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A nostalgic journey back in time to Rishi Valley

This year will be the 50th reunion for all those who passed out school in 1974 and so it is for Rishi Valley School’s ISC batch of ’74. Cocooned in a verdant valley near Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, the school was founded by Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1926. We started making plans, several months in advance, for our Golden Jubilee celebration this January. Suggestions flew back and forth and group calls were made. We had a smaller group within the larger class group to decide on the venue, coordinate for mementos etc. “No point in meeting in a resort or planning an exotic destination reunion,” said a classmate. All felt that the reunion must be held in Rishi Valley, the boarding school that we grew up in, followed by a two-day stay at Horsley Hills. Friendships formed in a boarding school are the forever kind; although we may not meet for decades the easy banter and ribbing seem to take off from where it had stopped.

Batchmates landed from across the globe and the excitement was infectious as we made reservations and finalised travel arrangements from Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai. It took us back to the old days when parties travelled back to school after the vacations. A group of us from Assam used to join the Calcutta (now Kolkata) party and travel by train to Madras (now Chennai); from Chennai we went by bus to Rishi Valley. At Madras Central station I used to look forward to the white, pasty, steaming upma! Enroute to school we used to stop at a student’s place in Chittoor for lunch.

To the present ‘in the wink of an eye’

We decided to have two photoshoots – one in all white, recreating the Asthachal (watching the sunset) scene and the other in red signifying rejuvenation, celebration and fun. One of my friends asked why we were imposing a dress code in a school that had no uniforms. I told him that it is to show that we are in harmony (in thought and action) and cooperative. Everyone complied with the dress code; in fact a few had thoughtfully brought extra red/white T-shirts and kurtas for those who had forgotten!

Our batch in ‘74was comprised of 29 students, out of which 28 passed in 1st division. Going to IIT, BITS Pilani etc. was a cakewalk for a few; but undreamt of for me! I have very distinguished classmates: a reputed senior advocate, a visionary industrialist, a top gastroenterologist, eminent scientists and researchers, a retired Colonel, journalists; and the star in our galaxy is irrefutably Dr. J. Balaram (Bob), who recently retired as Principal Design and Project Manager at NASA, the U.S. for the exploratory helicopter Ingenuity attached to the underside of the (Perseverance) Rover that landed on Mars. Fifty years later Bob hosted an interactive session in Rishi Valley on how Ingenuity was conceptualised, designed, and the historic Mars landing.

A touch of dejavu

We went to our classrooms and talked about where we sat and why! I had a strong reason to sit in front of a guy who could solve IIT papers when we were in S-1 (7th grade). I used to ask him for the answers and work my way towards that! The large windows in the classrooms are now covered with grills, so latecomers can no longer jump in through the back! We met the management staff and faculty, visited the Rural Education and Health Centres, and had an interesting dialogue with the students of Classes XI and XII. In Rishi Valley, we studied and excelled in a non-competitive environment. The present Class 12 students asked us about the transition to college. All of us had different stories to narrate and advice to give.

I feel that most city schools groom students to fit into a corporate or start-up culture, whereas schools such as Rishi Valley spark creativity and innovation. In retrospect, what I liked best about Rishi Valley was that it inculcated self-discipline and a sense of responsibility. And of course I must mention the all-pervading silence at night when even a grasshopper can be heard. That kind of meditative silence can never be experienced in the city.

We walked around all the familiar places – the hostels, dining hall and the now decayed banyan tree under which many ballets were held. The hills and trees stand like permanent sentinels. Rishi Konda, Sliding rock, Cave rock and the Asthachal hill (which I could no longer scamper up!) seemed to know us. When we spoke about the trials and tribulations in our current lives, the swaying trees seemed to understand. School reunions are fun tinged with nostalgia; but soon it’s time to return to our present lives. Now, all of us are around 65-66 years old, but when we meet the twinkle in our eyes is unmissable!

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