Our Mayo 1974 batch has always done things differently. That’s why we named ourselves The Batch without a Match. After three big reunions at school starting with the twenty-fifth, it was time to move on. So at our fortieth reunion at Samode, we made two critical decisions. One was to mark the Year of Turning Sexty with a reunion, which meant having it three years down the road (rather than five), and the other was to free ourselves of the constraints of location and hold it somewhere not in close proximity to Mayo Goa was a popular choice initially, but eventually dropped out, and the Rajasthan House Reunion Rebels (Praveen, Harmeet, Saurav, and Navendu) settled on Ranthambore. So we were back in our schoolboy stomping grounds—in good old Rajasthan.
I had been to Ranthambore once before with the family and it had been a disappointing experience, with no tiger sightings, although the Taj Lodge where we stayed is certainly a beautiful property. Would we be lucky the second time and spot a big cat? I had my doubts because as far as tiger sightings go, Ranthambore is kind of a hit-or-miss place. If you really want to see the royal beast in the wild in India, Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Tadoba in Maharashtra are much better options.
Still these thoughts were far from my mind as our party of sixty-year-olds boarded the train from Nizamuddin station in Delhi. It felt like the Mayo Delhi party all over again leaving for school at the beginning of term. The flesh was certainly weaker (and older), but the spirit was as willing as ever. Now we were accompanied by a bevy of glamorous spouses and designer strolleys had replaced tin trunks, but we were still young at heart.
To kick off the proceedings, Tusha had put together a trip down memory lane, which consisted of clips from the movie “Rockford” cleverly interlaced with actual images from our schooldays. For someone who had no first-hand experience of a boys’ boarding school, I thought she did a remarkably intuitive job, with risqué sequences that left us all in splits of embarrassed laughter. It certainly broke whatever ice remained, and soon we were thick in the middle of a sing-along session for all, with Randeep and Roopa revealing their hitherto hidden talents as crooners. Reunions are great levellers, no matter what station you might have reached in life, and now that most of us were either retired or approaching terminal velocity, I felt this to be even more strongly the case in Ranthambore. The bonding had reached a very special level.
The organisers had arranged two safaris for us, the first in a four-person jeep and the second in a larger canter. Saroj and I rode out with Nipun and Roopa in the early morning, but despite taking a less frequently travelled route we saw nothing of the great cat. All we spotted were some scrawny looking sambar, nilgai, and chital amidst the dry scrubland and forest. Nipun, ever the alert cameraman, resorted to taking some close-ups of the human animals. Sadly, we drew another blank on the canter safari on the last day. Ranthambore had lived up to its reputation as being a KLPD (see “Rockford” for explanation) for tiger spotting. The high point for me was at a rest stop where a flock of rufous treepies swooped down on us, attracted perhaps by the bright colours of our clothes, and actually perched boldly on our heads. That was quite an amazing experience and a disarming sight.
Mayo prides itself on having the best campus of all public schools in India, with a vast array of excellent sporting facilities. In fact, The Batch without a Match on the occasion of our fortieth reunion had donated a tennis pavilion to the school, still a record for any Mayo batch in terms of a major infrastructural gift to our alma mater to date. Not surprisingly a Sports Day for the Sixties just had to be on the agenda for this reunion too, with the promise of free beers afterwards.
I was never a great sportsman in school, nor even an average one, but I have managed to keep reasonably active throughout my adult life. So I looked forward to participating in some fun games. We were all given synthetic coloured vests to wear, and by some quirk of fate I found myself selected as the captain of the Red Team. Revelling in this new-found authority, which had always eluded me at Mayo, I mustered my merry band of boys and girls. The other teams—Blue, Yellow, and Green—were similarly lined up, amidst shouts and screams of laughter, the one critical rule being that no spouses could be on the same team.
The activities that Tusha and Simi had thought up, while not overly taxing of our physical powers, were diabolically complicated in terms of our organisational abilities. One race consisted of dribbling a ball through the legs of the women on the team using an umbrella as a hockey stick and forcing it through several lengths of tubing before scooping it through the goalposts at the end. Congratulations to the two organiser ladies for coming up with this absorbing and innovative race. Very smart of them! Regarding the gender bias that our women players accused me of, in my defence I would like to say, hey, ladies, don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger!
Our contribution to the local economy came in the form of a mass invasion of Dastkar, a local arts and crafts venture and a close competitor to the more urbane and upscale Anokhi and Fabindia. After our shopping spree, we fortified ourselves with glasses of beer and wolfed down the delicious vegetarian lunch served in an especially erected shamiana area. In an admirable feat of ingenuity and negotiation, the organising team had managed to get alcohol served in the conservative Rajasthani hinterland. Once again, the esprit de corps of our batch was hard at work to keep us all in the right mood and in high spirits.
We celebrated our last night with an Oomph and Macho party, with instructions to come dressed to kill. In another masterstroke, the organising committee had drafted the shrinking violets Randeep and Siddhartha as the judges for Mrs Oomph and the demure sari-clad wives of our bana batch mates, Meenakshi and Gargi, as the judges for Mr Macho. The debutantes Manu and Rajika walked away as the winners of the Mr Macho and Mrs Oomph titles respectively, looking the part and strutting their stuff on the catwalk confidently with Singapore-style panache.
Another game involved matching strips of tablets with a daily dosage chart and then running with a tray holding the medicines to the other end of the field without dropping them. Anila knocked the opposing Blue Team’s tray, sending it flying, where upon Captain Sundeep paid Anila’s Yellow team back in the same coin. The ensuing melee was worthy of a FA Cup final between rival supporters. Who would have thought that sixty-year-olds could get so worked up over a silly, madcap race? Overall, the Yellow Team was declared the victor, although each team claimed victory based on their view that the others had all cheated.
On the second night, Saurav put together a nostalgic and moving tribute to our fallen comrades, numbering thirteen in total, well over 10 per cent of our batch, and an unusually high mortality rate for guys who had just crossed the threshold into their seventh decade. Some of them had lived life on their own terms and paid the final price, some had just been taken too early and we certainly missed them all. It was an evening tinged with sadness, but also with happy memories and laughter. As we danced and drank beneath the clear night sky, we felt their presence with us. “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”
Then Tony Peter and his band, all the way from good old Ajmer, took the stage, belting out the beloved rock and pop songs of our childhood, and got us all out rocking and rolling on the floor. Tony, dressed like a wannabe Johnny Cash, was a thoroughly professional entertainer, alternately urging his audience to shake their booty and scolding his musicians for not knowing all the lyrics. He brought the curtain down on a roaring reunion of The Batch without a Match.
Heartiest congratulations to the Raj House Rebels for organising a wonderful and truly memorable reunion for the Sexties. Well done, chaps !! You have set a high bar for Jodhpur House, the organisers of the next reunion in 2021.