A cool breeze flew in through the windows and ruffled his hair. He silently listened to the “concert that was going on in his head” as his mother had so aptly dubbed it. The old bus glided through the gate gracefully as befits such an old and noble vehicle, and they were in Aitchison College.
Ahhh… he sighed. Aitchison was his home. It had always been. It always would be. It was not his second home. It was not his home away from home. It was home. And he would always think of it as such.
The huge tires squeaked as the brakes pulled them to a halt and the exhaust pipe let out a sudden burst of air as if burping very loudly.
Acting on impulse, he stood up. Pretending to be oblivious to the stares of his peers, he got out with the Junior School kids in front of the school that he had started his life in his home as. Standing tall, he took a deep breath of fresh, cold air and stared at the building that had in so many ways been the start of his life.
It has changed so much since I was last here. And it does not seem familiar at all.
Nostalgic already, he began walking through the path that took him to the extension of the block where he had started this journey.
And now I am back here again. Hahahaa… Fate is a funny thing.
With two notebooks in his hands; a register and a photocopied version of Janet Frame’s Towards Another Summer, he walked with the Junior School kids in their “coat carpets”.
The stone pathway beneath his feet was a comforting pain, if that made any sense. The cool air blew into his face making him feel as if a refreshing dose of water was being poured over his face slowly soothing and making him alert at the same time. He could see the stone buildings that were in no way similar to the original structure laid down for the college over the centuries. The air smelled of old stone and fresh dew. A new song turned on in his head. Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling. An instrumental. Oh great, he thought to himself sarcastically.
His footsteps were slow and heavy. He walked past the buildings with all their modern touches that seemed at first ugly and ruined the beauty of the majestic college that took pride in its antiquity. Now he accepted them as another phase in the growth of the college, just in the same way that you love your family for who they are; the good and the bad.
A flashback rushed over him in a manner similar to rays of sunlight soothing ones body and making one’s limbs tingle with pleasure.
You see, he had always managed to bag a couple of positions in the swimming competitions at the International School of Choeifat – his old school.
So he was feeling pretty confident. He rolled his arms; others saw him exercising and were awed - just the reaction he had counted on getting from them when he had begun my fake warm up exercises.
The coach, a tall man with a dark complexion and horribly yellow teeth (and a smile similar to that of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland) that made you nauseous by just looking at them told us to get ready. Looking back, he didn’t know how they had understood a word he said, considering that he had a whistle in his mouth. The whistle blew with a shrill high-pitched sound and they were off.
Imagine a steamroller. Now think of his arms rolling like that. And his arms were pretty flabby. He scrunched his eyes and just concentrated on getting to the finish line. About halfway through, his tensed muscles loosened and he also stopped feeling the friction in the water that comes from a race with a number of other competitors. Lifting his head and looked straight, which is actually harder than it sounds. Everybody was at the finish line. Worse still, they were all staring at him. He lowered his face and completed the remaining half length.
Red faced and embarrassed, he got out of the water, dripping and made his way to the changing rooms.
Sitting on a carpeted floor – which probably had more dust mites than it had children sitting on it – staring in awe at an almost perfect rendition of the world drawn on a blackboard. The room was small; it had previously been a storage room or something of the sort, not a classroom. It had recently taken up the post of a classroom because of the dearth of Pakistan Studies classrooms. The class of 21 was learning geography. The longest river in the world, the largest mountain range, the biggest forest, none of which he really remembered.
Like a faulty faucet, the memories started coming in rushes.
Sitting on a cold stone bench, his every breath fogging up in front of him. Gore block with a watch inlaid into its largest stone arch in front of him; a lush green garden behind him. Waiting for his car to come pick him up because it was “chutti-time”.
Sitting in math class - with an amazing friend - reading teen mystery novels. Hearing a cough. Both of them looking up to see the teacher standing in front of them, arms folded. Her taking their books and placing them on top of a locker which they were not tall enough to reach, despite said friend being one of the tallest people in the entire class.
Faster and faster they came.
Giving up play auditions to go for riding practices.
Falling from a horse one day before the riding competition.
Falling from the same horse the very next day.
Winning the competition.
Graduation from the still-strange Junior School to the mysterious and scary Prep School.
With that, he had reached the point where he turned to the road to his left and started walking on the path next to it. When a car had passed and another was sufficiently far away, he crossed the newly minted road and moved on to where he had started the second phase in his life and the place he actually had memories of.
Walking on the stone path next to the football fields, he took a lungful of the fresh, biting cold morning air.
Wind buffeted him making him rub his hands together and fold his arms against his chest. The cold air left no room for scents of any kind. He heard nothing but a violin playing in the halls of his mind. The Prep School building in front of him; football fields to his left; the riding school to his right.
Such good memories.
Playing basketball with the best of his batch, whatever his games were.
Riding throughout Prep School when most of the eager children had quit.
Becoming Riding Captain.
Drawing for first in the swimming competition.
Becoming a Prep School Prefect; the first from his family.
Bunking for the first time. An assembly. More than half the prefects with him sitting on the steps that led to the first floor. Talking about an ancient PC game – something to do with castles and dragons and whatnot.
Hearing that all the prefects had been called to the headmaster’s office in break. Spending the next four periods in perpetual fear.
Finding out that the meeting was not called to reprimand them, rather to give them a lecture on their duties and responsibilities.
The climax of the song had approached. He looked to his left and saw horses; dozens of horses and little children; some in bright yellow tracksuits and others in the “carpet blazers” that all Aitchisonians were so fond of. Steam was emanating from the sides of the horses. The instructors were “instructing” students.
His entire journey from K4 to H2 had been a culmination of many things but none were as important or as unchanging as his riding experience. With the advantage of knowing riding before entering Aitchison College, he had advanced quickly through the ranks of junior riders.
He had been afraid of the jumps but found in them a pleasure unknown to so many others. The adrenaline rush that coursed through each and every pore of his body when horse and rider were in the air.
Tent pegging. Ahh… wind rushing over his face, making his eyes water. Going at a speed above that of most cars. Feeling the horse panting. A moment, when he and the horse were two parts of the same being. He could even imagine feeling the heart of the horse under him beating. Mere thoughts. There was never time for anything more. The ecstasy that came with picking up a peg. The amount of joy a rectangular cardboard peg contained. Tent pegging. There was nothing quite like it.
He was passing the new Prep School canteen. He walked towards Senior School. As he walked, he stared at the buildings; at the majesty; at the wonder of this institution (a place that had survived two major wars; that had stood while Berlin fell; a place that had stayed whole while the sub-continent was rent apart) a place that he called home. He looked to his right and Aitchison College did not fail to disappoint. He saw a golden sign. Painted on it in blue were the words Bahawalpur House. He had never really known where it was. Just heard about it. Over and again. Despite being in Aitchison for nigh on ten years, he learned something new every single day. It was a school that you could never get enough of.
Too much of a good thing is bad.
Exception: Aitchison College, Lahore
He was at The Old Building (formerly known as Aitchison Hall). He wrenched his headphones out of his ears in respect for the giant of giants, the very first building in Aitchison College where students had classes. He took in the sounds of Aitchison College; birds chirping good morning to his school; squirrels chatting with the trees; gardeners working on the fields they had spent their lives to preserve. The sound of the wind as it blew across his face.
In silence, he walked to the Barry Block and into his classroom.
As he did, thoughts jumbled together in his head; giving him a plethora to ponder over.
What is Aitchison College to me?
It has always been home; how much more is it?
Thinking to the friends he had made, to the experiences he had had, to the facets of his personality that had woken from their slumber because of this school, he found the answer.
Aitchison College is not just a school; it is more than a home; it is a way of life. It is the way of life.
Aitchison College is the breath that wakes Aitchisonians every day,
It is the lullaby to which they go to sleep at night.
Aitchison College is day,
Aitchison College is night.
It is a world set apart from the problems of the outside,
It is the place around which our lives gravitate.
It is Aitchison College.