2019: One Hundred and Seventy One

I left the United Arab Emirates when I was 10 years old, on June 30, 2008. I left, knowing that my visa would have a big red “Cancelled” stamp right across it, and I wouldn’t be able to access the country the way I did for the past 10 years of my life – literally all of my life at that point. I left on an Emirates flight with my parents.

Far before we moved, on one of my earlier trips to Bangalore, my dad took me to a few schools. He had prepared a shortlist of sorts, but wanted the final decision to be mine: for me to pick a school I was happier at, based on the first impression it created. Schools in Bangalore were so grand, they had this grandeur about them – their campuses were massive, there were swarms of people everywhere, they had just about every facility one could imagine. I knew I would really enjoy my life in the Bangalore schools I had seen. However, the thought of losing the comfort of the friends I had here, and the school routine I had settled into in Dubai, was a little unsettling. What my parents and I were most concerned about was how I’d adapt to the new crowd, but also, how I’d manage to pass time in a 1.5 hour bus ride to school, when I had previously lived 600 metres away from my school and could walk back in under 10 minutes if I wanted to.

You see, my school was my home. I was a lifer at the school, I knew that myself. Dubai Scholars, where I studied till Grade 5, was not going to be a school I was ever going to leave if we continued to live in the UAE. We joined the school because my mum’s boss’ wife taught HKG over there (she ended up being my class teacher only – which allowed mom to have more eyes on me than usual), but I had really blossomed into a fun 10 year old, looking back – in large part because of my school. My friends circle at home was the same as the people I spent time in school with – we literally went together everywhere.

It was fantastic. The activities were great, the concerts were always super fun. The field trips were the best field trips: to the beach, to parks, to shopping malls, to 5-10 dirham stores.

And I met the coolest people. I met people who I was continuously surprised by, every day that I showed up to school. Who made me really happy to be in school every morning, and whose evenings I was super curious about. I spent time in the company of people who enjoyed the simpler things: like Caesar’s pizza, and a nice set of doughnuts. It made me really happy.

While my family’s destiny meant I continued to visit the UAE, I had no touch with any of my school classmates. We were separated before the age of the new social media, and only connected via old e-mail IDs that were now defunct, or on chatrooms that no longer existed. Aside from becoming virtual friends on facebook and vaguely knowing what we were upto, I had no idea what each of them was doing, personally. I was only in touch with 2 people who continued to be in the UAE. Two of my best friends. The others had relocated, and whenever I visited, I never saw reason to go back to school.

I did visit once in Grade 9 – where I went till school so I could pick my friend up, and also meet some of the administrative staff and some teachers, and then once in Year 12, again, to pick the same friend up.

Not much had changed, facility wise.

On this trip, one of the two friends I stayed in touch with told me about a reunion that was happening, and told me I could join. It would be a fun “surprise” for everyone, he said. I was super excited, so I said yes, instantly. However, a few days later, I wondered if I would know anyone in the crowd over there. Moreover, would anyone know me? Forget knowing me. There is so much context in their lives I’ve missed out on, and vice versa. What if we’ve changed completely.

Yet I went.

Best decision I’ve made.

They had rented out a party hall in someone’s apartment complex. And there was the bare minimum aerated beverages. Aside from that, t’was just enough seating arrangements to accommodate everyone and really catch up through conversation than much else.

I had a whale of a time. Managed to catch up with everyone, and really recall all the time I spent with them in school – where we went after, and what all transpired broadly in our lives ever since. We caught up with Grade 5 gossip also.

We also played musical chairs (I came second), and ended up ordering pizza (which I refused, would you believe).

I was welcomed back with open arms. Like a friend quipped, “Scholars is family”

It really is. 10 years may have passed, but nothing has changed.

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