The road journey from Delhi with a night halt in Ajmer was smoother than expected. As we passed the toll barrier at Abu Road, I sensed that the place must have changed. Camel rock was the first familiar landmark. As we drove up I marvelled at the excellent new road up the hill. We did not feel the usual sickness from the winding roads. I could not decide which was the original Monkey Temple. We passed at least three temples on the way. The real shocker came when we neared the Toll Bar. With all the new construction I was disoriented. What really bothered me was that I could not find the turn off to St. Mary's. As we neared town I was amazed to find that the road to town did not have the open countryside on both sides of the road. With all the hotels come up, town had reached the Toll Bar.
Coming from a big city and after so many years, the whole place seemed to have shrunk. People in Abu like to think of St. Mary's at one end and Dilwara at the other end. But we were able to see the whole place in a day: School, Nakhi Lake, Honeymoon Point, Dilwara, Guru Shikar. Even the Polo Ground that seemed huge when we were in school seemed a little small now.
We had to find the turn to the school by asking a few people. It is now marked as the road to “Tiger Path”. After the initial facade of hostels and hotels, the road became familiar as we crossed the old Dr. Trivedi's cottage and got down the slope to Paddy's Bridge. Waves of nostalgia passed over me as we drove into the school. Everything except the new buildings and fields looked just as I left it 27 years ago.
Being Dusshera and a holiday, the boys were playing all over the main field. I was fortunate to meet Br Foran and Br Judge. At 77, Br Foran looks in very good shape. He still rides his bicycle and complains about the new one he was gifted. The latter, a geared bike caused him to have a fall. Br Judge has aged some but is still as active as ever. He said he liked to be in Abu but his heart was in Dadar (Bombay).
We knew Errol Dias and his wife Maria who are the Catering Managers. Errol took us around the school and showed us the new developments: library at the back of the old building, solar energy used to heat the bathing water, the extension to the new building and of course the new swimming pool. The irony of the situation is that there has been little or no rain this year. The pool was dry and Br Foran says that the boys will have to swim in air! They may even have to close the school in April/May next year because of the water situation.
The Refectory was so much the same. Now the benches have legs so that the tables don't topple over. We saw the famous pumpkin being cooked but I was assured that this was not daily fare as it was in our days. We met an old bearer named Hira who has now retired but Nathu was still working there.
While the whole trip to the school, including the dorms, was very exciting for me, my kids were soon tired and said Let's go home. So much by way of appreciation for Dad's alma mater. I let them hang around the car while I scampered around to get some pictures. I could not help notice that amidst the expansion, the school wore a look of neglect. It seemed like the whole establishment was not being maintained adequately. Perhaps the alumni could help in this area.
I was keen to meet Hindi Pop. After making some inquiries I discovered that his sons are running a furniture and electronics shop. We walked into the Main Bazaar. This was when the memories of town came back. Tucked away from all the tourist traps, the bazaar is largely unchanged. Walking past Ratiram's we found the shop: Arbuda. I met Piyush Goyal and instantly recognised him even though he was quite a few years junior to me. I also met his brother Hemendra (73) who now works for Bank of Baroda in Ahmedabad. I made two visits to see Hindi Pop but could not get to see him. Discouraged, I returned.
The next day we were lounging around when lo and behold, Piyush arrives on his scooter with Dad on pillion. For the next couple hours we had a most interesting time with Mr. Goyal. Although his health is not very good he still enjoys a good walk. His mind is as sharp as ever. He loves to meet old students and frequents the School during Parents Week in hope of seeing some of us. Meeting us makes him feel young he said. We discussed many topics ranging from my work as a Pastor in Delhi to the leather strap that he used to keep us on the straight and narrow.
I looked forward to meeting my illustrious classmate: Maharaj Kumar Daivat Singh, the Prince of Sirohi. He has converted one of his palaces in Abu into a hotel: Kesar Bhavan Hotel. Although I caught up with him on the phone in Sirohi, we could not meet in person. I did meet Albert James (73) and his family. Albert is running a Primary school named after his parents called “James Memorial School.” They run a hostel too. He has begun to look so much like his Dad. We met Leonard Annett who also runs a hostel. Others in Abu that I could not meet were: Ainsley Priestman and Anil Babbar.
We stayed in Abu all of three nights and two days. Though the stay was short, I felt like it was a good walk down memory lane. My wife and children were given a ground check to all the stories I have told them over the years. Please visit our website: http://newlife-d.tripod.com/