Nice-Vence-Cannes, France May 18, 2008 9:35
am/ 11:10 pm London
Cannes has come to an end for us. I leave to
be with my daughter and my grand children in
London for a day and then back to Mumbai and
Cannes was an interesting experience and I
would want to spend more time on it later.
But today as I rush to airports to catch
flights, I am delighted with another event
about to happen. It's the coming together of
the Class of 1958 of Sherwood College,
Nainital after 50 years !
Sherwood, the boarding school where I spent
some of the most formative years of my life
has its Founder's Day celebrations from the
3rd of June till the 5th and has invited me
as a guest. The Class of 1958, who passed
out of the school after giving their Senior
Cambridge Examination, realized, it's been
50 years since we left school and have
decided to meet up. We have, through some
enterprising classmates, been able to
contact quite a few and are now excited at
the thought of coming together.
Old memories remain so strong and vivid in
our minds. We tend to forget the details of
what we may have done yesterday, but
remember all that happened years ago during
our childhood. The School the people the
teachers the classes the games the incidents
all so fresh and live.
As my thoughts go back to Founder's Day and
Sherwood I can never forget the moment when
I received the greatest lesson of my life. A
lesson that has remained with me in all that
I have done in all that I have endured in
all that I have experienced. A lesson that
was given to me by my father. A lesson given
to me in Sherwood, at the time of a
Founder's Day when I studied there.
Founder's Day celebrations in Sherwood
constituted a varied range of activities.
Meetings with old Sherwoodians, sporting
events, PT displays, the Annual Concert and
some exciting changes in the diet of the
My interest had lain in the Annual Concert
and to be a part of the cast of the play
that would be put up for visiting parents
and other guests. The stage had been a
constant feature with me during my entire
schooling years, right from the
Kindergarten, where if I recollect, I played
a chicken, flapping my feathers and singing
a ditty from some prominent nursery rhyme.
I had done the School Play in Sherwood in
pre Senior Cambridge; Nikolai Gogol's
'Government Inspector' enacting the role of
the Mayor and winning the Best Actor trophy,
the prestigious Kendall Cup, instituted by
that great Shakespearean stage personality Geofrey Kendall, who later became Shashi
Kapoor's father-in- law. That was 1957.
It was now 1958. Final year in School and
playing the lead character in Agatha
Christie's '..And then there were None', for
Founder's. My trophy for best actor in the
previous year had almost assured all that I
was slated to win it again this year,
keeping in mind the importance of the
character I was portraying and the talent
required to carry it. I was 16, the Judge in
the play which I was enacting was 60 !
The Dress Rehearsal for the Play, performed
a day before, for the students had evinced
huge applause. Compliments and praises
flowed. In school and at 16, it was heady
stuff. That night I went to sleep with some
difficulty. The anticipation of the
activities the following day, the Play in
its final performance, the thrill of seeing
your parents after almost six months of
being away from them - in those days when
letter writing was the only form of
communication, it taking a fortnight to
arrive by post, you can imagine our
excitement of meeting Dad and Ma in person !
The morning arrived and with it came a
gentle rash on my face. I thought it was the
nestle, a wild plant found abundantly around
the hills surrounding the school; a brush
from which would generally erupt into an
itch and then you scratched yourself into an
uncontrollable rash. But my room mate Ravi
Dhavan ( Senior Cambridge students had the
privilege of cubicles ) saw something more
ominous. "Its measles" he said and rushed me
to the School Infirmary.
Mrs Pratt, the benevolent wife of our senior
teaching staff and qualified nurse cum
doctor, took one look at me and gently
guided me to an isolated bed.
"Bachchan we cannot let you out. This is
contagious. You will have to remain in hospi
As I waited in that room for further
instructions the only thought that kept
disturbing me was the Play later in the
evening. I hope they don't stop me from
performing. I shall remain in the Hospital
and just go out to the stage in time for the
start. Will just do my part and come back.
Please I will not touch or mix with anyone.
Its merely a matter of two hours. How will
they find a replacement, there has been no
understudy. My parents are coming all the
way from Delhi to see me act. You cannot do
this to me.
Nothing worked. The Principal Rev RC
Lllewlyn came across and in his measured and
sombre tone passed judgement. I will have to
miss the Play, Mr Berry our Drama Instructor
would play my part that evening.
In a boy's boarding School you seldom came
across boys shedding tears. You were termed
a 'skit' if you did, a term used to describe
a 'sissy'. A weakling a quitter. Early
introductions to that male chauvinist ego
But I wept. Wept inside. Nothing coming out
on the face except that defeated smile. The
smile, when having lost, you force yourself
to laugh the embarrassment off.
I remained in that state for how long I have
no reckoning. Evening drew closer and the
parents and audiences started walking down
the slope of the hill towards Milman Hall,
the venue for the Play.
Sherwood was constructed on a prominent hill
in the Kumaon range. The highest point
housed the classrooms and the dormitories a
little lower to the left was Junior School
and to the right on an isolated slope, the
School Hospital. Beyond the Hospital and
lower down was the large football sized
playing field laid with 'bujjree'; a thin
grey layer of crushed rocky gravel on which
we conducted all our sporting events and to
its left on the same level was the imposing
Millman Hall, double storied, vast
corridors, and named after one of our ex
Principals. The ground floor had the gym and
above it the stage and hall.
From the School Hospital one could see all
the goings on at Millman and hear it too.
Sound travels uninterrupted and clearly in
I sat on my bed alone, broken and wondering
why fate was depriving me of this
opportunity. The opportunity not just of
participating in the play, but that of
winning the Kendall Cup a second time, a
feat not accomplished by anyone in the
history of Sherwood till then.
The general murmur of an audience seated and
anxiously awaiting the performance to start,
drifted across to my bed. I could almost see
everything. Hand made programs being doled
out. Parents, guests, students turning its
pages to read the synopsis of the acts, the
names of the cast. Judge : Amitabh Bachchan
! Present but absent.
The ringing of the three customary bells
before the start, silence, a short opening
speech by the Principal, perhaps to inform
them of my illness, or would they not, an
applause and then silence again. The curtain
opens dramatically and deliberately and the
first spoken words of Agatha Christie's
renowned murder mystery get volume.
I sit there propped up in the infirmary, my
heart beats struggling to drown the sounds
coming out from Millmi...
And... my father walks through the doors of
the Hospital, softly, without a word and
lowers himself beside me on the bed and sits
down. No one speaks. Act 1, Scene 1 plays at
a distance. My father places his hand ever
so gently on mine, allows me to feel its
presence and then with all the strength at
his command clutches it.
We remained like that for some time. We
didn't look at each other. Just stared out
through the window.
And then I heard his voice -
"Man ka ho to acchha. Man ka na ho to zyada
If things happen according to what you wish.
It is good.
If things do not happen according to what
you wish. Then it is even better.
And for the entire duration of the Play my
father understanding the pain of my mental
condition, sat next to me in that Hospital
bed explaining to me the meaning of these
golden words, not allowing me for a moment
to get distracted by the goings on in
If things do not happen according to your
wish then they happen according to the
wishes of the Almighty. And the Almighty
always does things for your good, hence His
wishes will always be better.
I argued against it. It was not logical. How
can this be true. How can something that
does not happen according to your wish be
But he persisted and explained and gave
examples and persisted again and again and
again. Till I succumbed !
It has been the greatest lesson of my life.
One that has stayed with me in every
situation. It has been my strength in
adversity, my companion in pain and
tribulation and my dearest friend in moments
of glory and joy.
I shall be in Sherwood for Founder's after
50 years. I shall walk past the School
Hospital to Millman Hall again and time
shall stand still as the strains of my
father's words come back to me, strong and
My father is no more. And one day I shall go
too. But I have left these words with
Abhishek for him to follow and pass on.
Humans perish, not their words. They are
'Man ka ho to acchha. Man ka na ho to zyada