Ageing has several rewards, not the least of which is being able to watch other people work while you relax. But to compensate for this schadenfreude, there are also those niggling aches and pains. These, however, pale in front of another problem, that utterly dismaying practice of the Old Boys Reunion. The first one I went to was about 12 years ago before any of us had retired, and hence quite pointless. It was a school thing. I had spent only a year or so at that school and wasn’t quite sure whether I counted as an ‘Old Boy’. But they invited me anyway. I refused at first but the Old Girl in charge of the festivities was very insistent and I finally relented.
The venue was an old, restored palace, now a boutique hotel with a wonderful lawn. I wandered around for a while sipping some not-so-good whiskey, wondering who was who. Not a single face seemed even remotely familiar and to add insult to growing bewilderment, when I went for my second drink the Old Boy tending the bar asked me who I was. Not quite like that, of course, but obliquely.
When I told him, he started laughing and said that particular party was on the adjoining lawn. “But finish your drink anyway,” he said. “Their lawn doesn’t have an excise licence, so no booze there.” We got talking because he seemed decent enough so I had a third drink with him.
About 20 minutes later I decided to move along and squeezed through the hedge separating the two lawns to find that here too, I could barely recognise anyone. Eventually the Old Girl who had got everyone together shuffled up and asked if I was so-and-so. I said yes and she said she thought so because I was the only one she had difficulty in recognising! The others, she said, had spent 11 years with her at the school so there was no problem. After a while I got tired of people asking me who I was and left before dinner was announced.
The combination, of having children working abroad and having grandchildren, became a status symbol and a topic of geriatric boastfulness.
The next invitation came a few months ago, this time from an Old Student from my college. I had no idea who he was and ignored it. He kept texting everyday till, once more, against my better judgement, I agreed to go. On the appointed date I went to the 5-star hotel after a two-hour ordeal in the traffic. This time it was being recognised that became a problem. Everyone seemed to know me and everyone wanted to shake hands. But I hate this western practice because god knows where those hands have been. It was a terrible ordeal. I could not do the more formal namaste to guys who were 16 when I first saw them. After a while my face also started to ache because of all that forced smiling and fake laughing at how awful we all looked half a century after we first met. Most of the Old Students had become grandfathers and many had children working abroad. Fortunately, wives were not invited but the Old Girls were. More disillusionment.
The combination, of having children working abroad and having grandchildren, for some unknown reason, became a status symbol and a topic of geriatric boastfulness. If you scored on only one count, you came in at second place and if you scored on neither you counted for nothing. One or two poor fellows who, sensibly, had never married or even more farsightedly, quickly divorced, were banished to the outer edges of the scrum and soon left. It was one of the most horrible experiences I have had, worse in some ways even than the school reunion a decade earlier.
I decided to make a run for it, but a guy was standing at the exit demanding a subscription of ₹5,000, “Only, Sir,” he added impertinently. I slipped out clutching my abdomen, saying I was only going to the bathroom and obtained relief for my bloated bladder as well as my emaciated wallet. Believe me, the only thing worse than a bursting bladder is a room bursting with Old Boys and Girls.