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Letter to Mrs Sebastian (by Nidheesh Tyagi)

Dear Madam

Very warm greetings to you. Hope you are fine.

This is Nidheesh Tyagi, Roll Number 1421 from Sainik School, Rewa. I am 35 now. I came to you when I was 11. The year 1980 at Abhimanyu house. On the first take, you seemed to be a very strict, can I say hard-core type of a matron who did not smile much. Soon we learnt the big lesson that first takes can be so deceptive.

On the first night at Yuvraj Bhawan, we went to dinner at the mess, while it rained heavily. When I came back, a leaking roof had turned my bedcover, bed sheet, the mattress, the durry underneath and probably the hold all drenched in water. I saw the other kids changing into sleeping suits and slipping into their new sheets and bed covers carefully spread by our parents early that day looking at the list of inventories to begin our hostel lives. We were in transition that day. From home to hostel, from a spoon-fed pampered life to a self-dependant one, from boys to men.

Before Sainik School, I actually went to tribal schools. Most of us came from humble upbringing and small backgrounds, from schools without quests, good teachers and unset agenda. You were the first instrument of the civilizing affect the school reserved for us. I candidly remember you candidly dissuading parents to not visit their wards too frequently, so that the boy can adjust to new environs. For a woman, it would really take loads of heart to say so.

I did not know what to do. I sat on my black painted steel box. When you came. And gave me a bed to sleep on. Then in the mornings we would hear your stick rocking against the steel frames of our beds, waking us up for morning PT. Then we would see you at dispensary. Hectic on days when there would be severe infections. In infirmary. Nights you would be tucking our carelessly kept mosquito nets or switching off the fans – those heavy ancient ones - when there was a little chill in the air. You would be our little bank, we would withdraw money from on booking outs and we would buy inland letters to tell our Moms and Dads – trust this letter finds you all in good spirits (which Mr Renjit Alexander taught me – my father wore that letter on his chest and proud smile that day and flaunted to everyone in his Office in small town Gariaband). While we said we are fine, we meant that you are taking good care of us.

In fact my picture of childhood in Yuvraj Bhavan would be so incomplete without you. Without you, it is just a building, you brought it to life. You lit it up. From morning to night. I don’t remember seeing any visitor to your room. In the name of socializing, I think all you had was the Sunday service at the Bodabagh church. What is also very amazing that we know so little about you, your family, your children, your native place, your life, Mrs Sebastian that we hardly know you.

Once you punished me. You did not beat me, like other teachers did – a head master kicked me once, a senior master hit me with cane till blood oozed out. You made me sit in that chair in your room through out the afternoon siesta you had. It had more impact than the usual physical punishments and violent ones.

Though you were such an integral part of our growing up at such a critical juncture. You seemed to belong there – in the building, in that time, in the activities of Yuvraj Bhawan and MI room. You seemed so much soaked up with things to do and take care of.

There were others who came after you. I am sure they tried their best too. But don’t think they could be anywhere what you were- the mother of a thousand sons.

So how are you now? It would be great to hear from you. May be if we can see you with your children in a picture. Tell us if we can do anything. Anything. Not for you, but for ourselves. There is so much to thank you for- can someone really thank a mother?

I am working as a senior journalist in a newspaper group. Have a family- wife is a painter, son Lama is 7 and daughter Os is 5. I think my children should go to a boarding school too. Not just for all the virtues it inculcates in them, but also to make them create their own memories, live their own experiences, realize their own dreams as individuals.

May be I take them to Rewa, go to Yuvraj Bhawan, and show them my room, the location of my bed and the black box. I will tell them about you. Show them the room you lived in and just feel the incompleteness with which the building is living after you retired to Kerala. We went to senior houses, then pushed into newer transitions and wilderness learning to deal with the world without parents and you. Got lost in process. We are a different world now. In time and space. At times we meet up with school types, talk about those days and of course you. You always bring so much of reassurance, even from our memories.

This letter is aimed to offer my salutations for the greatness we were witness to, for the criticality of your role in our tender lives, for the caring softness you had in your hard exterior, for the way you were a reassuring feel to us all away from our parents.

Mr BBS Pathania gave me your address. He remembered it by heart. I see him once in a while in Rohtak, where he is running a nice school.

Looking forward very much from bottoms of my heart to hear from you. Send us your picture, drop a line, and tell us your phone number. Tell us how are you doing?

Wishing you well

Nidheesh Tyagi
1421, Abhimanyu House 1980

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