At a recent wedding I was covering, the bride told me that some of her cousins couldn’t attend the events since they had their board exams coming up. The very mention of the word ‘board exams’ transported me momentarily to another world. A world where I was wearing a Khaki uniform, holding my exam pad and hall ticket, doing last minute revisions outside the Shaheen block.
This year marks a decade since I passed out of school. I completed my 12th from the Hyderabad Public School in early 2007. Almost exactly 10 years ago, we had completed our much dreaded board exams, hoping for a good score, and discussing what to do in the summer holidays. At that time, we were all still teenagers, excited to finally leave behind an apparently childish world, and become “adults”. I’m fairly certain none of us really knew what “being an adult” really meant. All we knew was that we would be allowed to do what we want, nobody could question our actions and we would soon be on a path to richness and greatness. But as Uncle Ben from Spiderman once said “with great power comes great responsibility.” None of us realized the true meaning of those words back then. We did not grasp the fact that were leaving behind a privileged world of true freedom with zero responsibility. And that the adult world is sometimes equally as childish as school.
I think some of us were also slightly disappointed to be leaving HPS. It was (and still is) a school like no other. With a large campus in the middle of the city, our imagination was the limit. We are the only school in the city to have a vintage WWII airplane in campus and they’ve recently installed an army tank too. Our teachers taught us all the usual lessons in the classroom but the ecosystem of the school taught us how to be a better human being. Apart from a few key points, I don’t remember much of the theory we learnt in school. But I still remember all the little experiences and practical lessons that shaped our character and built our moral compass.
Surprisingly, it is the casual occasions that have left a lasting memory on me. Not the annual days or the prize distribution ceremonies. I remember staying late after school one day to watch Air Force One land in the Begumpet airport, back in 2006 when George Bush was visiting Hyderabad. My friend and I had walked up the rocks in the backfield and waited in the searing sun with eager anticipation. Once it arrived, we watched in glee as the gigantic aircraft landed and took photos with his Sony Ericsson camera phone. I guess those photos are long lost now.
Class games like pen fight and WWF cards used to be a major point of discussions and altercations. The coconut biscuits served once a week were a major treat. Soft in the center, crunchy on the outside and sweet as hell – we used to line up to get doubles. Sitting in the prefects table at the lunch hall was a dream for us. From many years, we walked past the first table, reserved exclusively for prefects, with mixed emotions of envy and ambition. And when we managed to get a place there in our final year there (I was a Prefect, Debates captain and editor of the school newsletter), it was as though we had unlocked an achievement in a game. Playing in every sport in the last two years, just to rack up points for medals and shields was a huge thrill. My oldest friend from school, Fatik & I regularly stayed back late after school hours to practice and take part in various sports. Winning the all round shield was the primary goal and nothing else mattered.
At that time, I did not have the foresight to imagine life 10 years down the line. The next few years were my immediate concern and all I knew was that I wanted to become rich & famous by the time I was 21 or 22. To the naive 17 year old me, I felt that 5 years was clearly sufficient time to amass wealth and fame beyond my dreams. Infact, it bewildered me why everyone did not work towards those goals. Because why would you need anything else? I can now comprehend the innocence of those thoughts, of a mind where everything in the world was black/white, right/wrong, old/young and where the hardworking would be duly rewarded while the evildoers would be promptly punished. Of course, I am now aware that reality is far from that.
The school has played a large part in making me the person I am today, professionally and personally. I started photography in my school days, photographing everyone and everything around me. That sense of curiosity was encouraged by my father who has always pushed me to do what I believe in. I became the editor of the school newsletter which legitimized my reason for carrying a camera with me all the time. Initially, it was the pocket friendly but capable Sony T33 and it was soon superseded by the Sony H5.
I would have never once imagined that I would become a professional photographer yet here I am today. I am happy to be still living in the same city, having the good fortune to drive past the magnificent school campus often. The friendships that I had developed in school have withstood the test of time and place. I still regularly meet with my friends from those days and we frequently discuss the fun times. It is hard to believe that 10 years have already passed by. And I wonder where all of us will be 10 years down the line.
The school campus is currently out of bounds for everyone but students & staff on regular days. However, alumni can visit it during the annual reunion in December and the general public have an opportunity to walk through the campus during the Hyderabad Literary Festival, held every January.