardly inclined to run up the familiar flight of stairs to my class room, to look for the bench on which I etched my name. Damn the media for romanticized portrayal of school life.

I have dressed appropriately for the occasion, looking every bit the geek that left school five years ago. I play the sport, cordially greeting all familiar faces, including the Math’s teacher, who politely nods when I update him on what I have done with myself since the last time we met. After a quick survey of the people who have shown up, I quietly pull up a chair next to mom. I couldn’t possibly make a mistake with the name of this companion and hey it sure did save me the trouble of constantly keeping a check on what I said. Besides, it’s not like had a lot of choice, considering the sister ditched me for company from her own batch. And to be fair to mom, she’s good fun on such occasions, trying hard not to look stern and not laugh out loud at everything I say. I did get a couple of ‘behave yourself’ and ‘stop criticizing everything’ looks, but it wasn’t too bad. We get along quite famously.

The meeting begins and for most part there’s silence, nobody wants to be caught saying something stupid years after they’re out of school. The most enthusiastic ones are the most recent batch of students, gawky teenagers straight out of school, still enthusiastic. I remember being that not so long back. A record is passed around to collect everybody’s contact details. I seriously contemplate pulling off my usual trick of reversing the last two digits of my phone number and giving a mail id I abandoned a year back. But no such luck. My sister is standing right beside me. After the initial suggestions on what the role of the alumni should be, there are a lot of blank looks and embarrassed smiles going around. Thank god for the snacks and drink that fills the silence.

Half an hour later the scene is a little better, with people volunteering to speak to the students to let them know of opportunities in the ‘big bad world’. I am amused. I wish I could tell the kids that once they’re out, they’ll do just fine. If they can just hang in there and get past school, life’s going to be a breeze. School certainly does prepare you for life. You see the worst that’s on offer.

Just as my mouth begins to hurt from all the fake smiling, signs are made to bring the meeting to a close. But not before Alumni representatives are elected. Every batch has a choice to offer, of at least two people. Not so for the batch of 2003, where the only one to show up was me. I grudgingly give in my name, wishing one of the bright kids from my batch were in the room. Life has a strange way of beating the shit out of you. It throws up moments when the people who you once wanted out of a room are the people you desperately want in the room.

Post this, the hour and a half long ordeal is finally over. Good byes are said, promises to keep in touch are made. I get home to long lectures from mom and sis about being over critical about everything around me. I think what saved the hour for me is the fact that I actually volunteered to be the alumni coordinator for my batch.

So that’s how I got this mail a couple of weeks back with a long list of names to be contacted. And that’s how I went from being amongst the least active on social network sites to being this phenomenon that, again in my cheeky class mates words, disturbed the peace and quiet of the alumni association.