“Somewhere between lifeless secularism and mindless fundamentalism let us find enough space for faith and reason to walk together.”
So said the Fr Principal in his address on the occasion of yet another school annual social event. I am probably paraphrasing a little since I don’t remember his words verbatim, but this was approximately the essence of what he said.
I don’t know why, but I simply love these socials. It’s not that they are perfect, far from it, but there is something in the air that is infectious. Maybe this very imperfection fills my heart with gladness – a calming, grateful, gracious gladness – that at least some things won’t change in my lifetime. And of course the gorgeous school campus on a sunlit evening, after a dark thunderstorm in the afternoon, is just a sight to behold. Frickin’ Divine, almost.
The theme this year was “Be the change you want to see” (shameless self-plug – I have written about this earlier) and the stage backdrop had pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, APJ Abdul Kalam, Obama, the Dalai Lama, and somewhat surprisingly Steve Jobs (like maybe they ran out of ideas and had to quickly scramble to find someone for the sixth spot). The stage itself was well managed with smooth transitions, good lighting, and efficient set changes. The school report and prize distribution were surprisingly crisp and short, and I learned that there is some sport called Petanque and in that sport some students of our school won some prize. On the ride back home when I asked the 14yo what Petanque was, he summed it up succinctly in his standard teen know-it-all what’s-the-big-deal blaséness – “gotya” (marbles). When we were kids, the sports available were football, basketball, swimming, tennis, badminton, and table tennis, but now students were participating and winning prizes at district and zonal levels in not only these but also sports as diverse as petanque, fencing and pistol-shooting (something one would think young boys, being young boys, would welcome as legitimate excuses to play with swords and guns). And looking at the names of the winners across the school it is clear that it doesn’t just talk about diversity, it also walks it to a large extent. Being an all-boys’ school it is, somewhat excusably, hamstrung wrt gender diversity, but other than that it’s a veritable showcase for the word.
The skits and dances (as usual) were not necessarily Broadway quality but the enthusiasm, effort, passion, and heart on the part of the students, teachers, non-teaching staff, helpers and all the other behind-the-scene workers shone through like a welding arc – and they ranged from a play on Swatch Bharat with a very catchy “saaf nahi toh maaf nahi” jingle to a French play underlining the value of kindness, in which one unnamed 14yo child – ahem – played a tiny but pivotal (silent) role of a gendarme (something which he had only initially taken up in order to be allowed to officially bunk classes) with utmost conviction, and even though we’d almost forgotten to pick up the costume until the last moment this child didn’t let that distract from conveying effortlessly the life and character of a true gendarme (stand, apprehend, exit). Yes, one poster right in front of the stage was held upside down during a dance, and the boys holding it panicked a bit when made aware of this by someone from the front row of the audience, but a teacher quickly ran in from the wings and put it right (pretty much what teachers do, I suppose, in general) so all was well that ended well. Apart from a few hiccups like this, the show went fairly smoothly. And I was surprised and heartened at the number of boys who were, willing and happily, dressed up as girls – “nauvari and nath” and all, in some cases. I remember I was once offered the part of Snow White in my KG years and I had chosen instead to play one of the dwarfs because I was afraid I would be teased mercilessly for dressing up as a girl.
The highlight of the evening, though, apart from the beer and KFC dinner later at home, was the Chief Guest’s speech. I’ve noticed that some of the Fr Principals that I’ve listened to in the past few years have not necessarily the glittering gift of oratory that I had come to associate them with after having listened to the various Fr Principals of my schooldays, but this Fr Chief Guest was an exception to that general recent rule. His speech was sparkling and conversational and contemporary and inspiring, ranging from quoting from the Upanishads to summarizing, almost entirely extempore, the theme of the evening in the letters of the word
- C – Community, local and global
- H – Helping Hands, Hope and Happiness (he drew from the example of the upside-down poster, and how someone came to help put it right side up, and the show went on)
- A – Aim, or mission
- N – Networking (in today’s connected world, who can ignore the power of this N)
- G – God, or faith (of all religions or faiths, he clarified – whether it’s Ram or Allah or Christ or whatever other name we may know Him by, we all need a frame of reference that is larger than ourselves)
- E – Earth or Ecology or Environment (he was frank enough to say that possibly we won’t live long enough to suffer, but our children will, and so we need to leave them a better planet)
As usual we had reached late and so didn’t find a decent chair to sit, and as a result were squatting on some wooden steps a little off-center to the stage, but despite all the discomfort of creaky and stiff legs and back, the message resonated loud and clear. Inspiring, really.
I mean, it’s not like we were going to go home and immediately start being the change, but dammit we were sure we were definitely going to think about it. At least that, yes. And even that is a win for some.