November last year was very special in my life. I was going back to my Alma Mater after 45 years of passing out. It was really a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. And, boy, was I in for a shock!
Let me start at the very beginning. Nineteen fifty three…or was it fifty four? Was I three years old or four? At sixty three years of age, some patches of memory gets obliterated, but what I do remember very distinctly is the kindergarten class, a matronly ‘Aunty’ holding my small hands in her pudgy paw and guiding me to write a, b, c and so on, on slate! That was the beginning of my tryst with St. Michael’s Anglo-Indian Boys High School at Cannanore in Kerala. A student life that shaped my character, my personality, my future.
As I grew up and moved from KG to first and on to other standards, the predominantly Anglo-Indian populated school, with Anglo-Indian teachers and a variety of Jesuit priests, including Fr. Mayer, an American, had a lasting impression on me, my psyche, my education and attitude towards life. Not forgetting the fact that the old school, its boarding and vast playgrounds were located in a quaint cantonment called Burnacherry, or, Burnshire, as many of us ‘anglicised’ kids would refer it as.
English was not just the language we had to speak, it was also a way of life; even the meals had to be eaten with fork and spoon. Of, course, in language class – Hindi and Malayalam, we were encouraged to converse in those languages so that the nuances could be picked up.
As mentioned earlier, there was a strong Anglo-Indian presence in the school and many of my friends were from that community which not only excelled in education, but also in sports and games like hockey, for instance. Of course, the school excelled in cricket and football, too with many of the school’s students playing at state, national and even international levels.
Forty-five years later, when about 120 of us converged on the school campus, it was at the new school premises, where I had also studied for roughly half of my schooling years. But, what shocked me was the non-existence of the entire old school and boarding campus which was now partly occupied by residential units and partly by overgrown vegetation. The only consolation was the existence of some ruins of the old school building and the famous music room where Mr. Crasta used to fiddle his way through our cacophonies.
Walking though the old ‘Burnshire’ I found that our neighbouring haunt, St. Teresa’s Convent was flanked by a mammoth new church and old ramshackle buildings, many of them devoid of the original Anglo-Indian families and now owned by other communities.
Potholed streets and old houses in ruins, indifferently maintained by a cantonment active with army personnel, was all that remained of my good ole Burnshire.
As the day wore on, the 120 of us Old Boys of SMS from batches ranging from 1950s to 1980s socialised, caught up with old stories, brought up-to-date with each person’s life and promised to keep in touch in the future.
While there was an eclectic mix of boys from several communities and religions, SMS was what it was, due to the strong presence of Anglo-Indian boys. These are some of the old boys, the ones that gave the ‘Anglo-Indian’ in the school’s name, a true meaning, who made it to the meet in November 2103: Marie Alphonse Merandez, Pinto Aloysius, Condrad D’sylva, Douglas Simcock, Kenneth Pinto, Lester Noranho, Nelson D’couto, Nobert Mendonza, Norman Noranho, Norman Young, Robert Pink, Rodney Castelino, Rogers D’souza and Ronald Rozario and many, many more who I cannot recall.
Whatever be the case, it is my firm belief that it is the school years that lays a strong foundation for a person and most friendships built during those years last longer than the ones developed in universities.