Around two decades ago, I was invited to attend an old student’s reunion at my Alma Mater – a school that I had the privilege to attend for twelve unforgettable uninterrupted years. I was excited by the prospects of revisiting old class rooms, walking once more through familiar hallways and meeting class chums after almost four decades.

Driving through the century old wrought iron gates, memories came flooding back to me in a parade of events and characters that professional careers had cruelly pushed back into a remote niche. We passed the old bungalows of our Principal and Vice Principal, resplendent with blooming Chrysanthemums and parked under the silk cotton trees at almost the same spot, where good old Ghulam Dastgir (who was more of a family member than an employee) always parked our Morris Oxford. As I walked up the brick drive leading to the imposing old structure of the red colored building known to us as St. Hilda’s, I felt old ghosts whispering to me, led by the sturdy figure of Mr. Anderson, the custodian of the terrible birch cane, striding purposefully on some unseen mission.

The program of the evening included an Assembly, a tour of the school campus and a dinner. It was during the Assembly and the tour that I was overcome by a strange feeling, as if our classrooms and the Assembly Hall had shrunk in size. When I mentioned this to my old classmates during dinner I found that they too had undergone the same experience. The only explanation we could come up with was that none of the spaces had actually shrunk, but we had grown from little children to big adults and it was this difference in perspective that was affecting us.

A part of our sprawling campus was occupied by the Lahore Cathedral – a landmark structure constructed in 1880. While the building served religious purposes, it had a prominent role in our daily lives for it was in the playing fields behind this edifice that we settled all our arguments in the old fashioned (and perhaps chivalrous) manner. The exchange of the term “I will meet you behind the church after school” between opposing parties was received by us with anticipation of an entertaining duel, where fists where used as a weapon. The episode generally ended in vented tempers, a blue eye and a bruised handshake, but some ‘feuds’ spanned multiple encounters before being settled.

A great stress on character building was placed by the teaching staff (a majority of who were British). Lying, cheating and lack of punctuality were unforgivable crimes that did not merit condonation. Retribution for these offences was quick and manifested itself in “six of the best”, detention on Sundays and in some cases expulsion. The excruciating experience of being at the receiving end of Mr. Anderson’s cane (a punishment meant for boys only) was also underlined by a lesson in responsibility and honesty. The offender was given a chit by the concerned teacher and instructed to report to the school office. The hapless boy unerringly walked to his ‘doom’ bearing the slip of paper knowing fully what lay at the end of his walk. The command “bend down” was followed by the ominous sound of the cane being flexed. The rest can be remembered as unbearable pain, the memory of which acted as a permanent deterrence to trouble makers.

There was not a single instance where the bearer of the chit reneged on its delivery to avoid retribution.

In was in this wonderful house of learning that we were taught the value of respecting the opposite sex. The girls in our class were friends and treated as such. This bond continues to date without any other undertones. These classmates are now grandmothers, but have not severed the bonds that bind us as classmates and friends.

Such was the mentoring done by our teachers that we continue to adhere to what was imbibed in us in terms of knowledge and morals. It is in this manner that we gratefully offer our gratitude to the men and women, who dedicated themselves to the sacred undertaking of grooming a generation into good citizens.