This year marks 25 years since I left school. And when I heard that a get-together was being organised, I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to meet with some of my oldest friends.
My 78-year old friend Fiorella recently remarked that as she lost her friends with increasing regularity, there were fewer and fewer people who remembered her as a young girl, untainted by cynicism and fresh with hope.
In the run up to our reunion, there was plenty of banter and laughter over social media at recollections of our school days antics. I had forgotten several of those incidents and was terribly contrite at some of the things I had done as a child. I was also hoping that few among those assembled would hold my adolescent indiscretions against me.
The plan was to meet for lunch at a classmates’ houses. Incidentally, the host was the School Prefect in the last year of school and fittingly enough, she took charge of the proceedings. We trickled in one-by-one, each arrival greeted with a raucous cry of welcome.
We caught up with each others’ lives and loves. We sang school songs and pored over old photos. Almost everyone had married, some more than once. Some were working, some were on sabbatical. Without exception, all gathered seemed happy to be back in the company of those who knew them as girls.
However, there was one story in particular which struck me as special. In our year group, there were a few girls who came from an orphanage. As a child, I knew enough to know that our respective domestic situations were vastly different and did not think anything more of it. Veena (not her real name) was one of those girls who hosteled at the orphanage and studied at our school. After we left school, Veena went to work somewhere in an admin capacity for a pittance of a salary. After nearly two years of work and getting nowhere, Veena wondered if this was all there was to her life and began contemplating higher studies.
She approached the headteacher of our school (an extraordinarily compassionate lady, more about her in another post) and asked her if she’d help Veena get admission for a degree course in Mathematics. The headteacher was stupefied and dismissed the possibility but Veena kept at it. Finally, the headteacher relented and Veena was given admission at a prestigious girls’ college in the city for a degree course in Maths with a reduced fee on compassionate grounds.
But her two-year hiatus meant that Veena was unable to pick up where she had left and struggled to cope with the demands of the degree course. Enter another guardian angel. A Maths lecturer at the college took Veena under her wing and started giving her weekend lessons. Three years and a Bachelor’s degree later, Veena had another bee under her bonnet. Why not attempt a Master’s degree, she wondered. But this time our headteacher was resolute. Enough with the studies, she advised, get a job.
Veena wouldn’t buckle quite so readily. She went to the head of her orphanage to gather support. Her persistence paid off and Veena enrolled at the same college for a Master’s degree in Maths which she passed with flying colours. These days, Veena works with her husband who produces documentaries and is mum to a 13-year old boy.
She is grateful to all those who have supported her over the years in her thirst for education. What’s more, she wears her achievements lightly and the odds she has had to overcome, are mentioned almost casually. As we parted, I told Veena just how proud she made me feel, simply by being associated with her. She beamed at the remark, I walked home taller.