Photo Credit : Amrita Gupta

Such is life. What may appear to be a simple gate to almost everyone, holds a lifetime of memories for others. Related to this gate, there was an entry in my personal journal two decades back, “I wish I have a surprise visitor one day.” I was reminded of it when Amrita Madabushi, one of our storytellers sent me this picture recently. 

She is my fellow schoolmate and happened to visit Pilani, our (her’s and mine) alma mater this summer. She could have taken a picture from any part of the school. She chose this gate perhaps knowing what it had meant to me and many of her other friends 20 years back. This is a gate to a prominent residential school for girl’s in India. This gate taught us the greatest lessons on patience and resilience. 

Inside the gate there exists a world of its own. Classrooms, auditoriums, a huge library, courtyards with water fountains, sprawling gardens, basket ball courts, playgrounds, yoga room, music room, a hospital, a commissary, kitchens, dining rooms the size of auditoriums and then the dorms and the rooms where the girl students reside. There is a certain serenity within the campus that cannot be explained. You need to experience it. The school is nestled within an academic city in the Thar desert. You cannot tell the latter by looking at the campus though. It is surprisingly green with rare patches of dry sand. The quietness of the campus is interrupted only by a few things. The sound of the peacocks, the sound of the school’s prestigious girls marching band and the sound of giggles and chatter from the dorms. 

This gate does not do justice to the description just mentioned. That is because this is the secondary gate to the school. But this gate has a special meaning to everyone who has lived in the campus at any point in their life. 

This is the gate through which you make your way to the hostel for the first time, thus embarking on a journey where you learn to live on your own. A gate where you bid farewell to your loved ones with a lump in your throat knowing you may not see them for many months. A gate that is closed behind you to draw the boundaries between your new world and the world that exists outside it. A gate that you step out of on rare occasions like vacations, guests or parents visiting or field trips. 

It is at this gate that you may get an occasional visitor or meet your local guardian on Sundays. Both come with loads of goodies and sometimes a temporary permit to the world outside. A permit for few hours of breathing in a different air. Sundays are thus the most anticipated days in the life of the hostelers. Most would throng in and around the gate. Some aware of a scheduled visit through a letter (no cell phones and no phone calls other than emergency) and some just hanging around in the hope of a surprise visitor. 

My entry in my journal is from back then. My wish did come true one day. 

The happiest moment would always be when you see your own parent walk in through the gate, more so if it were a surprise. Once on a Sunday, sitting near the gate for no real purpose, I saw some one walk inside the gate in a saree similar to one that my mom had. I remember telling my friend “You know my mom has a similar saree.” As the person came closer to where I could see her clearly, Halleluah ! It was no one else but my Mom. I remember the excitement and the joy of that day even today. I was not expecting my mom and she had no means to inform me about her sudden trip, so she just landed there. That happened to many of us, not very often though. And at times like that the gate became more special for you. The gateway of unexpected happiness. 

The life inside was disciplined, organized, scheduled yet free and happy. There is nothing that the outside world could provide that the campus did not offer. Except for family. Friends and teachers somewhat made up for that absence but as a young person between 6 to 16 years of age, the longing for family cannot be ignored. On many evenings, there would be small huddles of girls on the steps of the dorm, within the dorm, on the terrace, in the dining room discussing the heart ache and telling stories about their families. No one comes to a residential school for just better or alternative education. There is always something more to that reason. In understanding the reason lies the maturity of the child. 

And thus the longing to establish connection with the outside world and loved ones. 

As I regale these details over a dinner table conversation, my husband and daughter ask me if anyone has ever escaped out of that gate. “Never thought of that!”, is my reaction. The gate itself is manned by just one guard and I doubt if he is even armed during the day. But that did not matter, no one escaped because the day we had walked in that gate we knew we were there to create something for ourselves and we surely did. All of us in our little ways. If not anything we at least learnt not to escape. 

* The school in reference – Birla Balike Vidyapeeth, Pilani.