A little over two and a half decades ago, a tiny tot joined the LKG of a school that had already left a legacy in a quaint and a seemingly quiet town, which was legendary in its own right. There is nothing great about this kid, or the thousands of other kids that had already graduated from this school, or were yet to join it. The greatness was in the school, and it was still in the making, for the school had left, and was going to leave, indelible impressions and unforgettable memories in scores of young minds.
This story is not about those tiny tots that joined this school on that day, or on any other day in the school's illustrious fifty-year history. It is about the role a school plays in molding a child's personality and in creating glorious memories. The role of a learning institution is similar to that of a potter that carefully moulds clay. Of a jeweler that meticulously studs gems into precious metal. And of an artist that diligently creates his work of art. That tiny tot was I, the school was St. Joseph's, and the town was Kothagudem. It could have been anybody else, but the story would not be too different.
I remember how my sister walked me to the school on my first day. And how my mother walked behind us to see if I cried. I do not know if I constructed those memories later, or if they are stuck somewhere deep in my mind, but to me, the significance of that event is unparalleled. Equally unparalleled is my attachment and my affection towards my lovely school. I vividly remember the smell of the classrooms after every vacation. I remember how my sister and I, along with a bunch of friends, walked to school every morning through an area with unpaved gravel roads, narrow bridges over small streams of fresh water, lush green trees and touch-me-not plants. I remember the harmonious sounds of learning in repetition… math tables, Telugu poems and English verse. I remember how I ran and jumped and played in every ground of the school and around. I remember how an "avva" used to bring our tiffin to the school on some days, and how we used to walk home to Rudrampur to have lunch on some others. I remember how I ate and shared lunch with friends sitting in the sand, under the plenty many peepal trees that provided the much needed cool shade on hot summer days. I remember how I raced with new classmates to see who was faster. How our eternal picnic spot used to be the mango groves next to the football ground. And I also remember what I went through when I had to leave the school and all my friends because my dad had to take a transfer to a different location. It was no less than a heart break.
When we came back to Kothagudem four years later, I insisted on joining St. Joseph's, because I knew I would find my old friends and teachers there. And sure I did. Unbeknownst to myself, I had developed an emotional bond with the school. The next four years would be the best time of my life. By no measure was I to be one of the best students in the class, much less the school, but this period taught me great lessons in hard work, competition, leadership, fun, relationships, love, morality, kindness, knowledge, wisdom, honor, respect… and by all counts the greatest lesson--friendship. I made some of my best friends at school, and never again could I connect to other people in the same way as I did to my friends at school.
Going to school was fun. In the four years that I was there during highschool, I never faked illness to skip classes, because I loved going to school. I loved sitting in every class, playing with my friends and making mischief. The mischief was subtle. It was never meant to hurt anybody. But it was never meant to make anybody happy either. Our teachers were the best in their own right. I do not remember any teacher discouraging us from participating in literary, cultural or sports events. St Joseph's had a rich heritage of encouraging students to participate in all extra-curricular activities. Years later, I would so proudly tell my friends at college and work how great my school was--for many of my friends went to schools where class work and grades were the only important factors to be considered a good student.
The seed to my artistic pursuits was sown back in my school days. I remember our drawing classes where Paparaju Sir so uncannily drew on the blackboard with a chalk. My love of languages, which came to the fore only years later, had its origins in my school. Subrahmanyam Sir's Telugu, Nightingale Ma'm's and Lalitha Miss' Hindi and BennaRao sir's English were always fun classes. The computer back then was an enigma. The ability to programmatically draw a map of India in dBase III Plus--thanks to Durgaprasad Sir's computer class--was a mind-blowing wonder in high-school. I would never have thought I would make a career in computers much later. I only wish I had a better memory to remember everything that I had learnt in my classes, because as I realize now, those lessons are of insurmountable importance. The principles of Mathematics, Physics, Economics and the basics of Civics and Biology, are all as important as learning the alphabet in English in LKG.
I visited the school a few times after I had graduated from there. Although I never really had a chance to meet all my teachers, just entering the school, or even getting close to the school campus, in itself was a tremendously inexplicable feeling. It is a moment when everyday issues of my adult life suddenly start to seem insignificant. When my life after school starts to dissolve into oblivion. When I go back in time to re-live all those fond memories--starting from getting ready to school in the morning, taking the bus, running to classes dodging drill sir's cane, the morning prayers, the Monday morning assemblies, all the classes, all the teachers, the lunch time, the every opportunity that we used to look for to play in the grounds, the computer lab, the library, the chiding of teachers, the burning of my cheek and ding in my ear caused by a teacher's slap, the street vendors and tiny shops that sold snacks and cold drinks, and the long bus ride back home… only to wait to go to the school the next day. In the fifteen years after school, I remembered my school and my teachers as many times as I thought of home, of freshness, of fun and of carefreeness.
Whatever I am today, be it a nondescript employee in a large corporation, a one-in-the-herd engineer, a software programmer, a small time artist, a wannabe writer, a well-meaning doctor, a courageous entrepreneur, a conscious social worker, or another inspirational teacher… I owe it to my school for making me what I am today. I owe it to my school for molding me from the clay, for studding me in precious metal, and for crafting me out of emptiness. I owe it to my school, as much as I owe it to my parents, if not more. For the memories of the yore. For being my fairy-tale place of lore. I owe it to my school for being the pride of my childhood. For being the solace in my adulthood. And I owe it to my school for giving me a reason to reminisce with fondness, to forget bitterness--albeit momentarily, and to look to the future with positiveness.
At this juncture, when my school is celebrating its glorious fifty years of existence, of spreading the message of kindness and, more importantly, of committing to provide quality education to children in and around Kothagudem, I only wish I were physically present there to share that joy with my fellow classmates, several alumni, my old teachers, the school's administration and the current students and parents. I regret not being able to help the organizers. I regret not having planned well in advance to take a dip in the Ganges of memories, and to experience the exuberance of a younger generation. But as always, when I think of my school, all my issues and sorrows cease to exist, and I blithely melt into the nectar of my St. Josephian past.
Here's wishing St. Joseph's High School the very best, and fifty more years of glory. Jai St. Joseph's!!
Vamsi Krishna Hemanth Illindala
X B - 1998.