Seven Hills School

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 grandfather and grandsonwarmth 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 Shimla Schooland 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.

Heritage Monument or Hotel California ?

We had just landed in Secunderabad in the summer of 2006 and knew nothing about the city,almost.One evening we decided to have dinner at a famous Chinese restaurant on Park Lane but to our dismay we could not get a table even after waiting for half and hour. With two little children and a parking slot which is as difficult to manage we thought we would settle for something a little less fancy.

Bang opposite to the chinese place we saw a number of boards declaring that there was a restaurant and a bar somewhere.We could not figure out where ?

There was this old colonial structure that looked more french than british but it hardly looked like a restaurant or a bar.

Image173But since the board said that this was the place we wanted to have a dekho at it.As our party of 3 and a Quarter headed in the direction of what looked like the entrance we were accosted by a fierce looking man with a guards uniform and club in hand.He ordered ” You cannot go inside” and put his club in front as in to hold us back.

Surprised beyond belief I confronted him”But why not? We will go.You cannot stop us like this”.His expression had by now turned from mild retribution to anger and he thundered” I am saying you cannot go means you cannot go and certainly not with these people”.It was now my wife’s turn to question him while my two kiddos looked at each other Image172and the three of us with a not so amused look.” Have you put a board here that who all can go and who all cannot.India is after all a free country”.The poor guy had given up by now and he said in a very deep tone almost like a whisper”Sir madam does not understand.It is better you first go and check out your self” I had begun to grow suspicious by now as some of the characters coming out of the building did not exactly look like gentlemen.Even they had a weird expression on their faces and they were looking at us as if they had seen some strange ghosts.I asked my wife to wait in a corner besides our car while I went ahead like an adventurer.

Once I entered the hall I could not believe my eyes.The place was straight out Image175of the 18th century.I had never seen anything like this before in my life.Rows and rows of tables with two benches on each side,a dim lit bulb over them and all of the occupied by men in various stages of intoxication.Some were chatting or blabbering but most of them were drinking silently and by the look on their faces it was clear that they did not know the person sitting in front of them and neither did they care.There were 3 such halls and together there must have been some 100 tables !!!

Pulling myself up from the shock I got out and told my wife the whole story.Both of us were at our wits end that how could such a place exist almost frozen in time.I could not get over it and wanted to know the whole story so I went back the other day this time alone and all by myself.

What I found out was this :

Image171

It is amazing that even after more than 100 years the place is preserved in all its original glory.I imagined how groups of soldiers from the British cantonment would come and spend their evenings at the Monty’s hotel.Many of them would even stay there before their quarters were allotted or something like that.

I called up and  checked with some friends who have been living in Hyderabad for years together but no one knew about the place.

I promised to SHOW them Hotel California one day.And if anyone of you are in town I would be happy to take you there too but remember …No women and children please !

Unfortunately The Authorities have decided to delist the Monty’s Hotel from its Heritage building status and soon the place will loose out to a swanky mall or some other fancy and ‘modern’ building.

When will I write Like Bob Dylan ?

That’s a silly Question.

The answer is never.

But if you  know

That the words are there

You just need to catch them

and  put them together

So they say what you feel

and fill the heart with love

or the mind with rage

The man is a genius !Sample the video above.There is a lot more on You tube.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

For Biography and complete Lyrics check out website below :
http://www.bobdylanlyrics.net

कितना अच्छा होता है

एक-दूसरे को बिना जाने
पास-पास होना
और उस संगीत को सुनना
जो धमनियों में बजता है,                                       DSC01597
उन रंगों में नहा जाना
जो बहुत गहरे चढ़ते-उतरते हैं ।

शब्दों की खोज शुरु होते ही
हम एक-दूसरे को खोने लगते हैं
और उनके पकड़ में आते ही
एक-दूसरे के हाथों से
मछली की तरह फिसल जाते हैं ।

हर जानकारी में बहुत गहरे
ऊब का एक पतला धागा छिपा होता है,
कुछ भी ठीक से जान लेना
खुद से दुश्मनी ठान लेना है ।

कितना अच्छा होता है
एक-दूसरे के पास बैठ खुद को टटोलना,
और अपने ही भीतर
दूसरे को पा लेना ।

रचनाकार- सत्वेश्वर  दयाल सक्सेना

प्यार

इस पेड में
कल जहाँ पत्तियाँ थीं
आज वहाँ फूल हैं                                                      DSC01657
जहाँ फूल थे
वहाँ फल हैं
जहाँ फल थे
वहाँ संगीत के
तमाम निर्झर झर रहे हैं
उन निर्झरों में
जहाँ शिला खंड थे
वहाँ चाँद तारे हैं
उन चाँद तारों में
जहाँ तुम थीं
वहाँ आज मैं हूँ
और मुझमें जहाँ अँधेरा था
वहाँ अनंत आलोक फैला हुआ है
लेकिन उस आलोक में
हर क्षण
उन पत्तियों को ही मैं खोज रहा हूँ
जहाँ से मैंने- तुम्हें पाना शुरु किया था!

Chailu,my friend

It was a cold December morning.In Lucknow the temperature dips to about 4 degrees centigrade and with the fog playing havoc with the visibility I felt a cup of hot tea was my only chance of survival.The Physics practicals started Lucknow Univat 7:30 AM and there were 15 minutes for me to get my fix.I liked the lab a lot not because of the experiments we did there but the equipment we had in the lab.Most pieces declared their origin to be ‘Great Britain’ and were probably imported 75 years ago when the Lucknow University was started. As I dropped the pendulum and watched it come back to  its original position at the center of the hinge,I could not help but wander if  my grandfather had found out the value of acceleration due to gravity working on the same pendulum.

Taking my gloves and Muffler off I entered the ” science canteen”.The classification was less scientific and more statistical taking its name from frequency distribution of art,commerce and science undergraduates who made it their rendezvous.The canteen was no match to what we see in movies these days.The gap between the Physics and chemistry department which had a courtyard and a covered gallery served as the canteen.The courtyard had an earthen furnace in a corner on which a staple serving of tea and samosas was prepared by the manage/contractor who was assisted by two boys – one for collecting the cups and plates and the other for washing them.A large chunk of Pundit population required that all cutting,pealing and cooking be carried out by Lallan Misra the Brahmin canteen manager himself.In this high seat of learning caste played an important role- from elections to hostel allotments to love lives  and shoot outs.A brahmin science graduate was the best you could be to put things into perspective.

“Aur Lallan , kya chal raha hai ? ” (howdy Lallan?I inquired making myself comfortable on the stool next to his place near the furnace which looked tempting at the moment.He maintained a grim expression on his face which looked even more ghastly in the orange yellow reflection of the light from the furnace.He passed me a glass of hot tea withot saying a word.Before I sipped it I just inhaled deeply not for the flavor but for the steam to open my blocked nostrils.

As the fog cleared a bit I could see a shadow in a corner.It was Chailu squatting on the floor and washing the cups and plates from yesterday.I had never registered that someone would be cleaning all the cups and plates.It was obvious now that someone did.I noticed that he was not more than 10 years old or may be his emaciated frame put my guess on the lower side.He chailuwas wearing a torn black sweater and a brown colored knicker.Both pieces of clothing were insufficient to help him dodge the chill.My gaze was fixed on him and I was watching his every move almost in slow motion.He had a tub full of ‘dirty’ cups and plates and two buckets -One was filled with soap water and the other with clear water.Both of them cold.Very cold.In my trance like state I could see that his hands were hesitant and each time he was forcing himself to touch the water.A few moments would have passed when Lallan shouted “Maa….,tumhare haath tod doonga”(Bastartd I will break your bones) and hurled a piece of wood from the furnace which hit Chailu on his left thigh.He jumped away,could not control himself and stumbled.Quickly he gathered himself and as if to avoid another hit from Lallan started washing the cups with false enthusiasm.

I recalled how I snuggled up in the warmth of the Quilt when I was his age and how my mother waited at me making sure all my demands for hot parathas,Jam and bournvita milk were fulfilled before I headed out to the school armed with a tiffin loaded with my favorite goodies.

A tear had swelled in his eyes and in mine too.

The cup of tea in my hand was warm with heat or with hatred I didn’t know.The tears in my eyes were of guilt or of anger I had no clue.The restrain in my hands was of pragmatism or cowardice I had no idea.I gave a dirty look to Lallan and rushed out of the place.While walking away I caught Chailu’s eyes for a moment.I was not sure if I was more embarrassed or him.

Years passed.I completed my graduation and did my business management frequently visiting the “commerce canteen” for the next two years.Went out to New Delhi in search of a job and never came back.I wriggled up the corporate hierarchy,raised a family,bought a house and a car as life kept me rolling on its roller coaster ride.

One day I had come to Lucknow for a meeting and it got postponed at the last moment.The guy I was supposed to meet had an office in Niralanagar quite close to the University so I thought let me go and check things out and relive some of my old memories.I entered the University and after roaming around aimlessly for a while  looking at strange faces I decided to go to some place familiar.It was December but as it was around 9: 00 AM the chill was a bit lesser.I sat on a chair “inside” just to feel the old times when we used to spend hours trying to put a matchbox in an empty glass by flipping it with the thumb.I wanted to see if there was a trace of my hands on the tables which doubled up as drums in our Jim Morrison Jam sessions.I was curious to see if R & A that I had scratched at the back of the window panel had been replaced by another set of initials.

I sat there and ordered for a cup of tea and  a samosa.The price had risen marginally by 50 paise on each item so the cumulative increase was a rupee.Not bad at all I said to myself.To while away my time I started looking at the furniture around me.I lifted my gazed to check out the fans,the paint on the walls and the ceiling and the man on the counter with an earthen furnace.Nothing had changed except the canteen Manager but even he looked familiar in a strange way.

A young student  entered the canteen.He was about the same age as me when I was an undergraduate.He had muffler and gloves on which he was taking off as he entered.In a casually confident manner he took the stool besides the canteen manager who had  a  grim expression that looked even more fearsome with the reflection of the flame from the furnace.He gave a cup to the young man who had just come in and kept staring in front.It looked like he was watching over someone.My eyes traveled in the direction of his gaze and I could not believe my eyes.It was Deja vu or what?There was a 10 year old boy sitting in the corner and washing cups.He had a tub full of cups and plates which he was dipping in a bucket of soap water and then in a bucket of clear water.Both of them cold.Very cold.Suddenly the canteen manager got animated and shouted

” Beh…d ,saala kal aayaa nahin ki bukhaar hai aur aaj der se aaya hai to haath nahin chal rahe hain harami ke”.(Bastard took an off saying he had fever and has come late today only to pass time) He pulled out a piece of wood from the furnace and as he was going to hurl it towards the boy the young man sitting next to him held his hand.”Paagal ho gaye ho Chailu”(Chailu,Have you gone mad ?) he screamed as his other hand transformed itself into a slap which landed across Chailu’s cheeks.It seemed to me like a moment in eternity.Time froze until Chailu came to his senses.He kept staring the guy holding his hand as if he had seen a ghost.He was petrified not knowing what to say or do.The boy washing the dishes was looking back with a mixed expression of disbelief , joy and self respect on his face.

Someone had lifted a big burden from my chest so I could breath easily again.Someone had broken the tradition of the ball of mud going around the ball of fire in a circle.Someone had gathered the courage to stop the pendulum from coming to its original position.Someone had defied gravity.

I felt as if I was free . I could fly and with me I could take away the boy washing the dishes in the corner.

I walked out of the place reworking the definition of gravity in my mind.By the time I was out of the gates I had summed up “Gravity is a force that binds all objects to the earth and is responsible for inertia – the tendency of objects to stay as they are unless a force is applied on them.”

It may not be a very good definition I thought, but it was correct as far as I was concerned.