There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception – Aldous Huxley
Vincent had lost his grandfather when he was just about 2 years old.He had very faint but fond memories of him.He associated his granpa with all things bright and beautiful -walks in the park,rhymes,chocolates,toys and yes the warmth of his paunch when he used to sleep on top of him on lazy afternoons.Everyone said that being the first grandson he was his grandpas favorite .It was an amazing sight when both of them slept soundly comforted by each others company,little Vincent going up and down on his Grandpa’s tummy as if on a see saw .Unfortunately there were no pictures to help him relive the bond once again.
He vaguely remembered that one day his old man had a pain in his chest,a van with blue flashing lights came home and he never saw his old buddy again.Days after his grandpa passed away he used to go to his room,touch his things and even sleep on his bed hoping that the room would give him back what the Van had taken away.It never did.
Time passed , the picture on the wall grew pale and Vincent grew up to be a fine young man – well educated and employed in one of the respectable corporates with diverse business interests.
Vinvent had coem to know that his grandfather was the Principal of a School he ehad stablished in the hills near Musoorie.But having grown up in Mumbai he had never had a chance to visit the place ever.All along Vincent had cherished a secret longing to see the school one day but there was simply no reason to go to Musoorie.Today he was so happy that he may just have the chance to do it.His company wanted to buy a property for a Hotel in Mussoorie and he had been asked to evaluate the sight from business angle and also to negotiate with the seller.It was an opportunity that Vincent had quickly grabbed.
The journey from New Delhi to Dehradun was a comfortable one taking him throught the well irrigated lush green Indo gangetic plain.It was October and after the rains everything was fresh,green and teaming with life.His outing from Mumbai had been limited to Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar .The farthest he had been to Goa sothe plains were quite different from the Sea and mountain landscape he was used to seeing on excursions.
It was a quite a welcome change .
He got down at Dehradun Railway station and streched himself.The 5 hour train journey had stiffened his limbs.There were rows of white ambassadors outside.The Taxi drivers were checking prospective customers for business haggling their way to the best best bargain possible.The company had arranged a car for him and the Driver with a Placard and a wide grin was waiting just outside the station.Vincent handed over the luggage to him and asked him if he knew where he was supposed to take him.He also checked if Seven Hills School would fall somewhere on their way to Mussoorie.The driver said not exactly but he could take a detour if he wanted to visit the place.Vincent said he did want to check it out as his grandfather was the founding principal of the school.The driver willingly obliged with a glint of 100 rupee ‘Baksheesh’ already lighting up his eyes.
Dehradun was a comparatively a small town.But with the newfounded glory of becoming the capital city of Uttaranchal Development and history seemed to compete everywhere in the streets and bazaars that overlooked the hills of Musoorie.Vincent had read a little bit about the Dehradun and Musoorie before he took the plane out of Mumbai.He was fascinated to know that Musoorie was set up by the Britishers as their summer capital to escape the heat and dust of the plains.Every summer hundreds of Sahibs would throng the hill town of Musoorie.Many had made it their permanent address and had bought property as in cotagges,farmhouses and orchards.The place was very British – libraries,Post offices,Bakeries,Churches,Rose Gardens and of course boarding schools for Britishers and well to do Indians.The manager in Vincent wondered if it had been a profitable venture for his grandfather to have opened a school in the Hills.What kind of students did he have,How many teachers,How big was the play ground,How did he get the land -did he buy or lease it.He fancied that he could have taken tips from him for the current deal if he was alive.
As it would take a couple of hours to reach Musoorie with the detour the Driver suggested that he had Lunch at the ‘world’ famous Gaylord restaurant.The name appeared a little weird to him as if suggesting the sexual preferences of the owner of the restaurant.He checked with the driver that they took cash or ‘kind’ for their services to which the driver had replied ‘cash’ obviously.What did he mean by kind? Vincent smiled and felt silly about his Joke.The food was great and as he planned to stay for a couple of days in Musoorie he decided that he would enjoy his time and had ordered for a bottle of Kingfisher.He was ready to dose off in the Cab.
After about an hour Vincent was woken up by a sudden halt of the ambassador.When he opened his eyes he saw that the driver looked a bit puzzled and was perhaps looking for directions.Vincent checked ” What’s the matter.Don’t you know where Seven Hills School is?.’ The driver still had a lost look on his face and replied ” It should have been here”.Vincent got a little edgy’What do you mean?It should have been here.Are you sure we are the correct road”.The driver explained that he had never been to the school himself but had heard about it so he had some idea of its location but not exactly where it was.He started looking for someone to ask the directions when they saw a man in his thirtees approaching them.The man stopped and parked his Bike next to the cab and looked at the driver.He had a friendly smile on his face but something about him was out of place.He was wearing Khaki trousers with a loose fitting White Linen shirt and was sporting suspenders which looked more of accessories than holding his trousers in place.He had brown Gumboots on which had his trousers tucked in.His Bike too was an Enfield Bullet the kind they had imported from England before they set up production in India.The man looked quite familiar to Vincent but he rubbished the idea as no one from his family had visited the place for decades now.
“Are you looking for Seven Hills School?” The man on the bike asked the driver glancing over at Vincent.” Yes ,but how do you know?” asked the driver.He smiled widely this time and said” If you would ask me the directions to the Mount Everest I won’t be able to guide you.Seven hills is the only place you have in 5 miles in any direction so I guessed.I hope I am not wrong”.His words brought a smile on Vincents face as he jumped out of the ambassador and shook hands with the man on the Bike.”I would like to visit Seven Hills school.” said Vincent.”Sure” said the stranger and started walking towards a clearing which lead to a small road.Vincent asked the Driver to stay with the car and followed the stranger.They had walked a few yards when a large gate appeared in front of them.He could now see why they were unable to place the building from the road.The campus was walled and the gates led to a tarred road which took a turn to the right where the building was hidden from the view as it was on a low lying platue downhill from the road.The path was neat lined with beautiful flowers of all shapes,colors,smells and sizes.Vincent thought how wonderful it would have been to study here compared to the listless grey and white building of his school in Mumbai.The main building itself was straight out of fairytales ,made of rock and stones cemented together with arches at the doors and windows.There was a large playground on one side of the building with Football posts and a basket ball court.The other side had a small vegetable garden which had cute little tomatoes,cabbages and other greens just waiting to be plucked for a special vegetarian ‘homegrown’ meal.
“Beautiful,Isn’t it??” said the stranger as if reading his mind.
“Yes,Yes very wonderful indeed.I had always dreamt of such a place.Its like a dream come true”said Vincent in a soft voice.
“Come let me show you the whole place” said the stranger pointing towards the building entrance.Vincent followed like a child after the Pied Piper.
“On your left we have the classes for the Kinder garten up to the Primary class and on your right are the higher classes from class 6-10.In the Middle is the Principal’s office flanked by the staff room on one side and the Accounts office on the other.We also have small infirmary next to the office in case someone falls sick.They went about each and every nook and corner of the school the playground,the games room with carrom,chess and TT tables,the Badminton court,the water tank which got its supplies not from the Municipal Corporation but from a water fall up in the hills.But surprisingly there was not a soul around.No one except him and the man who was enthusiastically showing him around.He would have got a little scared had this man not looked so confident,freindly and familiar to him.
Vincent asked” where is everyone?”
” It is June my dear friend.Summer vacations ,remember??” said the man adjusting his suspenders in a very casual manner.
“But how do you know so much about the school?Have you studied here?”checked Vincent.
“Well sort off” said the man raising both his hands in an animated manner.
Vincent wanted to ask what does he mean but decided that he must have failed and was chucked out by his grandpa so he was just trying to avoid the truth.He let it be.They chatted for a while and Vincent told him about his Family in Mumbai and the purpose of his visit to Musoorie but carefully avoided the reason for his visit to the school.He was not sure if he wanted to share his emotions with a stranger.The man informed that he had lived in the hills and was ‘associated’with the school for ‘quite sometime’ before his family moved out.After he was done with the city life he had come back and lived close by.
By the time they came back to the car and parted company an hour had passed and the driver was peacefully sleeping on the front seat which he had tilted backwards as drivers often do.Vincent decided to soak in the sights and sounds of his long cherished dream before waking the driver up so he stood outside with his back leaning on the boot of the car and lit up a cigarette.
Another man wearing a khakee uniform peddled towards him on a bycycle.He was quite old and looked like a peon of a governement office.Seeing Vincent standing alone he stopped his bycle and asked “Are you looking for someone?Vincent thought to himself “How much time do these guys have?In Mumbai if you stand on Nariman point your whole life no one would bother even if you were contemplating a suicide”.He was not interested in making a conversation when suddenly something struck him.He told the man on the bycycle” I had come to visit the seven hills school.Do you work there?
” Yes Yes very much.I am the Peon and the caretaker of the school.We are having summer holidays as of now.No one is there so I had gone to the nearby town to get some replenishments for myself.” he answered and looked curiously at Vincent.
If he had been here all along then he must be knowing my grandfather thought Vincent and said” Actually I am the grandson of Mr Phillips who was the first Principal and founder of Seven Hills School.Just wanted to see the place where he spent the best part of his life”
The man immediately jumped from his Bycycle and grabbed Vincent’s hand and started shaking it vigorously.”Oh what a pleasure to meet you.You look quite different from your Grandpa.He was such a kind man.I had nothing to eat when he gave me this Job and since then I have been here.He was really a great man otherwise who would have thought of opening a school in this place when everyone was running towards the cities in the plains.”He said gushing with excitement.
“Come let me show the place to you”He said.
Vincent replied ” I am afraid I have already seen it.A gentleman on a bike was passing by and he showed the whole school building to me while you were away”
“How could he? I have the keys,see !!” he said pointing to the bunch hanging from his hand. I must have forgotten to lock it once again” he cursed himself.
” But did you see the Picture of your grandfather in the Principal’s office?” he asked to which Vincent said no.
“Come let me show it to you.” and once again Vincent followed him on the track that led to the school building.The old man was surprised that the lock at the gates was open and he carefully locked it on one of the bars so he does not forget to lock it again when he went out.
The Principal’s Office was closed and it took a while for the Peon to find out the right key with which he could open the Lock.” The keys are with the Principal usually” he explained.The door opened with a creek and as it was a little dark inside the man moved towards the switchboard to switch on the lights.By now Vincent had walked in and was looking around.
As soon as the Lights opened the old man pointed out to a dusty pale black and white picture on the fireplace mantle behind the Principal’s chair.
” He is your grandfather Mr Desmond Phillips,Founder and Principal of the Seven hills School”
Vincent was stunned.He thought he was still dreaming.
He was looking at the picture of the man he had spent his last one hour with.The same childish smile,neatly parted hair,the Khaki trousers tucked inside his Gumboots and a white shirt with suspenders.He was standing next to an Enfield with a hand on the handle and a foot on the gear paddle leaning slightly on to the seat.
Vincent did not know what to say or do or feel.He had just been with his grandfather who was dead for 25 years now.Should he feel happy?Should he be afraid? Should he tell it to the old man or keep quite?
“Can I take this picture with me” he asked the peon.
” I don’t know,perhaps no one would notice.Give me your number and I would ask you to give it back if they do?said the man with a sneer on his face.
“Yes sure” said Vincent and quickly pulled out a business card from his wallet and handed it over.
They said their good byes and Vincent promised to return in case the deal at Musoorie materialised.On the way back he was constantly thinking about his grandfather and why he could not recognize him.
Just then the driver asked him”Sorry Sir I fell asleep the whole time.Did you meet some one who knew your grandfather?”
” Yes I did” said Vincent in a choked voice ,clutching the picture tightly to his chest as the car took a sharp turn and headed towards Musoorie.