In several successive blogs in recent weeks, I had shown you half a dozen panoramic essays on friendship which I had written in my column Articulations in THE HINDU in 1992. In one of those articles I had mentioned how the Old Boys' Associations have a way of falling into a rut and rarely flourishing (see Archive, March/April 2014, especially Frontiers Of Friendship....., March 17).
And now I have great pleasure in sharing with you a much older essay I had written about 'old boys', in an article in THE HINDU. I hadn't noted the date of publication, but it must have been either in 1963 or '64.
Reading this vintage text again now, I find it amazing to see how true it still sounds today, all of 50 years later!
THE HINDU Sunday Magazine
50 years ago
The Old Boys
Somehow the old boys have a chronic tendency to fall apart in pieces over and over again. Not all the earnest efforts of successive Principals and Headmasters can produce a real esprit de corps among them. They do manage to meet now and then, it's true, but that wonderful dream of the college and school authorities, the Annual Old Boys' Meeting -- at which they so naively hope to collect sizable checks from their more prosperous ex-students -- somehow never does come true.
Not that the old boys themselves lack enthusiasm, really; on the contrary, they're all overflowing with goodwill for their Association, and would like to do everything in their power to keep it alive and active. But they just happen to be too heterogeneous a lot to be able to stick together for any appreciable length of time. The old boys are like the molecules of different elements which just won't combine, no matter what catalytic forces are set in motion.
Of course, the boys were far from being a cohesive set even when they were still studying. Assuredly there has never been such a thing as a young Boys' Association (or whatever it should be called); rather, the alumni as a rule tend to fall into independent groups according to their departments and extra-curricular interests. So long as they're all still passing one another in the campus every day, it hardly occurs to them to muster strong in an omnibus association, unless it is to launch an agitation. It's only after they have finished their studies and scattered themselves in the world that they begin to miss a companionship which hardly ever existed anyway.
No one is quite immune to nostalgia, and what usually makes the old boys feel nostalgic is a mimeographed note from the present Principal or Headmaster, telling them how he is thinking of putting the Association on its feet again, and asking for their co-operation; or maybe they just happen to see a notice to that effect in the morning paper. The appeal is irresistible, and its impact decisive.
Though it frankly alludes to such inconvenient things as subscriptions and donations, the old boys' minds are quickly made up; they sit down at once and compose warm and sentimental replies; what's more, they even start sincerely hoping to attend the forthcoming meeting.
And that's about all that generally happens. For one obscure reason or another, the meeting gets postponed again and again. The old boys are all far-flung, and some important ones might write asking if a slight revision in the date wouldn't be possible. And while the administration tries to make all sorts of adjustments, the old boys begin to play a game of hide and seek. The projected meeting gets more and more elusive as the weeks and months slip away.
Naturally it can't go on for ever, and I guess the old boys do get together in the end -- that is to say, some of them do, for the majority are quite understandably forced to be absent. But those who do turn up for the meeting have certainly been nursing great expectations, and greater illusions. They arrive brimming over with mutual goodwill, and feeling positively sure that there are no barriers between them. The High Court judge mixes freely with the humble what's-he, and seems to be liking it. The bright boy of last year's class expounds his philosophy of life to the world-war veteran, and is somehow tolerated -- for a while.
But pretty soon protocol must, and does, assert itself, and the gathering breaks itself into smaller groups. Snob seeks out snob, the smart set gets set, and the rest of the lot are left looking for someone to talk to. Speeches are made as dutifully as on any other contrived occasion, and they sound as hollow as they always do. Strong hopes are expressed that the old boys would be meeting again soon, but even before the party is over they all know only too well that it's far from likely to happen. What does secretly surprise most of them, though, is the revelation that they hardly feel any genuine regrets.
No old boy, however, need in fact be unprepared for this anti-climax, if only he would care to understand the simple truth that what he has been missing all along is not the company of the other old boys at all, but the company of the old teachers. It is they who most powerfully personify his alma mater in his inner consciousness; for while the old boys all ceased being boys long ago and have grown up into unrecognizable manhood, the image of the teaching staff -- like the image of the institution itself -- has remained constant, almost immutable, over the best part of a lifetime.
I can't help believing that if the old boy would only call at the campus all by himself -- which is something he rarely thinks of doing -- he's bound to make the happy discovery that unlike the old boys' rendezvous, such visits can never fail to re-light some of the old fires in his heart -- at least, I am sure, till the last familiar face has disappeared from the staff room.