"Which schhol/college did you go to?" I don't get asked that question that much nowadays, after all a few years of working would have taken all the knowledge imparted over twenty years and squeezed it all out, leaving nothing but a blank shell. But sometimes, when you go for a meeting, sometimes for lack of anything to ask someone I end up throwing that question. You never know what sort of answer can result. Because even though you might remember nothing from what Mrs Bhandari taught you in Geography in Class 8-D, or what Ashish Roy taught you in the times he did teach anything, all that mattered is that you got a 'stamp'. A 'thappa' of recognition that you went to 'this' college or 'this' school. And by god, it matters.
In the last couple of weeks I met two extremely influential ladies in the world of Indian business and discovered that they had grown up in Delhi. OK, so it was just logical to ask, which school they went to, and I discovered that both of them went to the school that was 'across the hedge'. Before you ask what this confusing bit of code means, it is a term that people from the school I went to - St.Columba's (pronounced as Shah Rukh Khan points out repeatedly - Colum-BAAZ and not Colum-BUS) use for the girls who studied next door at Convent of Jesus and Mary (CJM). The moment I discovered that, or they discovered that I was from the 'other school' made life a lot easier, they somehow seemed to trust me more and talk more - it was as if 'Theek hai, yeh baccha theek school mein gaya tha!' I didn't complain.
On a sidenote, the school is named after a 6th century Irish saint and not the explorer who got lost as many people assume. And yes, Ireland did have some more saints other than St.Paddy. St.Columba is known for a lot of things, but he is most importantly the patron saint of calligraphy and the man who spread Christianity in Scotland.
Now, even though SCS produced a distinguished list of alumni (SRK, being the most famous currently, it also includes Deepak Chopra and Vivek Paul and several others), CJM has one alumnus who has a claim to fame that no other Delhi school has - it has a Nobel Laureate. Heck, even my other school (the one I did the first three years of formal schooling in) La Martiniere, Calcutta can't claim that. Aung Sang Suu-Kyi might be locked up by a despotic administration that is being mollycoddled by the Indian government, even though it allows the Chinese to establish a base in the Bay of Bengal. In fact, India's stand on Burma is quite depressing, but then again, India's foreign policy has never been anything to write home about - given that it is still driven by 1970's geopolitics.
But back to the topic I was talking about. Even though advertising one's blue-blooded educational qualifications might sound decidedly snobby, it somehow always helps break the ice in case you find something in common. Heck, meetings that were supposed to last half an hour have gone on till dinner sometimes. One person I met, a person generally regarded as one of Indian advertising most creative talents, knew my father from college and the next thing I knew we were talking about the (sadly erstwhile) pot plantation behind Muk East and so on and so forth.
Somehow, I've discovered that people seem to open up more when they know that you're one of them or like them or know where you're coming from. Even if you know jackshit about either the person or the industry they work in, but if both of you can relate to school or college that helps. Either that, or yopu discover that the both of you love U2 or Japanese Anime, thats happened too. However, sharing an educational institute, or studying in one bordering yours makes people feel comfortable at a level that I have rarely seen elsewhere.
In a way, I'm thankful I have the 'thappa' I do, I'ld be half the person I am without it.