I (Olly) returned from a Hebron School reunion on Tuesday having not visited for eight years and I could never have imagined the week I was going to have.
I travelled with my girlfriend Fran who had not experienced India let alone the peculiar school environment and the odd ex Hebronites she was about to meet. As we left Heathrow I told her to take a mental snapshot of everything around her- the order, discipline and infrastructure and when we arrived in Bangalore I told her to compare that image with what was in front of her. Bangalore was obviously riddled with chaos, cows, rickshaws and smog and yet strangely…it was the excitement and energy of daily life that I’d missed so much.
My first test was to haggle with the taxi drivers to take Fran and I from Bangalore to Ooty, an eight hour journey. I’d been told by an old Hebron friend based in Bangalore that the likely cost was £70 to £90 (approx RS 5000 to RS 6500) and so I made it my mission to beat that price- I may have been out of the country for eight years but I still wasn’t a foreigner! I told Fran that it was likely to be a bit of a pantomime and predictably, when we left the airport door we were mauled by taxi drivers, tour operators and anyone else who thought a white face meant a quick buck. I did the usual drama of explaining it was too expensive- it’s part of the routine even if you have no idea what the guide price is, and then proceeded to leave them all to venture to the taxi stand- being told it was too dangerous as I walked away from the first group of drivers. But we found a pleasant driver, one that seemed trustworthy and safe and for RS4000 I happily shook his hand and we began our journey to Hebron.
The week was dominated by spending the day time at school, looking around the compound, talking to staff and students and sitting in on meetings and classes. We ventured to Pykara, a local spot we used to visit on dorm outings- though I couldn’t remember ever visiting the lake. The nights however, were reserved for heavy drinking, Bollywood style dancing and retelling old stories and remembering old friends. I managed to hit at least 3am on every night and forced myself to rise at 8am on most morning to involve myself in the days activities, although I probably should have stayed in bed on one morning when I attended the school assembly still very drunk!
The amazing part of seeing old Hebron friends, some who I hadn’t seen for 10 or 12 years because they’d left the school before I had, is that even though neither of us have any idea what the other’s done since we last met, there is an instant connection and old friendships reignite. After all, we did spend all day of every day together as we grew up. We were all in the same situation- away from our parents, dealing with the strict rules, growing together through our teenage years, sharing sporting events, punishments and forging lasting friendships. It’s something that I don’t think will change and I’ve met people who went to Hebron in the 60s/70s or know people who attended Hebron and instantly, you’re the closest of friends! This is what I realised I’d missed most of Hebron- not the football pitch that was made of gravel, the prison food, writing lines in the chem lab or having my emails checked- it was my old friends who I’d shared some hilarious and memorable years with.
Coming back to England was such an anti climax, after the excitement and energy of India, the UK seemed so dull and boring! I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed India. England couldn’t offer rickshaws, dosas, shaving parlours, cheap living or even good weather. I don’t want to leave it eight years again and so I’ve booked a 3000km trip from north east India to west India in an auto rickshaw- I don’t think it gets more exciting than that!