They ask me to be their friend. They had left school years ago after Class 10. They moved in their own directions, seeking their goals and following their dreams. I heard of them and their achievements. Home-makers, social scientists, doctors, technical wizards, scientists, teachers, actors, movie makers, writers, entrepreneurs and even politicians. That I had a role to play in the shaping of their destinies, I am not sure. I was just a school teacher, who taught them in middle school and high school.

We talked about great things and simple things, and also of the greatness of simple things and the simplicity of great things. We spoke of leaders and ideology. And revolutions and freedom. We discussed Gandhiji and non-violence and also about peace vis-à-vis aggression and wars. We discussed romanticism of poetry and the need to love nature, for “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Together we read Shakespeare, Shaw, Tagore, Wordsworth and Mulk Raj Anand, and many others. We put up plays and sang choral songs. We danced on the open stage under the sky, practising for our Annual Days. I cheered from the sides when they played matches. And we had a school we all loved.

That was well over 20 years ago. Long time, then? The old chalk boards have been replaced, I am told. The building is no more the small corridor and hallway and class rooms, alongside. Classes have expanded beyond Sections A B C. Now the sections are till E F G H….Three or four new Principals came making additions and subtractions. Our old school changed its syllabus and exam pattern. Indian history now starts from 1857. And that small village town grew into a large township. Twenty-odd years have passed, isn’t it? Greeting cards on Teachers’ Day arrived by post. Sometimes there were letters, phone calls and wedding cards. I also ran into them sometimes at bazaars, theatres, railway stations and airports. Then I moved out of town with my family and they moved too. All in different directions. That was a long time back, too.

Now the screen opens and there is one request after another, “Confirm as friend.” The names are familiar and I can even recall most of their faces, not from the ones on the screen but from somewhere in my memory. These pictures are of young men and women, with their spouses and children. I can see old faces in the newer ones. Many times I can even recall their handwriting! Large unconnected letters or small scrawls across the paper, the ‘I’ not dotted, ‘t’ not crossed, neatly looped letters and letters that spread like ants across paper; somehow, I can remember their writing together with the faces! Twenty-odd years are a long time but these are the people who had been such an important part of my life . Now they ask to be friends, and I confirm, one by one, all of them, every one of them. From all over the world. It is like being in our classrooms together once more, back in touch. Only now they are my friends not my pupils. My Facebook friends.

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