In the garden of memories are blossoms, some bright and large, some tiny, exquisite, some untended bushes and shrubs, the garden in disarray as each of them came at different points with different feelings, to colour them There are dark shadows, some clouded in fine mist, a glimpse just beyond of an elusive memory.
And there are some blossoms, a flower in particular, that is designed with a special touch – that holds a special fragrance of yet another world of memories that, when you touch it, you smile, your are transported to another plane; but now the heart squeezes as that flower you see, only in a memory, and not around you. Not anymore. For this flower has gone on to blossom in a bigger, brighter astral garden, tended to by Her. (Him/Her, as is. I like Her!)
I revisit the garden. In fact I’ve been middling along there, ever since Saturday last, 28th January, 2012, to be precise, when I heard the news. It took long to believe what I was hearing – called out from Class, that morning, when Varsha called to give me the news by phone – and it will take even longer to accept. But, certain bitter truths and sorry realities, grim though they be, we must face.
And, so it is. So it is.
Joseph George Earali, a different stroke of the Master’s paintbrush went on to become part of His collection. A fateful accident snatched away an only son from his parents, a fond grandson from his grandmother, a true friend from all his mates. He was just 20.
And a favourite of mine. Through the years.
They say teachers and parents are not to play favourites; but what does one do, when someone like Joe comes along and coolly takes over your heart? (And sometimes gives you heartburn with it, 😀 )His engaging grin, his laid back, easy going demeanour, his never-say-die spirit (oh, the irony!), when it came to arguments, analyses in classes (Julius Caesar, Ode to the West Wind, come to mind here) his earnest excuses for homework not done (because, you see, his dog needed him more!), his sometimes obstinate dog-with-a-bone stance (how he would love that description!)
When he was in the fifth, he began to come out of his shell, a bit, – he found his niche in the Drama put up for the School Cultural Competition. Around 1999 August/September, if I am not mistaken.
He got to be a Minister, with his cohorts, Anjali Viswanath, Amith Poonath, Sreenivas, Nikhil Poduval, and others. We learnt, or rather Anjali learnt, how to get a dhoti tied, the “palasaar” way, from home, and some parents, including Joe’s mother, and I got to the daunting task of getting these kids tied up in it 🙂 It was hilarious. The boys, bare chested (esp the King, and the Ministers), got to wear my fancy mirror work waistcoats too 🙂 Joe’s passion for acting was evident right here, and it went on to stay with him, for the rest of his school days. That drama is special to me, will always be, and it is one unhesitating, welcome memory!
“All the world’s a stage,
men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances…”
Wrote Shakespeare, in “As you like it”. He came onstage, wowed himself and us, and left before we could say it wasn’t time!
After Class 5, we next met, in class, in 2005, when I was his English Teacher in Class 9 and later in Class 10. Ah. Testing times for them, and interesting times for me. The vibrancy of that class astonished me from Day one. Usually the Class 9 kids are cocky, pushing limits to behavioural dares, and generally trying desperately to make a teacher lose her temper 😀 . You know how it is. You’ve also been there , done that. At least from one of the two sides, or both sides of the Teacher’s Table ( as I have 😛 ).
That particular class was a throbbing amalgam, a crucible of talent, oomph, looks, brains, and craftsmanship. There was Rasheen, talented, a collector and creator of things, the musical and dance talents of Chitra, Roshni and others, the ambition and determination Anjali (not to mention her dramatic skills as well) – she went on to become the topper at both the Class X and XII Boards, at school – the quiet but vocal enough presence of Varsha (fierce competition for Joe, on stage too!),and Ah! I cannot forget Dencil and his “gang”, always adding to “events” in class.
And there was Joseph. He stood out. I would not say, in physical stature – he was of average height, slightly rounded – and though he liked to spend more time outside class, on the ground (which self-respecting student does not? 😀 ), I would not call him “atheletic” , no Sireee, I would not! His friends know! But he probably knew all about the games, even if he did not play much! He brought much that was “hatke” into the class, creative ideas, different perspective, and the wealth of his voracious reading. Sigh. Those were the days.
Voracious is the only way to describe his appetite for books. Interesting, his grandmother said the same thing, when we went to visit with his family. I understood.
I remember, once he tinted his hair, a light brown, I think, in the same class. It glinted in the sunlight, and that is how he got noticed. Well, obviously :D. While he remained unfazed at our protestations (unwritten rule, you cannot do this in school 🙂 ) we had to admit that it did make a difference, telling him, because we never had to talk to him about it again.
Ok, I should not be playing favourites, but I have a theory as to why there is this connect we had. Perhaps the rebel in me connected with the runaway in him. Maybe. My perspective. 🙂 Joe, well, Roshni, one of his closest friends tells me, just the other day, he “adored” me. I’m flabbergasted. No, way beyond that. She also tells me that he would never ever admit it either. But he did, to her. That finds resonance, deep within. His parents said that he spoke of me, and his Class Teacher, Vasantha, with the same fondness. They say how grateful they are that the Bhavan’s here gave him an opportunity to discover his talents, his passion, and build his confidence. Smiles wreathed our faces as we launched into animated discussion about him. It’s like that with Joe. We each had our own special special moments to recall!
That is why this is written, because, though I never got a chance to tell him, he will be just as special to me. Always. In fact, his friends speak of the “connect” which seemed obvious to them in class! Varsha talks of how the whole class would sit back, once Joe got up to “clear” a doubt. Frankly, except for the fact that the portions seemed to lag, always, in my class, I welcomed those arguments, and discussions. It was very hard to convince him of something unless… well, there was no unless, with Joe! 😀 . He’d begin with “But, Teacher, I think/ don’t you think that…” . He remained unconvinced that Julius Caesar was not ambitious; that Shelley was not influenced by Tolkien and his “Lord of the Rings”, when he composed “Ode to the West Wind”. He converted me to being a fan of “Lord of the Rings”. (My first born, Arjun, started it, but he made sure of it! 😀 )- so I was lucky, just lucky that I knew about LOTR and its author when he asked the doubt :D!
To have been a favourite teacher of a child makes you blessed. Especially if that child is someone you’ve been fond of, but been stern and strict with, at the same time. That he/she has gone beyond the stern façade and found something worthy to look up to. I’m flummoxed (of course, Joe’s concurrence to this fiction is assumed 😛 😛 ), and deeply honoured. I’m blessed. Oh yes, indeed!
Joe, with his creative streak, was extremely so, especially at Exam time. He could write up a storm but most often off topic :D. Sounds familiar to many of you I think. It is a familiar scene from my own school/college days. However, on the other side, with a different coloured ink to write on the same paper, well, it becomes difficult! I wished I could have given more marks, only because he knew, and he knew I knew he knew; he would instead treat me to a treatise of some unusual perspective. His grandmother recalls this incident, where he told her that he had written so much for the exam, but he did not get good marks. He mentioned also that he realized that he had gone off the track! So I humoured him and me, telling him where the answer could be improved. Of course he already knew. So did I 🙂
He was deeply involved in stage performances. Be it acting, which he did with such aplomb, or behind scenes, scripting, planning digital backgrounds, doing voice-overs for the Annual Day, Voices of India programme. In Class 9 – class drama “Mirabai” was the once in a life time performance that had us in splits- He, as Rana Sanga, Mirabai’s father in law, was supposed to tell Mirabai that she should worship only Goddess Durga – and with all the fire and rage, he gave it all he had – “You WILL worship KRISHNA, Mirabai”, he said, and stomped off… leaving us speechless, momentarily, then breathless, holding our sides in laughter! Of course, though he was a bit put off, he still was proud of what he did 😀 :D. That class, I tell you was something else!
The same year, for Annual Day, we had a drama, scripted by one of our teachers, Ms Preeti Neelakantan, on the life of Vivekananda. Guess who auditioned? And he did not want to be Vivekananda. We had a stalwart, perfecto Swami in the form of Aravind Menon, of my son’s batch; no, Siree, Joseph wanted to be a King, with the works, in costume, hair,
moustache! He wanted flowing hair, and a really heavy moustache. Getting him ready in that costume was hilarious! The kids were ready, and the programme was getting delayed. Now, you have to understand how this costume works – the King’s and all those who had the dhoti contraptions. You had to tie the flared part of some shapeless cloth
aroung the waist, TIGHT, then loop a lot of frills and stuff, between the legs, wrap around once again, tie around the waist. Then you have a sort of long tail, hanging down the front, which is again to be looped and tucked in at the small of the back. He wiggled, complained, and once everything was in place, he said, Teacher, what if I want to go to the toilet? Hummphrrrfffff :D! I gave him a LOOK. And he said, Oh it’s alright, OK, teacher :P!
That drama was such fun, getting the boys ready, having kids right from the Primary to Class XII – the Vivekananda! And learning from the internet, how to tie a saree the Bengali way, having the narrators all attired in Bengali traditional dress. Such nostalgia. Have shared only pictures where Joe has shown up here 🙂
Much has been spoken about this batch, especially lately, while each of us were thinking of him. A lot of good stuff, and lot that could have been different. I told Roshni, when we met at his house, that day, that I see him in class sometimes, even now, a “doubt” growing in his eyes, and how I remember him from our classes together, those years ago. She came back with a teary smile, she said, “Outside class, teacher, that was where he was most of the time; except perhaps English class.” True to a great extent. In Class XI, I never got an opportunity to meet him inside the class, but outside, well, sometimes, he would be at the door of a class going on… you know what that means, don’t you? 😀
Though I met him only a few times outside school, after he left school, we did not “talk” much. He was with his best buddies, Arjun Varma, and Vishnu Menon. Theirs was a friendship quite apart. I spoke briefly to them, looking more to talk to Joseph. We did not really, but I knew we would catch up later, sometime, and talk of things. I was so sure of it. Though he was doing his B.Tech. and had put his creative plans on hold for a bit, that he would get there was a certainty. I knew we’d get back to discussions on it. Nothing would stop him. Nothing could, I told myself. How wrong I was!
And then that got me wondering about his friends too. If we, in our chronology, and our so called experience of life find it hard to accept such harshness from life, I wonder what it is doing to his friends. I know this one thing though, that he was blessed to have those friends, and they too were to know him. I’d like to reach out to them too, and tell them I understand, but would that be anywhere near the truth? How can one understand the way another accepts, or does not? I only hope that they are moving towards knowing how magical, how almost perfect it was, knowing Joe, and remembering the good times and laughter, to get them through all those times when the world, like that stage, darkens.
He’s gone on to weave a tapestry of his ideas and thread them with his words, for the Blessed, Above, and left us groping in the dark. The stage is darkened, and though the curtain will never fall upon his time on stage – the light that shone on him, for now, has dimmed a bit to a silhouette and vivid flashes in our hearts and minds.
Joe your life has been a joy to share in, in whatever way we could. And this is just a celebration of it. The Good Lord is probably being entertained to your version of the Lord of the Rings right now, I guess. Peace. And prayers for you, always.
7 February, 2012
The Class 5 drama photo has been shared by Anjali; the Vivekananda Drama photos have taken from Sarawathy’s FB album on the entire drama. Will share the album once I get Saraswathy’s permission 🙂