Earlier this year my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Fortunately the anniversary fell on a Friday, so we decided to get away from the city for the weekend. I had been pestering him for a long time that I wanted to go to this place called Wellington where I spent a year as a kid.
Wellington is this beautiful cantonment tucked away near the hills of Conoor in Tamil Nadu. It was established by the British as a college of defense studies for the Indian Armed Forces. Although I was only eight years old when my father was posted to Wellington, I have such vivid memories of the place. I remember the day we drove into Wellington in our old chocolate-brown Premire Padmini. With every hair pin curve, the hill with the residential quarters ‘Gorkha Hill’ came clearer into view. Our house had a cute little garden and a beautiful view of the valley below. There was a hill with a very distinct green temple on one side and a hill with a cross on the other. The beautiful hill station weather was something you just cannot get enough of.
My memory of the school that I went to was of a gigantic mansion atop a hill which I would associate with the popular cartoon silhouette of the Addams family house. Don’t get me wrong, the school wasn’t like a haunted mansion, but it always gave me this feeling that it has been around for a long time. It had withstood the test of time. There are many secrets within which you need to discover. As we entered the school, we were welcomed by a huge playground and a flight of stairs that lead us to the prayer ground and then the building with the class rooms. The flight of stairs seemed never-ending, like a stairway to heaven! It made you feel so small.
The Gymkhana Club, with its typical British look, immediately demanded respect. Your parents would dress up to go there and you would want it to be you someday – all grown up, dressed smartly and having a drink with the other grown ups.
The year we spent there was full of adventures, hiking, trekking, trips, and oh so much excitement. I never wanted to leave Wellington. I must admit, this is when my love affair with mushrooms started. (I had to put that in.. haha!)
I don’t quite remember the day we left, but I remember the day when all our luggage was packed up in a truck and sent away. My parents sat back in whatever furniture they had left, ready for new adventures, but my brother and I were not happy. We were leaving our place behind. We were kids. It doesn’t take much to distract us.
As the years went by, I was looking for an opportunity to go back and visit the place of my past and I finally went to Wellington with my husband and sister-in-law, celebrating our anniversary. I couldn’t contain my excitement as we drove in to the Cantt area. I was so sure that I knew all the roads and I was so confident that we would not need any directions what so ever! Boy.. was I wrong! I was so disoriented, but it didn’t matter. We found our way to the Gymkhana Club where we were staying. The first visual of the club took my breath away. It still was as beautiful as I remembered it to be. The club in all its British glory, the golf course in front of the porch and the tea estates that rose from the flat-bed of the golf course.
Later that evening, as we were getting ready to go for dinner, my excitement was mounting. This is what I had been waiting for so long. Sitting at the porch of the club and having my drink, I felt so grown up. I wonder if the eight year old me saw me now what would she say? I’m sure she would be so happy and proud.
The next morning we set out to see the sights of the Cantt. Well, they are not sights in the literal sense of the word, but they were sights to me. As we were trying to find the way to my old house, I realized how much the place had changed. The old children’s park was now a Montessori school. The houses looked old and dilapidated. I wondered if it was the same when we were there. We finally found our way to the house where I used to stay. It brought so many memories back. I remembered the dozens of times when my brother and I used to watch TV, which was in my parents room, when they were away. We were not allowed to watch TV unless given permission. The garage was right next to my parent’s room and we would run back to our room as soon as we heard the car approaching.
We walked up and down the street remembering all the times that I cycled along those streets, where I fell and hurt myself. It was a mixed feeling. I was so happy to be there, but really sad to see how the place had become.
We then decided to go to my school. As we were approaching the turn to the school, I was waiting for the feeling of that majestic building, instead what I saw was this tired old building hanging on to dear life. This was not my school! My school had so much more character. The stairs were so tiny. They were nothing like what I remembered them to be. I know that I have grown up and scales change; but there was absolutely no semblance to the image I had formed in my mind.
I went back to the place of my childhood after twenty years and it was a whole different place. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing by going back. Had I not gone back, the school would still be the majestic building on top of the hill. My green temple would not have faded away. The house that I lived in would not look so dilapidated. The memories of ‘My Wellington’ would have been intact in a little corner of my brain; but then again, I decided to cherish those memories and I don’t want them to fade away. I will keep visiting Wellington as it really is a beautiful place and a wonderful get away from the hustle bustle of city life, and make new memories there.